For many writers out there, this month begins what is known as NaNoWriMo which is a writing exercise where you attempt to write 50,000 words in the span of thirty days. In previous years, I’ve taken an active part and, for the first time last year, I documented my progress on the official website (which you can find here). It’s an incredible test of your ability to just write and not edit, which is something I know many writers struggle with. If you have a novel or writing project in mind and you want to just get as much down as possible, I highly recommend it!
This year, however, I won’t be taking part. Although I have multiple projects on the go at all times because I am incorrigible and have yet to learn truly how to narrow my focus, I am trying my best to be singular, or as singular as I can possibly be. As you can see with this blog, I do currently have three projects on the go, and whilst Project #1 has taken a backseat, I’m still working on about a thousand things at once, and I’m trying to be better about that. If you’re always adding a couple of sentences to about a hundred different novels, then it’s probably going to take you a couple of centuries before you ever get anything finished.
As I did manage to get a substantial amount written for Project #3/OFBB last year, that’s been my focus for the past year, and thus should be my focus for the foreseeable future. I’ve been trying really hard to narrow my focus. Getting things finished isn’t necessarily something I’ve struggled with in the past, but in order to be a published author, I can’t simply finish online projects that don’t need to be polished; to get a novel out there, in the world, in the hands of real people, you need to work on it in a way that refines it until it can almost be refined no more. I will never use the word perfected because that is a concept that just doesn’t work when it comes to art, but I will use the words thoroughly strengthened because those words and art certainly do come together, and they should. Often.
One of the things I love about writing is… well… the writing part. There are absolutely some days where I’d rather just sit and edit, read things through, refine sentences, chop out paragraphs, but I am, more often than not, in the mood to write. I just want to craft characters and dialogue and exposition and explanations and introspection. I want to sit at my computer or at a table with a notebook or even my phone and just type or write away. I want my fingers to move faster than can be comprehended or I want my imagination to run away and have a pen scribble so fast that I can’t even read what I wrote (which happens far too often because I’ve never been able to train my penmanship well and must thoroughly apologise to those I’ve written postcards and letters to; I simply cannot write slowly to save my life). Writing is all that I love, and it is the act of actually writing that I adore best.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a joy to researching, and some days I want nothing more than to sit with notebooks around me as I build a world from scratch; every aspect of writing has its joys. Each one is important as well, they all need time and dedication. To be an author, you have to wrangle your muse, and sometimes that means forcing yourself to edit when you would rather be writing.
Personally, it is the act of writing and typing and creating that I love most. This does mean that, given the choice, I would actually much rather take part in NaNoWriMo once again. I have ideas that could use 50,000 or more words, and there are certainly stories waiting for me that I could churn out words for. I am nothing if not capable of creating half-crafted stories that need plenty of work.
However, to be a writer means to work on your restraint. If you want things finished, you must be able to tell yourself no. I have to tell myself that, this year, I will not be writing 50,000 words for another story that will sit in the background until it gets its turn in the spotlight. I did write not so long ago that it can be beneficial to be constantly creating stories because sometimes something new will come to the foreground that you can run away with and sometimes older things do need to stew before they’re ready to really come alive.
Like I just said, unfortunately, to be a writer, you need to learn when to tell yourself no. Creation is the most beautiful thing, it is an act of pure wonderment, the imagination is a most spectacular beast. True creation, however, involves refinement. If you let yourself create and create and create, yes, there will be some beautiful things released into the wilderness. But if you let yourself create and then refine what is created, that is when things become spectacular or even exceptional.
Are there folks out there who simply write and then get those first drafts published? I am sure there are. Maybe there really are some writers who write the strongest drafts the first time around. I do believe, however, that most manuscripts require multiple drafts and I’m not sure I’m quite brave enough to let the world see my first drafts unless I was telling some advisory tale about what a first draft looks like compared to a tenth. There may be some beautiful vulnerability in sharing a first draft, but I know none of my first drafts could be published. If you expect people to pay for your work, then you have to offer them something worth paying for.
So that’s what I’m currently working on. Despite the pull of NaNoWriMo and the draw of being able to write endlessly without editing, I have to make the conscious decision to refine and edit. I do still believe in the importance of letting things sit and breathe, and it is during those breaks between drafts where I let myself create and write again, but as the drafts get on, those breaks seem to grow shorter.
I have a deadline I’ve given myself for Project #3/OFBB in particular, and it’s a deadline that’s growing closer. I will not allow it stress me out; although there are stresses and traumas that come with being a writer (I do not believe the tortured artist is an entire necessity but there will always be trauma when you are an artist, that much will forever be true), I simply will not give myself additional stresses. The time approaches, but it will not daunt me, it will invigorate me. It simply has to, otherwise I’ll never get published and this whole blog situation will be highly embarrassing. I know I will achieve authorship one day, but if, for some reason, you search for this blog in the future and nothing turns up, perhaps I may have decided to herd sheep in the mountains and write in notebooks I’ll bury in the earth for some future historian to find instead. I won’t lie that the idea tempts me when I’m looking into agents and publishing houses and wondering if my novels can sit on the shelves next to the greats (I believe they can, but the idea can sometimes be daunting).
If you are involved in NaNoWriMo this year, good luck to you! I hope the words come to you freely and swiftly and that writer’s block never plagues you. Also know that if it does, it is not the end of the world and that, one day, the words will return. They always return.
If you are like me, I also wish you good luck! I know the temptations of working on something new all too well and I wish you restraint and perseverance against the temptations of creation. We can get through this together. And maybe, if we work hard, we can jump back into NaNoWriMo next year.