My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Mailbox: NaNoWriMo (Again)

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I promise I don't bite--unless you either ask nicely (and tell me your safe word) or you take the first shot.]     

What is my fucking problem with NaNoWriMo?  What is my opinion of the lightning draft. Thanks to your words about NaNo, I'm writing again!

Anonymous writes:

What is your fucking problem with NaNo[WriMo]? Lots of people who wouldn't otherwise write end up with something creative and awesome. It gets people writing, and just getting something down on paper is one of the hardest parts of writing! How can that be bad[,] you tard?

My reply:

It's difficult to know exactly where to start with a gem like this.

First of all, I've sort of got to wonder how someone can know I have "a problem with NaNoWriMo" and not know exactly what that problem is. It's not like I play coy when people ask, smiling mischievously and changing the subject to how well the perch are biting this year at Lake Punchabloom. I'll tell you exactly why I think that not only is NaNo creatively sabotaging for most people, but actually romanticizes and celebrates only one aspect of a craft that involves much more. The hardest part might be getting something down, but it isn't the only part. And while apologists and the seasoned vets seem to understand how NaNo fits (and how it sometimes doesn't) into a broader mosaic of writing, no one ever seems to get quite as excited about any of the other parts.  If NaNo were followed by three National Novel Rewriting Months and then six more National Novel Revision Months--all with equal amounts obsessive enthusiasm (which I measure in the number of Bruce Almighty GIFs I see in my usual online writing haunts)--I'd be a lot less Spock-eyebrow about the whole affair.

I also might feel better if I hadn't watched writers, some of no small amount of skill, simply give up on writing because they could not complete NaNo--as if NaNo is the bellwether for determining if one is really a writer.

In fact, it's difficult to imagine someone knowing I have some problems with NaNo without knowing that I actually have a fairly nuanced opinion about it. I think there are good things and bad, and even though bad tends to overwhelm the scale's balance, especially to an inexperienced writer or one who has never written for a few hours every day, it definitely has its merits. You might even say I am conflicted about the whole thing, or that I am of "two minds."

......or was the clone who lives in the basement and really only shows up once a year to love on NaNo too fucking subtle for you?

If this blog is TL:DR for you, that's cool, but it's kind of obnoxious to come at me with shields up and phasers locked if you can't be bothered to read more than the article titles and some of the picture captions. At least do your homework if you don't want to look belligerently ignorant.

Lenée asks:

Chris, what is your take on writing the lightning draft? 

My reply: 

I think it can be really good for people who have trouble with sitting down and getting their longer projects written and/or finished, but still has some pitfalls to be aware of--especially for newer writers.

The lightning draft (for those who don't know) refers to writing a draft very, very quickly in an exercise that is a little bit like NaNoWriMo...except for the undeniable fact that it's ever so slightly less ridiculous. Unlike NaNo, in which you write a completely arbitrary number of words (that you call a novel but is really a novella's worth of length) in the month of November at a pace that can actually be destructive to creativity, in the lightning draft, you try to do the first draft of a novel in three months from start to finish. You decide the word count. You decide the start point. You decide the pace.

In order to keep your pace fevered you are not supposed to go back and work on what you've already written. You ignore all grammar mistakes. You might put certain things in bullet points, understanding that you will flesh them out into sentence form within the next draft. Some really hardcore proponents say not to even go back and fix mistakes that write you into a corner, but to write them into your current draft, so rather than go back and fix the old house description, a sentence might look a little like this.  "Geoffrey grabbed his gun and fled to the adjoining chamber to get away from the vampire prince (THAT MEANS THIS HOUSE NEEDS ANOTHER ROOM LIKE A PARLOR SO CHANGE THE PART WHERE YOU SAY IT ONLY HAS A JOINT LIVING/DINING ROOM)."

Lightning drafts have many of the same pitfalls of NaNo.  They are extremely rough drafts and do not simply need "some revision" but to be considered "draft zero."  They can be done so quickly that they work against an artist's creative process--especially artists who need a lot of time to percolate or who work meticulously--they are very hard to finish if a writer doesn't have an established habit of daily writing, they can burn a writer out, and it can be very discouraging to a writers self esteem to set a lightning draft goal and fail.

Though it is worth noting that warning people about lightning drafts vs. warning them about NaNo is a bit like the difference between warning someone that pizza shouldn't be eaten for multiple meals vs. warning them that the Pizza Hut Cheeseburger Pizza shouldn't be eaten for a week straight.

