Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Corollary to NaNoWriMo, or, Why I'm Prouder of 600 Words than 10,000

Those of you who've been doing NaNo with me may have noticed something on my stats:

Let me blow that up for you a bit:

You can see that on days 3-4 I was pretty much stuck. No improvement. Then Day 5, I did a massive cut. Day 6, I cut more. I'm down to 600 words right now. 

Some of you noticed and were concerned (thank you; that's sweet!), but here's the thing.

Nothing bad happened.

I was getting close to 10k words. And then, on Day 5, I realized: that was the wrong 10k words.

So I deleted them all. 

Then I got in an interesting email convo with someone who'll remain nameless (but who's cool with me writing about this today; I asked). First, she advised that I put the words back. Her reasoning:

"You can still count them so you can win NaNo."

I. Um. I'll be honest here. I didn't realize people were that concerned about "winning" NaNo. When I signed up, I signed up for the momentum and community. I thought it would be fun to do this craziness with other people. I liked the stat record--long-time readers will remember how often I do live-blogging to keep myself accountable and to kick my writing in gear when I get stuck. 

I didn't do it to win.

Now, that said, I would like to have 50k by the end of the month. I'd love it. Given the prep work I've put into this, I'd actually like to have more than 50k by the end of the month, even with my cutting and slow start.

But I don't care about "winning."

My friend on email was still a bit shocked. "The point of NaNo is to push through doubt," she said. "Just keep writing."

Me: "But I have no doubt that those 10k words are wrong. And there's no point to keep writing on something that's not right."

Her: "But you're supposed to turn your inner editor off," she said. "And just write."

Me: "I am writing. Deleting the wrong words is part of writing."

Her: "But...now you're behind. You were ahead, and now you're behind." 

Me: "But...I'm ahead on getting the right story."

Her: "...but you're going to lose NaNo."

I was honestly a little surprised by her reaction. Is it that important to "win" NaNo? I mean--it's just a number. And it's fine if your goal is just get a certain number of words on the page. But it's better to get the right words on the page. If you're stalling, or fretting, or worrying--that's one thing. Push through that. But if you know you've gone off the wrong path, don't stay there. 

In short: do what's right for you. I'm still in NaNo, and I still intend to "win." But I'm also still prouder of the 600 words I currently have than the 10k words I had a few days ago. 


My Summer Girl Books said...

Thank you so much for sharing Beth!

I've been having the same experience. Except I was discouraged over my word count. I'm really trying to decide it doesn't matter. I do want to win, but I would rather have a story I'm proud of at the end than 50,000 words I dislike. Plus, at least I have about 3,000 words I didn't before!

You're awesome!


Natalie said...

I am doing NaNo as well, and while I understand your point, for me it's better to just push through. I am the type of writer who needs to just keep going and worry about problems later. I have tried for several years now to finish a manuscript, but every time I've stopped halfway through because I got frustrated or confused or down on myself. I was too worried about being perfect, and because of that I never got very far.

NaNo has been good for me, because for once I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know that not all the words I've been writing are good. In fact, some of them are bad. But for me I can tell it will be better to just finish it anyway, do a read through in December, and find the bones of my story there. That's why I want to 'win' NaNo--because it's the push I need to suck it up and finish a first draft.

Mary said...

I just came to that realization yesterday. While I might have 6k in my NaNo story (I was behind anyway so probably wasn't going to "win" unless I pulled a couple of all-nighters), they're the wrong 6k and they need to go. Buh-bye.

For me, starting over with stronger characters and the right words is better than "winning". Because, to me, that's a win.

You've got to do whatever works for YOU as a writer. Even when you're NaNo-ing. Good luck!

spazfilly said...

This is my 8th year doing NaNo and I'm with your friend - never delete anything in November! Even if it was the wrong 10k words, there is nothing stopping you from making a scene break and just starting over. I've done that almost every year within the first 5-10 pages because it takes me that long to find my story. The reason for keeping the words is because you never know when you might go back and find something valuable in that first 10k, even if it's just a line or two that came out just right, or the seed of another story you'll write later.

