So, inspired by all the NaNoWriMo folks, I decided that this month, I would recommit myself to finishing my never-ending friggin’ novel. Not finishing it this month, mind you — I’m not made of NaNoWriMo stuff. But, since I’ve been working on various iterations of the same novel for, literally, years now, and I still don’t have a full first draft, I decided it was time to change my approach.
Operating on Anne Lamott’s “anyone can write a shitty first draft” principle, I’ve decided to devote an hour a day to writing new pages. Just churning out new stuff, not concerning myself with how bad it is or even whether it will stay in the final version. That’s something I’ve never been any good at — when I’m writing fiction, I edit compulsively as I go along. That works well for stories under 20 pages, but for anything longer, it just leads to me burning out and giving up. So far, my novel-writing process has gone like this: I have a burst of inspiration and energy, write 20 or 30 pages, polish them to near-perfection, and then don’t look at the novel again for 6 months. At which point, I’m not necessarily sure those near-perfect 20 or 30 pages still belong there anyway, so I start over.
And that, my friends, is how one spends years working on a novel without ever finishing a draft.
On the strength of my experience in the book publishing industry and my M.F.A. in fiction, I can say with some certainty that all novels ever published have one important thing in common: they were finished. Mine, years later, is not.
Now, I’ve dieted enough that the phrase “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got” still eats away at my brain, even if I’m no longer counting calories. So I finally accepted that my “writing process,” however mystical and woo-woo and sacred it may once have seemed to me, is just not getting the fucking job done. And so I decided to be more methodical in my approach: one hour a day, every day, until I’ve got me a shitty first draft. Period.
So far, it’s going shockingly well, in part because I bought myself a Neo, which allows me to write without the distraction of the internet in the same little box where the writing happens — and which, because it only shows a maximum of 6 lines on the screen at a given time, makes rereading and editing as I go along a huge pain in the ass. So I don’t do it. I just write. If I actually keep at this every day, I will have a shitty first draft in less than a year. And since my greatest strength as a writer is in the revising, once I’ve got that shitty first draft, the real magic can begin. I hope. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
Now, on to the Shapeling Participation element of the Fluff — which actually has potential to be unfluffy, but you can take it as seriously or not seriously as you like. We talk a lot around here about how oversimplifying complicated things — like, say, the laws of thermodynamics — is bad news. We make fun of people who can’t grasp complexity, and they bloody well deserve it. But sometimes, as with my writing process, stripping away the complications makes something better. The $200 Neo is a much better novel-writing tool for me than my $1500 computer, precisely because it doesn’t do nearly as much. Go figure.
So, Shapelings, tell us about a time in your life when making something less complicated led to good things. Go!