Now, I know what you’re thinking? Right now, you’re frazzled writer’s brain has taken in this title and is screeching at me because WHAT DO YOU MEAN CALM DOWN WRITE WRITE WRITE WORD COUNT FRENZY GOGOGO! I’m not talking about that at all. I’m talking about how you shouldn’t be letting your expectations get the best of you.
NaNoWriMo is more like a sprint than anything else. Anyone will tell you, most NaNos end up being a lot of crap that takes months of editing to fix. (If you don’t think this, you are either the Writing God or far too overconfident for your own good, I hate to break it to you.) Nothing written this fast has a possibility of being perfect the way you’ve written it. Hell, nothing written EVER has the possibility of being perfect the first way you write it. Maybe parts, maybe sentences, maybe the idea in general is solid, but you can’t tell me you’ve ever written something and gone “Wow, this doesn’t need editing.” Because unless you are the Writing God, you are wrong.
Yesterday evening, I was minding myself, NaNoing away, when my father walked into my room utterly depressed. He was completely despondent about his NaNo. Nothing was coming out right, he said. He felt like there were critics sneering over his shoulder, mocking him. He could not understand why everything he was writing was coming out looking like utter crap no matter what he did. (Okay, my paraphrasing. I swear what he said was more elegant. Hi Daddy!) If you have ever written a paragraph, then you know that this is a feeling that often occurs. Sometimes, though, we tend to forget something else.
THIS IS NORMAL.
Just because the last thing you wrote was this short story or paragraph that completely blew your mind doesn’t mean this won’t happen again. Just because you’ve gotten used to long periods where the words won’t flow doesn’t mean that this won’t happen again. No matter how many instances you find where you feel like Shakespeare’s got a hold of your fingers, you will have two times wherein you feel like a wreck, a good for nothing and just plain trash.
NaNo is a very potent time for this to happen. Given that you’ve got this word count to meet, you basically give your soul to this novel for 30 days. Sometimes you’ll get these flashes, where you’re just writing and writing and you think, “THANK YOU WRITING GOD, FINALLY!” because everything is flowing out of your fingers and you understand your plot and everything is just BEAUTIFUL. Then, the next day, when you can’t recapture that feeling, you drop straight down into the depths of despair, crying and holding yourself because everything is over. Your novel, you realize, is crap. Even what you wrote yesterday is ridiculously horrible. You’re done as a writer, after this. And this is where it comes back to: CALM DOWN.
When my father came into my room yesterday, I took pity on him and read him the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter out of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If you have not read the excerpt or the book, I strongly suggest it. If you have, you may remember Lamott’s overall point: first drafts are SUPPOSED to be crap. No one is ever going to see it if you don’t let them, and no one has to. It may be horrible to feel like a complete writing failure, but just remind yourself you can fix it later. In some of my own delirious NaNo moments, I’ve written in red ink under the chapter headings of things I have to add or fix later. There’s nothing wrong with that. Even if this wasn’t NaNo, there’s NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.
In the moment, it’s hard to remember this–I know–but that’s why I’m here. Guys, its only NaNoWriMo. There will be months after this to edit and laugh at your sillier things. Overwrought descriptions and unneeded filler are really, truly par for the course in November. So add everything you want. Let your characters make fools of themselves all over the pages. Let yourself be a fool all over the pages. Really, that’s what NaNos all about. Just remember that there will be time to edit later. There will be time to care about grammar and spelling and plot continuity LATER. You aren’t alone, believe me.
Okay, I’m off my soapbox now. This has been your PSA to remember to not tear your hair out over those little editing things you can take care of later. Just hit your word count. That’s hard enough. (Oh, and don’t interrupt another NaNoer with your own woes. They will angrily blog about it later. …love you, Daddy dear!)