Hannah Milton said...

First of all, I never really delete anything. (I'm a little paranoid, okay?)I just start new word documents, etc. But two years ago I was doing Nano and lost about 10,000 words because I hit the delete button instead of the save button (or something else really stupid). I was so sad and depressed-- all my hard work, out the window! But then I got to thinking about it, and those 10,000 words weren't what I wanted to write at all. They hadn't been the right story. And it totally re-invigorated my novel.

So while I'm all for crushing your inner-editor in November, sometimes novels get on the wrong track, and there's nothing wrong with fixing them :)

Sarah said...

I killed off 2,000 words yesterday, even though I'm hopelessly behind due to a huge freelance copy writing job I had to complete at the beginning of the month.

It wasn't so much the inner editor saying, "those aren't good words", but more my heart saying, "I would never, ever want to read this story..."

Thanks for sharing. I feel better about scraping my few thousand during the "Nano crunch" now ;)

Rena said...

You know, that's a fantastic point. I had noticed that you'd had 10K (like a boss!) but I wasn't worried when you dropped your word count. I know what that's like. You have to love what you write or it's impossible. I've been there, done that. And I've never "won" NaNo. The only other times I've signed up, I've used it as the carrot for other projects in desperate need of help (turns out I work a little better with the carrot than the stick, who knew?). I'm trying NaNo for reals this year, but we'll see.

Good luck either way. NaNo is such a great community.

Caryn Caldwell said...

That's part of why I'm glad I'm never at the drafting stage when November comes around. I know I'll get caught up in the goal, and it will be hard to do what's right for my story if it means skipping a day to plot or think, or rewriting a character I got wrong at the beginning, or deleting a scene and starting over. I think it works for some people's natural processes, but not for everyone's. That said, it would be fun to have that community spirit and the momentum.

Good luck with it! As for me, I'll be revising. :-)

lanna-lovely said...

I agree with both you and your friend. It really depends on the person and why you're doing NaNo.

I do NaNoWriMo because I am terrible at sticking with a story long enough to finish it - I get so annoyed with the way I'm writing it that I stop halfway and start a new story, before even getting a first draft. And first drafts don't have to be perfect, but I struggle with allowing them to be imperfect even though I know I can rewrite or edit them later.

When I do NaNoWriMo, something about having a set goal of 50K and people writing with me kind of makes me give myself permission for the 50K to be not particularly good, if I focus on the word count instead of dwelling on the fact that it's not quite right yet, then I find it easier to write. (Although, I have written short stories this month that I technically could include in my word count, but haven't because I'm not quite that obsessed with reaching 50K.)

For me, finishing a first draft without obsessing over imperfections is my goal. While your goal seems to be different: you want a good first draft and while finishing it matters to you, it matters less than getting the story right in the first draft so you'll have less of a mess to sort through when you start rewrites and edits.

So yeah, it depends on the person really: if you'd rather have quality over quantity, then that's awesome and totally fine and it's fine for people to want quantity now to work on the quality once November is over. :)

feywriter said...

Awesome post. For me, I doubt I'll ever "win" NaNo. I simply can't write that much every single day without burning out. But what I *do* know, is that each time I participate, I'm writing more in that 30 days than I do any other month of the year. THAT is a win for me.


I don't even understand "winning" NaNo. I mean, isn't the point to get started writing your book? At the end of the month I'm not going to have a finished novel even if I do have 50k. I'm most concerned about getting into a habit of writing every day.

I've had people tell me not to edit, but isn't that making life harder at the "end of the month?" Especially if the story is going the wrong way? I think so. I'd rather Know I was heading in the right direction. I didn't officially sign up on the NaNo website because I hate all the spam mail and I'm doing this for me, not to "win"

barmybex said...

I do NaNo to get my words down, but i agree with you, they have to be the 'right' words. I'm lucky in the fact that mine tends to come out right, but if I was totally sure it wasn't working I would start again.
In fact last year I started one story, worked on it for 6 days then decided I didn't like it, it was going nowhere and wasn't the story I wanted to write, so I scrapped it and started a completely different story.
I did manage to 'win' that year, (did a mass write in on the last day to catch up) but if I hadn't of caught up it wouldn't have been the end of the world. At least i had the story I wanted!

