An interesting thing happened after National Novel Writing Month. This Friday, I sat with my friend and editor Sue Gregson to absorb her feedback on my Nano manuscript from 2009. It turned out that her recommendations on that manuscript aligned with my insights on having survived Nanowrimo for a second time.
When I had reviewed my manuscript after Nano last year, I found that in many sections I had reverted to writing more of an outline than a true scene. Over the months, I expanded many of these outline points into generous scenes, “show don’t tell,” but my editor saw other opportunities to expand further. She suggested my 60,000 word novel could easily be an 80,000 word novel and she recommended certain places where weaving in extra scenes could strengthen the fabric of the story.
Overall, Sue’s comments helped me think through the pain I’d just gone through for my second Nanowrimo try. I had fallen behind early with my word count, and then started obsessing with trying to catch up, trying to meet or exceed my daily word count. Halfway through the month I asked, “Is this about numbers or words?”
There is value in monitoring word count, if not setting word count goals. An apt comparison is running, where one may set out to run four miles a day, but some days runs may be shorter (or longer) based on how the runner feels on the trail. I’m beginning to believe it’s best to write from scratch for a set period each day, a stream of consciousness download, and then to return to W.I.P. (Works in progress) and revise, revise, revise.
In the beginning of November, Marc Schuster wrote a blog post, NanoWrimo, about why he chooses not to participate in the event. Marc explains Kurt Vonnegut’s theory that there are “swoopers” and “bashers.” Swoopers can write a first draft quickly, where bashers tend to plod along slowly, perfecting each sentence, each paragraph as they go. Marc identifies himself as a basher and makes a valid argument on why Nanowrimo is really an event for swoopers. I’ve come to believe my style is also more basher than swooper, and that my next attempt should be written away from the Nanowrimo playing field.
After all, my true joy is writing short stories, and revising continually until every word is precise. At times, I feel like I’m playing Soduku with words. Making every word matter in flash fiction or a short story is important. I’ve heard it explained there’s more forgiveness in the writing of a novel. However, it’s important that there is not too much forgiveness. During Nanowrimo, I’ve tended to breeze through certain points because I’m trying to make my word count. For me, slow and steady may prove to be a better way to win the race.
So now I’m putting Nanowrimo 2010 aside to gestate, incubate, or possibly fester. I’m motivated to jump back in on Nanowrimo 2009 and review my editor’s suggestions and expand that novel, beef it up, give the characters more depth.
On another note, I was thrilled to learn my flash fiction piece, Egg Shells, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Christine Yurick, the publisher of Think Journal, where the story ran this past summer, nominated the piece. Hundreds of stories are nominated each year, so I know the chances of winning a spot in the collection is a long shot, but it’s exciting just to have the story nominated! Thank you Christine!