There is a reeling against NaNo, and I was smacked repeatedly with it yesterday. Instead of firing back at them on Facebook, I decided to blog about it to all of you. I’ve went over why you should do NaNo, but they were ultimately superficial reasons. What I want to talk about now are the NaNo writers, habits, and bad practices which come out of this.
This all came to pass yesterday when someone bemoaned the horrible critique she received from an organization willing to look over NaNo drafts. For this next part, if you take bad news poorly find someone to hold you. I’ll wait.
Alright, now that we’re all cozy, the truth is your first draft is nearly unreadable. It is going to receive a generic “What a nice premise” from the kindest of critics. You keep your first draft in a drawer of shame somewhere, after you edit, only to go back and laugh at it while drinking heavily. By. Your. Self.
It has typos, grammar issues, plot holes that could swallow a super nova, the same character called by three different names, and at least one deus ex machina that the Greek’s would be ashamed to use in their plays. When December hits, or whenever you finish, throw it aside, let it breathe for a week, preferably a month, and then get down to editing. Trust me.
NaNo is also not harming or scaring away future authors. The majority of people who start with NaNo have been saying, “I’m going to write a novel” for the better part of their life. Some of us since we became enamored with Big Friendly Giant fan fictions in second grade, moving on to Jurassic Park in fourth. By fifteen I had a firmer grasp on intellectual property, but just barely.
Most of the people writing for it would still be staring at a blank screen. Or a TV. Or a video game. Or…. Of those who do write, some get no further than 5,000 words. The lowest on my buddy list currently is almost at 150. That’s around 150 more words than they wrote in the past 40 years.
I feel we all fail to remember your average NaNo author is a hobbyist. This isn’t bad. Hobbies are great. Tons of guys play basketball, football, and other sports on the weekend without any hope of getting into the most basic of paid leagues. They aren’t trying to get published, they won’t get past a first draft, they feel no shame and that is excellent.
When I did Tough Mudder, by the end I was a broken rag doll. I looked like crap while many others were running as if they just started. Getting through with grace and making a start in my athletic career were not my goals. Finishing was, and I achieved that. We aren’t instilling future authors with bad habits. We’re giving people something to be proud of, even if it’s a one shot gig.
For those wanting to get beyond hobbyist, here are some of the good habits.
Write. The first few pages are difficult. I’m pretty sure I had less pain and anxiety getting my cavity filled two weeks ago. The bill for that filling is another story.
Once you get rolling, keep rolling. Like Juggernaut, what you leave behind may not be pretty, but you’ll have a path and your momentum will often times carry you. You can always pave and beautify later. If you stop, it takes a lot of effort to get going again.
Don’t edit until you’re done. Maybe you’re rare and can do this, but I’ve never heard of a single person capable of making any substantial forward progress when editing while they write. They may edit the last paragraph or two as they read what they wrote last night to remember where they were going. The people I know who edited the first chapter after they finished have been on chapter one for the better part of two years. The rest finally quit.
Set deadlines. Sure you can break them, but the guilt of failure eating away at us has a tendency to make us strive for more. Or go catatonic. From what I can tell, however, if you’re going catatonic because of guilt, you’re definitely not going to survive the critics. Try to stand firm on your deadlines. If you miss, adjust.
Here are the bad habits. No one cares about your progress. At least they don’t three times a day. Or once a day. Pick a day, like Friday. Release an update around 3pm, when everyone at work is bored and looking for a distraction. Brief, to the point, and add some humor. If you’re just updating word count, put up a counter or use Twitter.
November is the only time you break this rule. People are there to help you and everyone shares. You don’t want it to be the norm, but it sure does feel good for 30 days.
Edit your work. Not after finishing chapter one. After you write “The End.” As stated above, draft one is not up for public consumption. A rough draft is like a road: until it’s finally paved, you don’t want to drive over it. This includes excerpts. Put up those “road closed” signs.
Don’t ask for our opinion on passages. On ideas. On really finely detailed minutia. You have friends. If you need literary friends, go make some. It’s easy to talk to us through a computer screen. In real life we’ll likely stab you repeatedly. It’s just good business practice to get rid of competition.
A final word. People are under the assumption you plan for 11 months, and write for one. I usually write for three, edit for the rest of the year, and start planning in mid September. If November doesn’t work out as your novel writing month, don’t sweat it. Make it work on your schedule. I find the deadlines and excitement get me moving and catapult me well through November.
This is something we can all benefit from, from those who do NaNo to those who disdain it. While I know we all write in our own way, NaNo can teach a lot of great habits. The bad, more often than not, are incidental, not directly taught by the event. Find what works for you. Cut out what obviously doesn’t. If you do it as a hobby, sweet. If you want something more, there are plenty of resources to help you get past the first step.