How We Write: NANOWRIMO Rewrites… Ouch!

So, you’ve participated in NANOWRIMO. Now what? NOTE: I didn’t say you’d finishedNANO.  I saw a tweet from someone yesterday saying she wasn’t going to finish her NANO project this year, and that she was likely never going to finish this book at all. And that’s just sad to me. It’s the worst of what can happen with an extreme challenge like this: demotivation. Or even harder to watch than that: any writer, no matter how new, deciding after a month of dedicated draft writing that she CAN’T do what she wants to with a book–to the point that she’s giving up before giving it a real chance. Don’t do that, my friends. DON’T!

just say now

Remember our revision discussions:

ANYONE can learn to deconstruct and rewrite story. It’s always better if you approach a draftingproject with as much planning as possible,  at some point WE ALL feel lost while we draft, even multiple-published authors.

I just finished a 3-day writing retreat where I’ve drafted 150 pages. Which just about killed me. And not because of NANO. Because I have a book due–NOW. And sometimes in this business, no matter how much we’d like to for every book, faster has to take precedence over slow and thoughtful and story slowly evolving in its own organic way. It’s an unfortunate fact of our world that getting the next book out sooner rather than later is key to maintaining and escalating reader interest, particularly in a series like the one I’m writing in my Seasons of the Heart books for Montlake. Christmas on Mimosa Lane is selling well now, readers are asking for Sweet Summer Sunrise, and by God I’m going to finish this draft so I can promise them it’s coming on time next June.

The question became very quickly once I’d squirreled myself away from all distractions to create, “Could I? Would I?”

no yes

I’ve been drafting UGLY. Really ugly. But there’s also beauty in what I’ve created.

This dark but creative place that crashing a draft out becomes is what I teach students when we talk about Improvisation. The story and characters and community I’m dreaming up as I type like a mad woman (with purpose, because I have the bones of a story outline) have taken over at this point.They’re talking to me and taking me to places only they and my subconscious was aware of before now. It’s AMAZING what concentrated drafting can do, once you surrender to it. But it’s also IMPOSSIBLE to sustain for long. And it can be fraught with the temptation to give up and believe that the rough, un-prefected work you’re creating is all there will ever be for this book. Trust me, I could have quit several times over the last 72 hours, just like the dear writer I saw throw her hands in the air last night on Twitter.

Because we all know what comes next: the revisions. And those are going to hurt even more than the drafting (or the NANO) did. And that should be impossible, right?

No writer enjoys facing the reality that what she’s crafted doesn’t work for the reader the way it’s first written.Many of us have to hand over our drafts to critique partners or for editorial revision, knowing that those comments can be painful to work through. But WE NEED THEM. Yes, we need to self-edit the story first. But eventually we’re going to have to let someone else see what we’ve slaved over. And that horrifying reality is why many of us quit, right? It’s not perfect, it’s never going to be perfect, OMG someone’s going to see my draft and it’s NOT PERFECT!

It’s never easy for me, turning a manuscript over to a beta reader (akin to dropping my creative pants in public) or my agent or editor and asking them to show me where the story breaks down (where I need to get back to the gym and work on the gushy parts).

But I do it. Because I’m a professional writer, and I adore my readers, and I want every book to be the very best it can be. AND I can’t get the story and plot and characters and setting and theme and symbol and narrative structure, etc. where they need to be (in any draft, but especially a quickly crafted one) completely on my own. I know that while I draft, everything’s not always going to be perfect the minute my creativity poops it out ;o)

critique pig

We’re too close to our work once we’re in the thick of the writing (or NANO). Don’t let that closeness close you down to the point of quitting now that you’re November drafting spree is done. Even if you haven’t finished NANO this year, you’ve done an amazing, hard work, and now you need to take yoru process to the next step! Revision and recrafting, and committing to not giving up on a story that’s come to life because of your skill and imagination alone.

We’re no longer seeing the story’s journey from a reader’s perspective, when whe’re this deep into drafting. At some point, our writer’s experience becomes the tunnel we see through. Which means, we’re in the tall grass, losing our way even as we write something unique to our voice that we want readers to love. To be worthy of that love, we have to be willing to let go of a little of our creative control. At least long enough to ask the writing professionals we trust where we’re not getting the story right.

Enter the very necessary critique and editorial revision phases of your creative process.

i can do it i will do it

Buckle up, my friends, because that’s what’s coming next. It always comes next. So don’t you dare NANO Quit on me now!

And as much as I preach the importance of revisions, this is what it typically looks like in my house, when I’m staring down that gauntlet.

 revision

Yes, it can hurt to look at the rough stuff. But so can going to the doctor or the gym or even visiting the dentist we’re not overly fond of having poking around in our mouths. Still, we do all these things, because they’re good for us. And we don’t blame the professionals who help us or the treadmill that firms our thighs, because it’s not a birthday party every time we see them. They’re doing their jobs. We’re lucky to have them in our lives. And it’s up to us, once we leave them, to keep the work going and follow whatever of their advice we choose to (or not).

And here’s the thing about handling the less-than-flattering critiques that we’ll face now. If you’re too thinned skin to deal with a critique partner’s not-always-flattering notes on your work, how on earth are you going to have the skills you need to work with that publishing house editor you hope to write for one day? You know, the publishing professional who isn’t a friend, who really isn’t invested in whether or not he/she’s hurting your feelings, and who potentially holds your next book contract in his/her grasp, while they’re telling you to fix something you don’t want to go back and mess with again…

Okay, then. Back to work!

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3 Responses to “How We Write: NANOWRIMO Rewrites… Ouch!”

  1. Anna,

    I agree with you completely. I know my nano draft is ugly right now (I just finished monday) but it will clean up to something better and then my critique partners and my editor will kick it into shape. It’ll be painful but my ugly baby will end up pretty eventually. Right now I’m just happy that it’s sleeping for a bit.

  2. OMG, THANK YOU for this!!! Sorry for the all caps and exclamation points this early in the morning, but this is a wonderful and much-needed post. I’m at the sticking point with my Nano WIP where I want to either go back NOW and rewrite every ugly word or just put it away, but I’m trying hard not to do that. I want to just get the words out, down on paper and then go back to smooth and revise them.

    Your post is a great reminder that it’s not the same journey for all of us but we want to end up in the same place–with a finished manuscript.

  3. Ruth Owen says:

    This is very helpful. Sometimes I think I’m the only one that has trouble with perfectionism. It’s encouraging to hear that others struggle as well!

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