You gained three pounds and 50 points of the bad cholesterol just looking at this image.
Remember, the only rule a writer should have set in stone is to do whatever works, so if the lightning draft is causing you to kick ass and take names, do it.  Do it like grudge sex after a bad break up with a hot partner that you were never going to take back to Mom and Dad anyway. Do the shit out of it and don't call the next day. And if it doesn't work for you, rest assured that there are other paths to writing your novel.  Lots of writers take years before they really get it finished.

Personally, I would have a lot of trouble with a lightning draft. One of the things that really gets me in the mood for the day's writing is anywhere between ten minutes to an hour of tweaking what I've already written.  I'm not sure I could handle the "don't go back" part.  My shortest draft ever was only about 100 pages, and it took me about four months to finish.

Danielle asks:

Chris, I want to thank you for your words on NaNo both here and on your Facebook page. I was not able to finish NaNo two years in a row, and I figured I just didn't have what it took to be a writer. I haven't written in close to seven years after that second NaNo. But because of what you said, I figured maybe it wasn't me, and tried again. (Writing, not NaNo.)  I have been writing for the last month, and I feel like I'm alive again. I missed writing more than I even knew. Thank you so much!

My reply:

There are moments...

Moments that occur after a writer has "gone public" that are filled with such sincere validation as to make every horror and pissy little anonymous comment (or bad review or rejection) and disappointing day of page views all completely, utterly, undeniably, undoubtedly worth it. They are rare and fleeting and beautiful like a butterfly landing on your hand during a perfect sunset. And it is in those moments that you think, "this would be enough." If I never made another dime or I never got the novel finished, or people hated it and laughed at me and I never really wrote for anyone but myself ever again, this moment--right here--would be enough.

Your comment was such a moment. Thank you so very much, Danielle.

This would be enough.


  1. I guess I'm writing a "lightning draft," given that I started writing in January and I'm already on Book 2. I have a LOT of thoughts about this process, but I don't have my own blog so they'll just stay in my head for now. :) However, you're right about a lot of the problems. I am having to rewrite both of my books completely - not just revise, but rewrite. Fortunately, I'm having a great time doing it.

    When I sit down to write the first thing I do is reread everything I wrote the night before and edit it for punctuation and spelling. I make notes like "circular!" for later revisions. This helps me figure out what I was intending to do. Then I start writing. If I don't reread what I wrote the day before, I get lost pretty quickly - and I absolutely can't read something without editing it. I have way too much OCD to let that extra quotation mark go. (Apparently I'm really sloppy with quote marks.)

    It works for me, so it's what I'm doing. Even if I never sell this series, I'm still having fun. The goal is to sell, though; this is a lot of work and I have student loans to pay. :)

  2. NaNo gave me the courage to write, but I thrive on deadlines because apparently I'm fucked up. I did NaNo last year and was able to finish it without having written before. I dedicated hours every day to the process of writing – including research (and I have two small children, so this was not a simple task). I then spent six weeks editing, which no one told me I'd do. And then, over 3 more months, I did massive revisions, which I was unaware would be needed. Since November, I have overhauled my writing style twice, and have written half a dozen short stories.

    I found an awesome, intimate group of international writers that encourage and help me as needed. My husband is incredibly supportive and (as a lover of languages) helps me troubleshoot my plots and is my very picky proofreader, so that was a huge help.

    But as a "winner" of NaNo, I see exactly what you are saying. NaNo neglects to show you the copious amount of time and effort that goes into editing. Editing should always take longer than writing, but this is rarely explained.

    Now that I've had the chance to explore how I like to write, I've realize that I'd rather write, edit, read, rewrite, reread, and pace myself rather than gorge like a cow à la NaNoWriMo. The amount of time I spent editing (or rewriting) my NaNo piece was mind boggling versus what I can churn out over a couple week of intense writing/editing at the same time.

    NaNo doesn't afford you the time to court your words ... you just fuck them and move on. As a lover of intimacy, this bothered me after the fact, thought it seemed nice at the time. I'd do NaNo again for fun, but not with any seriousness. I lost my writing virginity on NaNo, so it will always have a special place in my heart, but I didn't develop a love of writing until I started my long term relationship with words – and that didn't come until months later.

    Those that expect to love and marry someone they fuck once is barking up the wrong tree. That's not how you develop a personal relationship and it's certainly not how you establish a healthy love of writing.