So, the bulk of my experience in NaNoWriMo has been, in all honesty, just about how fast my fingers can tap along the keyboard to string words together into sentences. That’s what it’s all about, after all- the word count. And I get, or at least I think I get, why some of my friends whom I consider to be real writers don’t support the idea: word count doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a story being in any way good.
But at the same time, I remember something my college playwriting professor told me which I didn’t get at the time. He said that in order to write well, you have to write badly. He was of the belief, and his class objectives followed accordingly, that you’re a hell of a lot more likely to find the diamond in the rough that makes the brilliant moments in stories if you have a whole lot of rough. In that class we were supposed to be creating at least ten new pages of material each and every week. And he not only accepted but encouraged us to make that material pretty crappy. The idea being that if I can pull one good line or one good observation or one good idea from those ten pages than you're golden. At the time, my self criticism was so extreme that I could get out- at most- two pages which I’d revised five times over. Sort of defeated the purpose of the exercise.
This- in and of itself- is why it is so valuable for me to do NaNoWriMo. It forces me to write because of the pressure to hit the word count markers regardless of the quality of the material. It forces me to ignore that voice in my head screaming about how bad what I’m writing is, and how I should just erase it. It creates an environment in which you can do anything- contrived story lines, cheap ploys, whatever- to get the word count up. And every letter of encouragement we get reminds me that regardless of how bad it may be there will be some diamonds in that rough. And I can say, that from the bit I’ve been reading through, that there are some diamonds in there. Which is a huge surprise to me, to say the least.
But I’ve been noticing that there is more to it than that. I have, without even researching the tools and tricks that real writers use, started using some of them (I think). I was reading through some of what I wrote last night and I remembered- ‘oh yeah, I researched that’. Whether it’s fleshing out a location by drawing from a real place, trying to make a character more believable by looking into the little details in other books I loved that made them stick with me, researching how to pull in the little plot points to support that larger arch, whatever. I believe- and again I don’t know because I am not what I would consider to be a real writer- that this is what real writers do. From what I’ve read on the amazing blogs of people in this community these are the kinds of steps that are involved when writing a first draft. I never received any formal training on how to do this stuff, but I’ve been doing it.
And I think that this is one of the biggest advantages of this practice. By having this artificial environment in which I am asked to accomplish this task I start to do at least some of the things I will need to do for real without over thinking it. Because one of the big issues that I’ve always noticed in my class work is that I get too stuck in the how and miss the what. The how, usually, is just supposed to be a jumping off point. Especially in creativity where you’re supposed to be- you know- creative. Trying to follow someone else’s steps verbatim is not going to help you be creative. You have to change it, make it yours, make it work for you. This challenge is forcing me to do that because I’m not following some step by step guide that someone else made up; I’m finding my own path.
I assume that these lessons I’m learning are within the realm of “Novel Writing 101” as compared to advanced methods evolved by advanced writers. I’m fine with that. I make no pretense of knowing what the hell I’m doing. But I’m finding a way that works for me. And regardless of what comes of this novel- which I assume will be nothing- I am learning. And that’s pretty big for me.