NaNoWriMo and the Art of the First Draft
Greetings, NaNoWriMo authors-to-be, and welcome to your partway peptalk! We're nearly halfway through November, which means that if things are going well, a nice, beefy chunk of original novel has already exited your body sometime over the past week and a half. (Remember: inspiration can come from anywhere at any time, so always check between your sheets during NaNoWriMo for any bits of novel that might have leaked out during the night.) And if you have, in fact, managed to pound out 30,000 words of prose since the first of the month... well, let's be real, you don't need any help, because you're either a) a robot or b) a liar. And robot liars do not need pep talks.
But if the first ten days of NaNoWriMo weren't a blissed-out torrent of creativity for you and your manuscript-in-progress, then don't despair! Because from one author to another, now is the perfect time to take a step back, and take a nice, broad look again at where you're going, where you've been, and what's been tripping you up so far.
When you're working on something as big as a novel, and when a deadline is looming, it can seem like your one and only imperative is to write, write, write—and to hate yourself for every second you "waste" not actively pounding your keyboard. But writing isn't just about the time you spend actively transferring a story from the inside of your brain to the outside. It's also about taking the time to reflect, revisit, and make sure you haven't lost sight of what you actually set out to do.
Most of you will have probably started the month with an outline of the novel you planned to write; most of you will also have discovered by now that seeing your story through from beginning to end isn't as easy as going down your to-do list and knocking out chapters one by one. Some scenes, and some characters, are more challenging to write than others. But since NaNoWriMo participants have a very specific goal—to finish a draft by the end of the month—those challenges just aren't all meant to be tackled on your very first stab at your manuscript. Which means that now is a good time to sit down, grab a beverage, and look back over what you've produced so far, to see who or what has been giving you trouble, and whether some of that trouble would be better left untouched until later.
For instance: if two of your characters need to have a conversation before an essential plot point can happen, and if you can't seem to get to that plot point because you're having too much trouble with the dialogue, then just leave the bare essentials as a placeholder and move onto what comes next. (A placeholder note might look something like this: "Biff hesitates at the entrance to the cave, which makes Barry angry. After some bickering, Biff confesses that he was once attacked by man-eating albino bats during an Eagle Scout spelunking trip and is now afraid of caves in general. Barry calls him a wimp and shoves him into the cave. Note: Barry is a hypocrite as he will later turn out to be terrified of hamsters.")
Remember: NaNoWriMo is about getting your first draft out of your head and onto the page. And a first draft is never a finished book; it's just the skeleton of the story you hope to tell, and a good skeleton doesn't need anything but strong bones to support what comes next. Be brave, be bold, be brutal as you charge ahead. Build a beautiful bone-body for your book-to-be, and know that when the month is over, you can beef up its muscles and comb its hair to your heart's content.
Kat Rosenfield is the author of AMELIA ANNE IS DEAD AND GONE, as well as SparkLife's resident expert on flirting, frenemies, and family weirdness. Her second novel, INLAND, will be released in Summer 2014.
How goes it with your NaNo novel? Perfect prose, or ugly first draft?