NaNoWriMo Update: Poopy First Drafts and Trying to Find a Balance

I have never been one to write a garbage first draft of a short story or novel, going from beginning to end in one long vomit of mediocre writing, with the intention that I can fix it all later.

The very idea of that feels like giving up on craft. Yes, many have advised me, the best thing to do is just to write it all down, get the whole story out, and then fix the bugs later. And perhaps if I were the kind of writer who can churn out a few thousand words a day, this might be a feasible option for me.

But that is not the world I live — or write — in.

I deeply appreciate Anne Lamott’s advice about “shitty first drafts,” that they are children on a playground, carelessly exploring the world of the manuscript to see what treasures lay buried in its leaves. And I fully acknowledge that I have never, in my adult writing life and possibly not even in my adolescent one, given myself permission to write terrible first drafts all the way to the end, and that perhaps this is an error.

But to keep writing away on something I know in my gut is terrible seems an awful lot like wasting time to me, and if there is one commodity I do not have enough of to spend it willy-nilly, it’s time. I write slowly. I have all the usual demands on my attention of the modern wife and mother and career-woman (i.e., with a day job). I write slowly, thoughtfully, paying attention to the words I’m using. Blame it on my being formally trained as a poet. Or blame it on my attention to detail. Or blame it on my taking pride in my work, even my first drafts.

Or blame it on my not wanting to be a writer of crap and on my persistent efforts not to be. (I acknowledge I don’t always get it right, but at least I try.) I see very little value in writing an entire story that I know isn’t going to be good, or in writing an entire draft of a story and then throwing it away and starting over. This might be a viable option if I were immortal and had an eidetic memory. Neither of those being likely, well… I try not to waste any more time or effort than necessary.

When I write a story, I want to make sure to get the foundations of it right, to weave the texture in a way that sets up the rest of it for competence, if not success. Most of my fiction lives in the fantasy genre — magic realism, urban fantasy, literary high fantasy, paranormal steampunk — and I know that if I haven’t done at least a little economical world-building in the first chapter, my story won’t teach its readers how to read it. They won’t know the genre or the rules they’re dealing with, and the story could be confusing and end up a non-starter before we’re even out of the first chapter. (And if anyone thinks an agent or editor reads more than a few pages of a manuscript that appears not to know itself, well, that optimism is worth its weight in gold.)

Getting the voice right takes work. And once you have that, the other narrative vectors (like point-of-view, conflict, setting, pace, etc.) had better be on trajectory. This is a jargony way of saying that you need a strong foundation for a story if you want it to stand on its own. For a succinct explanation of the building-a-house metaphor, read this piece by George Dila; it’s a counterbalance to Anne Lamott’s treatise.

So I’m doing the NaNoWriMo again, or a modified version of it that makes sense in my world. My goal is 350 words a day, because I don’t often have more than thirty minutes a night to work and because the level of my creative energy by then is in in the basement. So I’ve set a generously low bar for myself, and so far I’m exceeding it nightly. (May this ever continue.)

But I realized about two days into November that I had to give myself permission not to write beautifully every time. I’ve been struggling lately with writer’s block — as well as Writer Brain (TM) — and sometimes the thought of sitting down to write stuff that I know isn’t going to be beautiful can paralyze me against writing anything. I’m a literary writer, a poet: words fucking matter. And the way I arrange them for others’ consumption is not a responsibility I take lightly.

So I’m trying to find a balance between shitty first drafts and publishable awesomeness. I recognize that’s a wide spectrum, so I’m feeling pretty good about hitting the mark somewhere in there.

Tonight I wrote about 100 new words on the latest chapter in my WIP. I also edited the whole thing (a good seventeen pages) and sent it off to my critique group. They will workshop it next week, and then I will revise it before I get too far into the next chapter, because I work too hard to weave the elements of a story together to have to unravel that tapestry every time.

After that chapter went on its merry electronic way, I wrote (and revised) this blog post, which is almost a thousand words. That means I’ve exceeded my word count again for tonight. Is any of what I’ve written tonight worth its weight in gold? I sincerely doubt it. But I’m not trying to be a perfectionist in a rough draft or a blog post any more than I’m allowing myself to write crap.

I’m just trying to write. And according to my word counts — and my growing readership — I’d say it’s working. Onward and upward.

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NaNoWriMo: Launch Is Ready For Go

Ready for go? Hardly. But who ever is?

Tomorrow is November 1st, and after what I think I can safely call a successful Hallowe’en in our household, I’m going to tuck in on my writing again tomorrow.

