In 2014, I participated in NaNoWriMo, along with other writers throughout the country and the world. I wrote a minimum of 1,667 words a day between November 1st and 30th. When it was over, lo and behold, I’d completed a Shitty First Draft (SFD) of a new manuscript. Which is a really big deal!
Yes, I spent time beforehand thinking through the plot and characters. And yes, it’s taking me about a year of editing to finish the book. But from where I sit (in my yoga pants and fuzzy slippers), one year isn’t all that shitty.
Consider this. The SFD for my first novel took two and a half years (ouch!). In my defense, I was learning. I thought it would be easy because I’d penned hundreds of business documents over several decades. Nope. Writing words of fiction turned out to be far more difficult than relating words of factual truth. When I started, I didn’t understand the craft. In fact, I didn’t even realize there was writing craft.
So many of us dream about writing stories. We live them. We talk about them. Cave women and men sat around the fire and grunted them. According to an article in the Washington Post, some words in our language have survived for nearly 15,000 years (Cra-zy!). Story telling seems to be passed down through our DNA.
But no. As turns out, because of that whole craft thing, it’s easy – almost natural – to write crappy fiction at first. My initial drafts were nothing less than cringe-worthy. I was intrigued though and stayed the course in a certificate program at the UW. A saint of an instructor taught us how to write commercial fiction, while she and the other students endured with my early prose. Writing became a passion for me (and I improved a bit). I also discovered a group of peeps who, five years later, are still friends.
I know of lots of other activities that help develop “craft.” Practice, for one. Committing to and participating in NaNoWriMo is a great start. I also joined the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) and have regularly attended their monthly workshops and conferences (as well as those organized by others groups, like the Surrey International Writers Conference).
I know these efforts are directly related to the improved quality of writing. Also the speed. In 2013, my second SFD took five months to write. And as mentioned above, the third SFD took thirty days. With more practice, I hope the timeframe for the edit and rewrite of an SFD will reduce to less than a year!
Like several other writers I know, I co-opted this year’s NaNoWriMo process. Our daily goals are centered around the edit and rewrite of pages from a past work (for me, last November’s SFD with a kick-butt goal to finish by December 1st.) The gist of what we’ll write is a little different from most NaNoWriMers, but we all share the same spirit. Focus, consistency, and self-challenge enabling success. These are useful writing values for any month of the year.
By the way, NaNoWriMo is almost half way complete. Stop reading and get back to work!