I stick to the 'no edit' rule in terms of niggly things like spelling and paragraph structure, but if it is a storyline/development thing, then I will change it.

Good luck catching up, but glad you are writing what feels right. :D

Ellie Garratt said...

For me it's not about the winning but about getting my butt on the chair and writing.

Personally, I never throw anything away. I simply copy and paste into a new file. But I do understand about starting again. I did exactly the same thing in 2010. I got 8000 words in and realised it wasn't the book i wanted to write. So, I started again. Somehow I managed to do the 50k.

Good luck with rest of nano!

Nicole Settle said...

I fail NaNo every year but I complete my writing goal, which is to start a good chunk of a story. The way I write usually doesn't work out to doing 50K in a month, but I like the enthusiasm this month brings so I join in NaNo. For me, it's not about wining. It's about writing. Congrats on finding the right words even if it took 10K to do it!

Katie Dunn said...

Good for you!! I never thought the point of NaNo was to win. I always thought it was to get a book written, whether you get to the 50,000 words at the end of the month, or it takes several. For some, NaNo is the motivation to START which can be just as hard as finishing.
My own NaNo project this year isn't a brand spanking new WIP. I'm completely rewriting the project I did for NaNo last year... Because I was more concerned with winning last year than I am this year. This year, I want to get the words right!

Murr Brewster said...

Why, it sounds to me as though you have pushed through all doubt, and you had no doubt you were on the wrong track. If I'm going to hell, I don't really care to make good time. Congratulations.

ivanova said...

In my experience, the focus on winning NaNoWriMo is a trick that people play on themselves so that we can "lock up" our inner editors for a month. Most of the NaNoWriMo participants are doing this because they love to write, but are "amateurs" and have no plans or expectations of publishing their novels. If your focus is on writing a quality novel, there is a strong temptation to edit and delete, as you have done. For many unpublished writers, and some published writers, the compulsion to edit is a discouraging feeling and it basically makes people decide to stop writing because it is too hard. With NaNoWriMo and its focus on quantity not quality, there is a freedom to let yourself write a complete first draft, no matter how awful it is. So all we care about is "winning" and we don't care about the story arc, characters, etc. . . for now. In December, when we can edit our babies, it's a different story. Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, talks about this phenomenon a lot in his book _No Plot? No Problem_. There's an example of a guy who has done NaNoWriMo many many times and never attempted to publish his novels. I think people should do whatever they like with NaNoWriMo, but personally I see a lot of merit in the classic approach where all I care about is generating words.

Sarah-Ann B. said...

I couldn't agree more with your statement that cutting is PART of writing. I understand that sometimes writers cling to revising as a safety. It's easy to cling to those first five chapters and keep revising them "because they're not quite right." Sometimes you need NaNoWriMo to force you past those five chapters. But, at the same time--if you're writing words that mean nothing to your real story, then that's not an effective use of time either.

Thank you so much for posting this. I don't feel so guilty about scratching my entire novel! I spent weeks gearing up for NaNo, only to start writing and discover that I wasn't writing the correct story. I wasn't writing the story that NEEDED to be told.

Now I've completely switched gears and started a different project.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry to all the intrepid NaNo-ers out there, but this is exactly why I don't do NaNo. NaNo encourages quantity not quality, and I don't mean the prose (which can be fixed later). I mean NaNo encourages mistakes in plot, setting, action, supporting characterizations, etc. Who does a good job when rushing? And who wants to throw out 30k or so words when it becomes obvious the book took a wonky twist somewhere and went off the rails?
Nope, I'm an outlining, editing, slow-and-steady kind of girl. :-D

Christine Manzari said...

I'm doing NaNo too Beth and I totally agree. I'm way behind and probably won't 'win' this year, but I'm still writing and that's the part that's important :)

Christine Manzari said...

I'm doing NaNo too Beth and I totally agree. I'm way behind and probably won't 'win' this year, but I'm still writing and that's the part that's important :)