Not gonna lie, the last few months have seen some Serious Writer’s Block, worse than it’s been the whole last year. But I’m tired of that ish and ready to reset. I teach high school full-time and have two children in middle school, so the idea that I will churn out 50,000 words of anything that aren’t work emails or comments on graded papers is utterly bananapants. But I do like to commit myself to my own informal brand of NaNoWriMo every year, and that involves just promising to write something every day: work on whatever is my current WIP, write a poem or a blog post, do some important writerly career stuff, significantly edit. And often I do manage it — last year (when my work came crashing to a horrified halt the second week of November) notwithstanding.

So I’m committing to it again. I’d like to make at least 350 words a day on the new WIP, or more if I hit a stride. I’d also be satisfied if some of those days involved a substantive blog post or a poem or some serious editing. I’m going to try. And because I’m the type of person who needs external deadlines and accountability to really make sure I get it done, you can follow my daily updates on my Facebook page here. (Like the page and turn on notifications to see the updates in your news feed.)

I’ve come to an understanding of myself that there are three things I need in order to keep my stress at bay. (Well, okay, three things other than my excellent marriage.) I need to exercise regularly. I need to read something for fun. I need to write. All of this is most successful when each of them is done every day, or nearly every day. I have found I can handle quite a lot when I have those activities in my routine. So I’m participating in a fitness challenge at school, I have a book picked out that I’m excited to read and which is sitting on my nightstand, and the next chapter of my WIP is outlined and ready for me to draft it.

Let’s hope this works out the way I want it to.

Okay? Okay.

Writer is ready for go.

 

Haiku Contest Closure and Some Changes ’round Here

So now that the US government is back open for business, the Government Shutdown Haiku Contest is officially closed.  We had so many great entries!  Thank you to everyone who participated.  And in the comments this contest elicited from across my various social media, the general consensus from many, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof, could be summed up in this non-competing poem:

“Crisis averted
in the eleventh hour.”
Nice work, pudknockers.

Later this weekend, I’ll be posting all the entries for the contest and giving you, the readers, an opportunity to vote on your favorites.  Majority wins in this poll, and the winner will receive a copy of TimeSlice.  Look for more details and the actual voting in my next blog post.

***

You might have noticed there was no Fashion Friday post yesterday.  I thought about doing one on lariats, which are a fun and versatile jewelry accessory, but I couldn’t get a decent picture of the one I’d made.  I thought about doing one on the trauma of haircuts — yes, really — but it felt too indulgent even for me.  I thought about featuring a hat, but the cool weather we had at the start of the week dissipated again.  In short, nothing was really coming together in time for yesterday’s scheduled post.  So I let it go.  Maybe I’ll revisit those ideas again later.

In my realm, Fashion Friday is a “blog project,” something (much like the Rêveurs Revelation Fashion Project) that I find entertaining and fun and which gets me posting on a regular basis even when I don’t have something more literary to share.  And periodically I evaluate how those blog projects are doing.  The inciting incident for Fashion Friday was that I wanted to bring hats back into fashion, and then it just expanded into other accessories.  It’s been a way for me to indulge a hobby of mine while also, sometimes, writing about more meaningful things (such as body image or beauty or self-confidence), and it’s been a fun way to get other writers involved in my site as guest contributors.

Now that autumn is here and hats are back on the horizon, we will see more of those, because I do still want to see them make a bigger comeback even in places where it doesn’t get snowy and cold for several months out of the year.  And I’m still very much open to having guest bloggers contribute to this series.  I will still, from time to time, write pieces about those issues I mentioned.  But I’m not going to go nuts trying to post something every week for the sake of posting something every week.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with weekly posts — that is, ultimately, my goal in general — but these other things are just taking up more of my time than I have right now.

The reason for this is actually a good thing:  I have a bunch of pots on the writing stove, as it were.  Look for news about a magic realism novelette coming out in the not-too-distant future.  I may also be re-releasing one of my books of poetry that’s gone out of print.  I’m continuing work on the fantasy series I’m in the middle of — the first novel of which is currently being shopped around and which is sitting on about half a dozen agents’ desks at the moment.  The book review assignments are piling up around me.  I’m also itching to start a new novel, a stand-alone, and the NaNoWriMo‘s siren song has already begun its perilous waft to my ears.

So yeah, there’s a lot going on.  But it’s good stuff, and as much as I love my hobby, I want to devote more time to the literary stuff.

I am intensely grateful for all the new readers who have joined the Sappho’s Torque community since the inception of Fashion Fridays.  All of you, please feel free to query me if you’d like to do a guest post!  I hope you continue to enjoy the other treats on the blog between future Fashion Friday posts.

I’m considering some other changes around here, too.  You might have noticed a few little tweaks to its appearance over the last couple of months.  (Maybe not, though, as they’ve been subtle.)  I’m looking to spruce things up even more in the near future.

Exciting developments are afoot in the world of Angélique.  Stay tuned.

And watch over the next couple of days for the Government Shutdown Haiku Contest voting opportunity.  Thanks again to everyone who entered!

Cheers.