I once said that if coffee is fuel for writing, I have the fuel efficiency of a Hummer towing a boat. By “once said” I mean “said a few months ago” and no, that hasn’t changed. I don’t know what the acceptable cups of coffee/words ratio is, but I guarantee I’m not hitting it. Every time I sit down to work on something, I say to myself, “Okay, Carly. Today you’re going to focus and be professional. You’re going to write for as long as the words are there. You’re not going to check Facebook or Twitter every 20 seconds. You’re not going to fuss about the song that’s playing. You’re here to write.”
I almost never succeed. I do check Facebook or Twitter every 20 seconds. I drink coffee and make more and drink more and make more. I play with the dog. I get distracted nailing down minute and unimportant details about characters, places, and scenes. I waste an absurd amount of time even when I’m under pressure; I once spent all night writing a short story due the next day (yes, yes, I procrastinate, one flaw at a time) when I probably could’ve finished it in three or four hours if I hadn’t given in to distractions.
When I participated in NaNoWriMo, this was not the case. I hit those 1,667 words a day and damn, I was proud of myself. I didn’t check Facebook and I didn’t lose sleep over it. I wrote a few pages for every cup of coffee rather than a few words. “You’re almost like a real writer,” I said to myself. “Look at all these words. Look at that word count meter go up. You are successful because more words.”
As I’ve already discussed in an earlier post, my NaNoWriMo project was a mess. But that’s okay! That’s the point of NaNoWriMo! You just write and write and write and edit later! You squash that inner editor for a whole month and at the end you have something you can turn into a novel! Right?
As I also mentioned previously, that project had more problems than I knew what to do with. I did spend several months on second and third drafts before deciding to rewrite the whole thing in first person, and even then it was hot mess of angst, plot holes, and unnecessary complexities. Sure, I discovered first hand how difficult it is to write a novel, and I’m thankful for that, but what else did I gain? There are probably a few other cutesy little things I could say about it (“it was psychologically beneficial to see it start to finish” or “it taught me about myself”), but in the end I spent months on something that will never see the light of day. And yeah, I write lots of things that will never see the light of day, but I don’t even appreciate my NaNo project. I can’t even read it and think “Well, no one may ever read this, but it’s valuable to me.”
In contrast, I was happy with the short story that took four hours longer to write than it should have. I loved it. I was proud of it. I had thought about every single event and paragraph and damn near every word in that thing, and according to my professor and classmates, it showed. It certainly wasn’t perfect; in fact, in the grand scheme of written works, it may have only been halfway decent, but I turned it in without any qualms or insecurities.
Perhaps the most common writing advice I hear echoes the theme of NaNoWriMo. It’s something like “Write stuff, even if it’s utter crap and you end up throwing it out. Just write stuff. Write a lot.”
Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking NaNoWriMo or people who write 2,000 words a day, because I’m absolutely not. I love the idea of NaNoWriMo and I love the community of writers surrounding it. I respect people who have the discipline to write 2,000 words a day. But for myself, I’m not sold on the idea. If I write a mess of words in a month and take two months to edit it (more or less successfully), is it better than taking three months to write something that’s pretty good in the first place? Am I not hindering my own creative process by forcing it to be something it isn’t?
I’m also not saying my writing habits are good, even for myself. There are days when I dither away my writing time and in the end am dissatisfied with what little I accomplished. A little structure and accountability would do me good. Therefore, I’m giving this NaNoWriMo thing another shot.
If you weren’t aware, the lovely people at the Office of Letters and Light also provide writers with Camp NaNoWriMo. It has the same purpose as the original NaNoWriMo but it’s a bit more laid back and a smidgen cozier. This July, writers will be able to set their own word count goals (rather than the standard 50,000), which couldn’t be more perfect for me. I know my current project won’t end up more than 30,000 words (I’ll be surprised if it makes it to 20,000), which means I can still set goals for myself without frantically spewing any and all words that come to mind. My hope is that my creative process will be focused but not rushed; I certainly don’t want to be getting sidetracked by BuzzFeed and YouTube, but if I want time to bicker with myself over word choice, I’m going to blinking well take it.
If any of my readers are doing Camp NaNo, let me know! Maybe we can even be in a cabin together.