So, here we are. Week 2 of NaNoWriMo 2016.
Week 1 is always the most energetic, the most productive. Everything is just starting. You still have that sense of excitement with the start of a new project. You’re knocking your word count out consistently. Or, if not, you have a plan to make it up.
Then, like clockwork, Week 2 comes. Week 2 is hard. It’s usually when things start slipping. When you start losing the direction of your story. When you start lagging behind or, if you already have, when it starts becoming more and more of a task to catch up. We lose a lot of stories in Week 2.
I shared last week that one of my fears was always running out of story before I ran out of words. That fear has never come true, and it’s usually in Week 2 that I’m reminded of that.
NaNoWriMo is, ostensibly, about writing a novel, but really NaNo is about writing 50,000 words. And that’s a distinction that’s not immediately apparent. The metric is 1666 words a day. It’s not 1666 words that are perfect. It’s not 1666 words that are going to end up in the final draft of the book. It’s 1666 words. Period.
Yes, that’s the deep dark secret of NaNoWriMo. You could, if you wanted, write word salad for 30 days and still complete the challenge.
Obviously, you’re not going to do that. In the same way, you could just put down any number for your daily word count, whether or not you actually wrote that. You could. But you’d be robbing yourself of the real accomplishment.
Because the goal is to write a novel. A complete story, more or less, that makes sense. And the prize you win after doing that is a complete story that makes sense.
So, yes, you want to write good words, as good as they can be. You want to put in effort, because the goal you’re working towards is the thing you’re creating. You are making the trophy you will eventually win.
The goal is to write a novel. However, the goal is not to write a good novel.
What I mean by that is: there is nothing that says that the finished product, the thing you worked for a month making, your novel, has to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good. All it really has to be is a novel, and, simpler than that, all your novel has to be is 50,000 words.
The only metric NaNo has is the word count. Everything else is subjective. Everything else. How good those words are, how good the novel you’re writing is, whether or not it is even worth publishing. None of that can be measured. Certainly not while you’re writing the novel.
And that’s a hard pill for me to swallow. (And, keep in mind, I’ve completed this challenge 4 times.) Because I want my effort to mean something, and the way my brain usually picks for measuring meaning is the quality of the product. But my brain, as usual, is not content to wait until I am done. Instead, it critiques every one of the 50,000 words as they come out.
And that usually becomes a problem in Week 2. Because that’s when the excitement starts to wear off and, like every other endeavor, it stops being fun and starts being a job. That’s when the real challenge begins. The challenge not just to write 1666 words a day but to be okay with those 1666 words, even if they don’t look exactly how I want them to.
Like everything else, it’s a balance. You want to put in effort, want to try your best, but, in the end, you want to be okay with whatever you were able to do. Sometimes that means pushing through a scene, because you need this scene, even though you know the dialogue is choppy and doesn’t sound exactly like your characters. Because you need to get through that scene to get to the next scene. And the next and the next and the next. Because that’s what a story is.
So you push and you make peace with the process. Because that, more than anything, is what NaNo is about. And, oh yes, this applies for way more than novels. This is for any challenge you’ve chosen. It’s about committing to the process, pumping at that well, because if you do eventually the water starts to run clear.
NaNo is, on the surface, about writing a novel, but, really, it’s about writing a first draft.
And first drafts suck. That’s what they’re there to do. They are the first step in a process. And if we can make peace with that, if we learn to be okay with writing sh**ty first drafts, then we can actually write novels. If we can do that, we can actually learn to be good writers. Because you have to suck at something at first in order to ever get good at it.
If we can figure out how to do that, we can write a novel. If we figure out how to do that, we can do anything.
I sincerely hope you’re continuing whatever challenge you’ve picked for this month. Remember to follow along with #NanoLounge, so we can encourage and celebrate your progress.
Good luck, Nano’s.