Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: first drafts

I’m Back to Explain My (NaNoWriMo) Experience

I “won” NaNoWriMo, which means that I wrote 50,000 words during the month of November. To be precise, I wrote 50,364. The idea is to write a novel, but that 50K I wrote is more like two-thirds of a novel. A decent start, at any rate.

I figure I’ll finish the first draft in the next two weeks. It feels like it wants to be about 80,000 words or so, but we’ll see. Once that’s done I’ll let it cool for a few months before tackling revisions. Maybe they should call it National Novel Starting Month (NaNoStMo?) since all those first drafts are unlikely to be presentable.

The experience of participating in NaNoWriMo was an enlightening one. For years, I have convinced myself that I can only write novels during summer vacation because there just isn’t time during the school year. I found out I was wrong about that. I lied to myself! I can work on novels anytime, and I discovered some ways to bring focus to the small chunks of time in which I could write.

I used NaNoWriMo to try some new things too. I wrote in the first person, which I’ve only done in short stories, and I’m doing science fiction, which I’ve always wanted to try but hadn’t until now. The go-go-go pace of writing for this challenge doesn’t  leave much room for self-doubt so it’s a great time to try new things and experiment a little bit.

It’s been fun, and I like the characters and the story. I’m surprised by some of what has happened, but that’s part of what makes writing such a thrill.

Starting a New Novel

I’m doing NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write the first draft of a novel during the month of November. The draft should be 50,000 words.

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo before mainly because I’ve always assumed I can’t write a novel in a month during the school year.  I’ve written first drafts in a month, but only during the summer.

One of my teacher friends mentioned she was doing it and asked if anyone wanted to join her. At first I said no. 50K words in a month? While teaching? Impossible.

Then, I started to wonder if I could do it. I mean, I’ve written three first drafts already so this isn’t new. How does one begin a new writing project? Why, at the beginning, of course.

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor Books, 1994). In her chapter “Shitty First Drafts,” she uses the metaphor of driving at night to describe first drafts. We can only see as far down the road as the headlights reveal, but eventually we’ll come to a destination.

What’s that destination?

Last a week a character came to mind. A setting. That’s where I start a draft. Just write about the character and the place. Things will present themselves. This is the beautiful serendipity of fiction.

Sure, I will likely cut out most of the opening fourth of the book when I get to revisions, but that opening part is where characters are met and discoveries are made.

I started yesterday and wrote about 3,500 words. I like the narrator, and I like the premise. Toward the end of writing, another character walked up and whispered something in my protagonist’s ear. I was as surprised as him.

Doors begin to open and the world grows. I can’t wait to see what happens today.

That’s the excitement of first drafts. You just write what seems right at the time, taking the words as they come. Don’t worry about plot holes and inconsistencies. So what if your protagonist is 37 on one page and 42 on another. Fix it in post, as they say in the film biz.

That’s where I do research too. Since this is a sci-fi project, I’ll have a lot to do to create the verisimilitude I want, but for now, I intend to tell the story as it unfolds in front of me.

As with football, it’s all about forward progress and at the end of November, I’ll have a first draft to revise and craft into something good. Something beyond a “shitty first draft.”

Working title is A Fire to Be Lighted.

Wish me luck.

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