With National Novel Writing Month starting this week, it’s time to stretch the fingers and ready the keyboards because both are about to get quite the workout for the next 30 days. Usually, I take this time to take one of my many unused novel ideas and blossoming it into a solid first draft.
However, given the success of my latest published book A Penny Lost, and with the sequel The Me in Memory already with the editor, I chose to spend the month of November rewriting a dusted manuscript. It’s a toss up to me which is more difficult: creating a draft out of blank pages or polishing that draft into a publishable novel. At times, it seems amazingly similar.
I read somewhere that there was an emotional cycle to writing a novel. First, there’s the creative high. Every word written is gold or at least gold tinted. The plot is rich with prospects and the characters stretching after the long nap. Usually, this lasts about 20% of the book (all of act 1 and some of act 2). Then comes the doubt. I start thinking things like “wait, that doesn’t work” “gosh, I’m going to have to go back and change all of that” “this doesn’t make any sense” and last but not least “why would anyone read this? I don’t even want to write it!” What once was an adventure suddenly becomes a task list. Cleaning days are twice as productive while the keyboard feels forgotten. I usually stick with the book merely because I made such a stink about it to my family and friends that quitting would be embarrassing. This covers most of act 2 to be honest. But then, things start clicking together. Twists appear during act 3 which I never saw coming. Dots are connected that I didn’t even consciously know the book was preparing for and suddenly the book is amazing again. I fall in love with the characters so much more than I remembered falling in love with them before and by the time I write the finishing touches of act 4, I’m filled with a mixture of relief, sadness for the ending, and pride in my good work. The hardest part then is setting it aside for at least two weeks before looking at it again.
I’ve found that editing is a similar experience, albeit somehow the exact opposite at the same time. The first 20% of editing, I’m shocked by the roughness of the draft. Did I write that? Who on God’s Green Earth gave me a degree in Creative Writing?! If anyone saw this, they would feel morally obligated to take that degree away! But onward is the only way to go because I really did fall in love with those characters and I must make sure they get the story they deserve. Around the beginning half of act 2, I realize these edits are working. This draft may look like nothing now but it’s a freaking geode and I’m going to find those crystals. Charts are formed, plans made, crazy-person boards with red string start hanging on the walls. This is going to happen and it’s going to be fantastic. I usually (with a few minor slips of courage along the way) can get all the way through the book with this editing momentum. As long as I never look back until I’ve already reached the end.
This tends to be my downfall more times than not. Looking back at the pages I’ve passed always makes me realize all the mistakes that slipped by previous drafts. Whether it’s the first draft or any of the dozens afterwards, seeing a mistake missed punches at the momentum needed to reach the end. Mistakes are going to happen. That’s inevitable. That’s a core fact of life. I’ve read best selling novels with awards, deals with movie companies and the worst typos! It’s okay. Sometimes not all strings are going to be tied together. Not every sentence is going to be grammatically correct, no matter how many amazing editors look through it. Whether it’s draft 1 or draft 100, there’s going to be something you could change, something you may have liked before but you don’t like anymore, something you want to add or take away.
That’s why, with all the creative energies in the air during NaNoWriMo, it’s time to create this goal for the month: I will write 2,000 words every day (excluding Sundays because I need my mental breaks) for the entire month of November. No matter how horrible this draft seems upon revisiting, it is my job to find the crystals in the geode, to polish the shine out of this draft. During NaNoWriMo, I promise to put more energy into the editing. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo as well, remember the rule of the mistakes. They’re a part of the process, never a reason to quit. Follow my twitter and Facebook for updates on the editing and let me know how your own NaNoWriMo is coming along! What are your goals? Need a friend to keep you on track? Let me know and have a wonderful, creative, and inspiring NaNoWriMo.