I’d had a thought about putting up a post about unicorns, but couldn’t quite figure out what would go in it aside from a rambling retrospect on my wallpaper choices as a six-year-old. So herewith, a post about writing, which I know I’m ostensibly supposed to avoid, as back in the day I was all, I don’t want it to be just another aspiring writer blog! Whatever; I pay the hosting fees so I’ll be fickle if I want.
Sometime last year I posted about not participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2004. I had more mixed feelings about it then; this year it’s just a vague sense of nostalgia, if nostalgia can apply to events of just two years ago. I think this is, in part, because I’ve been diligently working on my writing since December of last year (as I recall, November was to be my fallow, resting period before getting to work on revisions). The camaraderie of NaNo is excellent, but in terms of a motivational crutch, I don’t need it anymore.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that for the panster (we who eschew outlines and write “by the seants of our pants”) NaNo may, counterintuitively, not be the best option. Or at least, it’s not the best option for me. Because the past year of revisions has taught me that I don’t particularly like revisions. Anecdotes and recommendations abound of “Just get the first draft done; it’s easier when you have something to work with!”
I did not experience that sensation of optimism. What I did experience was an increasing sense of despair as I added scene after scene to Scrivener’s “trash” folder, because it meant that even after two drafts (or was it three by that point?), I still had to generate new content for at least 50% of the book. For a time, revisions were scarier than the blank page.
I think there might have also been an aspect of Plato’s Cave to it, except the shadows on the wall I see and describe result in my imperfect book, and it’s frustrating to know that somewhere, there are “real” people, and if only I could see them, then maybe the book would better match what I want to describe.
My experience of pantserhood, then, is that it ought to be be slower, not faster. Write, ponder the next bit, write, ponder, write, and repeat until, ideally, you experience one of those “eureka” moments where everything just fits, and you see not the shadows on the wall but the people themselves; moreover, you have the right words to describe them.* Most importantly, however, I think moving more slowly means that pantsers would describe the right people.* I think if I move too quickly just to keep writing, just to get it done, I focus on the wrong thing, and it sucks to realize I’ve focused on the wrong thing for nearly one hundred thousand words.
I admire people who outline. I really do. People who outline before NaNo may wind up with a lot more usable words than I do. But I cannot use outlines; at least not extensive ones. I last maybe five or ten thousand words before deviating, and those deviations are usually better than the outline. But the problem is, I still reach a point where I ought to ponder. Instead of pondering, I will write this upcoming scene I have in mind, because the important thing is to get it done so I have something to work with, and writing ahead still means I’m working and being productive.
Writing ahead means I’m writing a scene I’ll have to toss later, because once I’ve solved that early problem I set aside, I’ll come up with another direction that renders the “must keep working” scene useless. It’s not a very good system to produce in excess of 400,000 words (a rough estimate of the word count I’ve devoted to the various drafts of my WIP, Second Sun) and keep maybe 100,000. If I tried to pull the equivalent at my day job, I’d get fired.
The sense of community that comes with NaNo is awesome. Maybe I was just lucky, but all the boards I frequented as a participant were troll-free. I always enjoyed heading out to my local write-ins. So if in some future November, my personal writing schedule works out so that I’m drafting instead of revising, I may participate in NaNo again. But I don’t think I’d push myself to get to 50k in a month. I’ve already proved I can do that. Eight times, I’ve proved that. What I need to work on now is making them good, and ones I can keep.
Maybe next week, I’ll write about unicorns anyway.
*I think I just made an allegory of an allegory. Yes, I was an English major.