One day after I hit the 10,000 word milestone for my National Novel Writing Month project, "Charlotte's Choice," I wish to talk to you about quality vs. quantity.
There is no perfect process when writing the "next great American novel."
Let me say that again.
There is no perfect process.
As a writer, one must choose how to go about telling one's story. Will the process include a 30-page outline (months spent creating) and character sketches for even the most minor of players? Will the process involve fully editing and perfecting each chapter before moving on to the next? OR will the process be more of a visceral, fly by the seat of the pants risk, hammered out over a weekend with no sleep, a vat of coffee, and one's favorite sweatpants for company?
Maybe a combination of all three? Perhaps.
The point is, each writer is different. Each process may also be different, yet, successfully produce a quality piece.
As a participant of NaNoWriMo, the November writing challenge that pushes writers to abandon self-editing for a month and concentrate on just getting the story down, quickly and concisely, I can attest that the biggest challenge, in forcing that word quantity higher, is the realization that the quality of my work is not exactly up to par.
That's really the challenge here, for me, because this process is so unlike my usual way of doing things.
As a past news reporter, I lived with hard deadlines for so long I got used to self-editing my work as I go. That is a handy trick in news writing, but, perhaps, a hurdle in the fiction realm. Although I've completed a 300-page young adult novel, it took me a ridiculously long time to do it. There were times I thought I'd never make it past page 30, since I couldn't seem to stop backing up to the beginning and re-reading (and re-editing) from page one, just about every time I turned on the computer. In that process, I believe some of the personality of my writing fell away. My work became a bit too clean ... a little less interesting. I think I literally edited the joy out of my writing.
That is why I chose to do NaNoWriMo this year. I want to cure myself of the habit of overthinking every sentence, too early in the process. I want to put the story first and the pretty sentences second, although I do hope, when I get around to editing, I discover at least a few pretty sentences tumbled onto the page at first writing. This November, there is a freedom in my writing, a freedom to write badly but often. That freedom exists because I've committed to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. The quality must wait. It is the basis of my story and the word quantity that matters, at the moment. NaNoWriMo is all about challenging yourself to throw down words and clean up the mess later.
Yesterday, as I cruised toward my milestone of 10K, I couldn't help but notice the final five pages of that endeavor were, quite frankly, crap. As in fall-asleep-at-my-keyboard crap.
That's a mess that will require a bucket and some sweat and tears, later down the road, after I've met my 50K goal. But at least I will have something to edit in December. Most other Decembers I do not. And THAT is exactly the point of NaNoWriMo. In December, I can put quality first, quantity last ... as I clean up a completed (be it messy) novel.
There is no perfect process, but I'm hoping this one proves a breakthrough for me.
Happy writing, my friends.
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