Squeezing a Diamond from a Lump of Coal

My friend Rachel and I were discussing the mechanisms behind the Nanowrimo endeavor and why we're embarking on the ambitious project of completing a novel in 30 days, and what the proper thought process should be to foster a good work ethic. A lot of people do this because they want to know they can actually complete something. I overcame that hurdle awhile back. I now know that I can end a story, declare "checkmate" on my foes Doubt and Procrastination, and do a little victory dance. My problems lie elsewhere. One universal credo in the Nano world is to "turn off the inner-editor." Indeed, that has been a major struggle for me. It was especially bad in the first few days when I was really beginning to think I was in over my head. Then I carved out a smooth enough path through the overgrowth and it's been pretty steady going ever since. I'm halfway to my goal now, eleven days in, and for the first time, I've begun to feel like I might just have enough story to get to 50K and beyond. But make no mistake--what I'm writing right now is dreadful muck. It's probably some of the sloppiest, low-quality hackery I've constructed in years. I'll never be able to turn off THAT particular voice. It's not an inner-editor. It's an inner-critic. The editor attempts to slow you down by making you correct your writing or make story changes as you go. The inner-critic is just an armchair author, and she says things like: "Oh boy, you're really going to have to research that later" or "Do you really think people are going to be able to suspend their disbelief THAT high? Get real!" The inner-critic doesn't have an "off" switch, but that's okay. The inner-critic keeps me honest. It hasn't affected my productivity. The inner-critic yammers relentlessly, and I soldier on because if there is one reason I started this journey, it's that I needed to face my weaknesses and my imperfections as a writer, and I needed to accept them. Participating in Nano has forced me to finally treat a first draft like the puddle of literary vomit it SHOULD be, because there isn't any TIME to craft a perfect final draft in one shot. And though I should have known better than to think I could do that to begin with, it is a habit I haven't been able to squash. It's an important lesson to learn. When you tie up all of your emotions and expectations into something you think is good enough to be published the minute you type "The End," the fall is that much harder when your first-readers go over it and find a slew of problems. You've been reminded, through the words of your well-meaning outer-critics, that you botched it a little. You got over-confident and shot your wad on the first draft instead of holding onto a little bit of mana for the subsequent rewrites. I'm not doing that now. I'm writing something that I KNOW will need a lot of work and research for a re-write. I wrote a number of stories in 2008, but none of them were ever "true" first drafts, at least in my own mind. I'm learning to just breathe, to say it's okay not to have it right the first time, to be okay with my mistakes, to admit that the first sentence in my first draft is not the first step in crafting a novel. The first step is actually completing the first draft. It is only after that when the real work begins.

1 comment:

  1. You're actually writing! Critic or no. I only write novels in my head, usually before I go to sleep at night. The don't ever make it from my head onto paper (or the computer). Someday, I'll actually learn and maybe keep a notepad by my bed so I can jot down my brilliant plots, characters and dialogues. Brilliant, sure.