It is a truth (perhaps not universally acknowledged) that any process that would spawn an acronym like “NaNoWriMo” must be awful.
I have, in fact, heard the process of writing compared – by writers, mind you – to banging your head against a post; waiting for drops of blood to spontaneously form on your forehead; and walking across a bed of coals.
Of course, this is precisely what NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is all about: to get out of your rut (head banging, etc.) and into an altered state, by the application of a random deadline, sheer will, and peer pressure. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo specifically refers to the commitment to write at least a first draft of a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. The math: About 1,666 words per day. Doable? Sure. Fun? Absolutely — to those who enjoy walking on hot asphalt for thirty days straight.
(When I first heard the acronym I thought it meant Nyah-Nyah-Nyah November Writing More-than-you. Perhaps this explains my less-than-stellar attitude? But I digress.)
As a salute to my fellow masochists, I offer this revelation of my own humble experience with the sacred Way of Writing:
I always like to begin with a lot of arduous worrying. This is before the actual putting of fingers on keyboard, though it may include scribbling on paper, napkins, or the inside of my arm. This is the planning, organizing, fretting-over-whether-I’ve-got-all (or any) of-the-pieces stage. Admittedly, this stage can be a PITA (Pain In The Artistry).
I understand that in NaNoWriMo, this stage is highly compressed.
But parts of it can be fun: Constructing the bones of the piece, inventing characters, writing funny lines in your head, imagining things, and finding that bit you were missing.
This is sometimes also known around my house as the “don’t-distract-me-I’m-writing” phase. (The phrase is usually uttered when someone rudely interrupts while I am, say, staring out a window, washing the dishes, or lying down with my eyes closed.)
This is the somewhat-arduous actual writing – with flashes of pure bliss, when words seem to jet out of some portion of my brain I normally cannot access, hang suspended for a moment, then drift onto the page like snow on pine boughs, inexplicably sticking and mounting into improbable beauty.
More often, alas, there’s a high proportion of “Ah, shtinkt! This isn’t right, but I’ll just throw some verbal ordure on the page here and dress it up later.”
If not for the inevitable Stage 4, this would be the best part: rapturous infatuation with what I just wrote. I can hardly believe my own cleverness (including, or at least ignoring, the aforementioned ordure.) This thankfully often lasts only a few hours, but sometimes days or weeks.
I say “thankfully” because – though you might think prolonging rapture would be a good thing – the longer it lasts, the more likely I am to actually let someone else read it. Dear God, please no.
Horrified humiliation when I look at the self-same first draft after Stage 3 has passed, seeing all the unvarnished, fulsome flaws, the purple prose, the incoherence interspersed with trite wording. Urge to crumple very powerful at this point.
(Having trouble getting to Stage 4? Easy fix: send the work to someone else. Hit attach and send; Stage 4 will immediately commence.)
Painstaking rewording, rethinking, and sometimes all-out rewriting. Sometimes this goes well and is fun.
And then again . . . sometimes it’s the absolute pits – particularly when it becomes cyclical: Stage 4, Stage 5, Stage 4, Stage 5 . . . bloody forehead, neighbors annoyed by banging, frantic calls to friends to meet for coffee, etc. (My closest friends can tell as soon as I stagger into the coffeeshop — by the forehead smears — what stage I’m in with my Work In Progress.)
Satisfaction and enjoyment, even relaxation, as I get to the polishing and tweaking phase. (This is the part I most like to do for other people: copyediting, in other words.) I can dive in, bandaged head first, and spend many happy days tinkering.
Problem is, pleasant as it is, I know from years of experience that when it’s my own words, I WILL miss something. Because – say it with me now – I KNOW WHAT I MEANT. And this is why, o’ beloved friends and comrades in literacy, Everyone Needs An Editor.
But only after November 30.
P.S. Feel free to share your own writing process in the comments!