The 7 Pillars of NaNoWriMo Wisdom, Part 2

Today’s writing tip is a difficult one for me to follow, but it’s critical if I want to reach my goal.

2Don’t reread.

This always struck me as counterintuitive, until I started observing my writing behavior. My tendency is to write a few pages, take a break, then sit down and reread what I’ve written. That’s the first mistake.

The second one is letting my inner editor grab the reins (or keyboard) and do what she does best: delete. Six pages in the hands of my destructively picky reader (remember, this is me I’m talking about) wind up losing 50-60% of their content because it isn’t good enough.

During NaNoWriMo, “good enough” isn’t the goal. Word count is.

“OK,” I hear my readers asking themselves, “if that’s the case, won’t just any set of words do? Why not copy out the phone book, or perhaps your favorite novel? Even gibberish would get you to your goal.”

True enough. No one at NaNo is checking my actual words. I’ve been tempted to cheat, believe me, but what would be the point? I’d end up with a reproduction of someone else’s work.*

For NaNo I’m committed to telling my own story, but I never know how it will look when I’m done. I have to trust the process of writing to reveal the story to me. I know that sounds weird, but it happens during each writing session.

Don’t ask me how something that is not in my head when I sit down at my computer ends up on the page in front of me. Yesterday I had written two paragraphs of a chapter when I realized that its title needed to be changed from “X’s Rooms” to “X’s Secrets”. Where did that come from? I don’t even know what’s in the rooms, but now I can’t wait to find out.

James Britton** calls this “shaping at the point of utterance” or spontaneous inventiveness (after Heinrich Von Kleist). Rereading at this point only gets in the way of creation.

Turn the editor off. There are no bad ideas. Stop obsessively looking for the perfect word. There’s plenty of time for that kind of craziness later. For now, just keep writing.

*Can writers learn their craft by copying out other novels, the way artists learn to draw by reproducing other paintings?

**1980. You can find the article here.

About Lizzie Ross

in no particular order: author, teacher, cyclist, world traveler, single parent. oh, and i read. a lot.
This entry was posted in Am writing, NaNoWriMo and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The 7 Pillars of NaNoWriMo Wisdom, Part 2

  1. I’ve learnt this the hard way, write it and move on. Reread when you are finished, it’s much more useful to the end goal.

  2. calmgrove says:

    Excellent advice, and I liked the James Britton phrases. Your analogy with learning the art of artistry by copying reminds me that this is exactly what student musicians like Bach did in the 17 and 18C for the craft of composition.

    • Lizzie Ross says:

      Thanks, Calmgrove. When I finished reading Sebald’s Rings of Saturn last month, I was tempted to sit down and copy the whole thing out by hand. I’m not sure what I’d learn from copying a translation — not only not an insight into his process (it would be more useful to study drafts), but also not even his original words. But I still might do it, if only to slow down my reading and notice everything.

  3. calmgrove says:

    Very often for review purposes I take copious notes — dramatis personae, family trees, timelines, plot structure, maps, streetplans, thumbnail character sketches and so on — in an attempt to get more of a feel of the storywriting process. Not the same as copying, I know, and reviewing is not the same as creative writing either, but I imagine it’s a similar approach.

    • Lizzie Ross says:

      You are one serious reviewer, Calmgrove! I write a few notes in the margins or on the back pages, perhaps circle a few quotes, and go from there. Next time we tag-team on Shakespeare or whomever, I’ll know to step up my game.

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