NaNo and the Red Pen

November is a month of extremes in my life.  On the one hand, I absolutely love Fall in Maryland.  When people ask me how I could possibly have moved from California and actually stayed in Maryland, I refer to Fall.  My dad mentioned to me yesterday that the vineyards are all changing color in Sonoma Valley.  This is a glorious sight: rows upon rows of deep red grape vines pin stripe the rolling hills.  In spring, it is the opposite. The vines are green and the ground between them bursts to life with yellow mustard flowers.  These are beautiful sights.  However, they are also the only real indication of change in seasons that Northern California sees.  In Maryland, the diversity of color and the incredible changes in weather mark every change in season with a bright flag.  Now, it is Fall.

November is also the month when facial hair is the most encouraged among men, which I get behind.  November is my birthday month.  And there’s Thanksgiving.  Grocery stores are still selling winter squash, and inevitably, I still have a half dozen in my pantry to last me through winter.  So November is good.

It is also difficult.  As I’m sure is true for everyone, work speeds up for me in the Fall.  Summer vacations are officially over and everything under the sun needs to be done before the lull of the holidays sets in.  I need my book finished by Christmas.  The site is content ready and needs to be running by New Year’s.  There is a lot of work to do.  And, this year, I’ve decided to participate in NaNo, again.  I’m already shaking my head at myself.

For those who don’t know, NaNo is short for National Novel Writing Month.  The idea began in 1999 in San Francisco, when a group of friends decided to challenge themselves to write an entire (short) novel in the span of 30 days.  Now, the movement has grown to hundreds of thousands of participants around the world.  There is a website, where novelists can track their word count throughout the month, and connect with other foolish souls who have put their entire life on hold in order to crank out 50,000 words in 30 days.

I’ve participated in NaNo before, but have not ever cracked the 50,000 word mark.  Nor have I finished the novels I’ve started.  I do not know if this year will be different in that regard.  However, I do know who it will change from previous years.  This year, the Red Pen has a plan.

Step one: Put down the Red Pen

National Novel Writing Month is an exercise in pain, futility, horror, and also, the simple dedication to writing.  The goal is to produce something, anything.  The goal is not to publish that thing, or even to make sure that thing is publish-ready.  A lot of editing is required for the production of a novel, but editing has absolutely no place in NaNo.  There is no time for it.  And, quite frankly, there is no point is avidly editing something that doesn’t actually exist.

Step two: Don’t pick up the Red Pen

Editing is what I do.  It is most of my business.  Even when I am ghostwriting (which is another large portion of my business), I have to edit my own work before I can send it to clients.  My ability to edit is what keeps me alive in this game, and it will get me exactly nowhere in NaNo.

I have always been the type to edit as I go.  It keeps me moving, by letting me recall what I’ve already said and what I need to say next.  It keeps me from getting fatigued by the process of writing and satisfied in my ability to actually say what I’d like to say.  And none of this is useful to my endeavor in NaNo.

Step three: Take my own advice

Often, when helping clients, I am involved in the process as much as I am in simply providing an end product.  Invariably, I am asking questions, encouraging, and offering advice as much as I am marking things up.  Blogging clients often need encouragement to write regularly.  Clearly, so do I.  What I tell clients in this situation is always to stay ahead of the game.  If you want to publish weekly, make sure you crank out a couple of workable blogs at once.  Even if they are not both in publishable condition, you are ahead of the game just slightly, and this will help on days and weeks when you can’t muster the creative energy.

In order to crank out 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to write close to 1,700 words per day.  I can end up writing many thousands of words in a day for different jobs, but this is not the same thing as consistently, daily, writing that much on a single piece.  You don’t get to put it down and work on something else.  I mean, you do, but then you aren’t moving your word count forward.  It’s harder than it seems.  And it doesn’t seem easy.

The only way to survive is to consistently, whenever possible, write more than that 1,700 daily benchmark.  There will be days I cannot write.  Because I am lazy.  On those days, I need to have the words in the bank to avoid feeling defeated by my own ineptitude.

Step four: Have a plan

I really need a plan.  This is step four because, quite frankly, I’m an editor.  I do really well taking trash that other people have written and turning it into polished silver.  My trademark phrase at the moment is “What you were trying to say is–”.  It’s a nasty habit, as it crops up in conversations with everyone.  A great friend of mine is a very talented artist and I found myself editing a half-finished painting of hers a few weeks ago.  The only thing that saves me, socially, is that sometimes I am right.

My point is that planning out a story-line is not what I do best.  I am better at reworking story-lines.  I am better and reorganizing flow, changing wording, that sort of stuff.

So, for me, definitely, I need to find a plan.

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2 thoughts on “NaNo and the Red Pen

  1. In the past, I’ve managed to crank out 50,000 words of silly exposition, which remain unaltered on my hard drive for years to come. It’s been suggested to me that I try revising a novel’s draft in a month (which for me requires a plan). But yes, I certainly agree that planning and focusing are key tools in writing (successfully).

  2. Good luck with NaNoWriMo this year! Putting down the red pen and ignoring that inner-editor is my greatest struggle as well. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone in that battle!

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