Things I Learned During NaNoWriMo: Why Editing is the Devil

There’s a lot of advice running around the internet as to whether or not an author should self-edit during the initial writing process. Keep in mind that different methods work for different people, so what I’m sharing below is what worked for me and why. Arguments could be made both ways, but the important thing is to find what works best for you.

 

For me, self-editing turned out to be my biggest weakness. To break it down simply: I got too distracted by trying to make things look presentable. I hyper-fixated on everything that was wrong with what I’d written, and I eventually discouraged myself from continuing. “You can’t even get this sentence right; you really think people are going to want to read this?” was a familiar mantra. I’d get to maybe 15,000 words and stagnate, eventually losing all desire and motivation to carry on.

 

So, when NaNoWriMo started, I vowed I was going to get it done. It was easy for me to see what I needed to do in order to make my word counts. Doing it was going to be the problem. Because of that, I had a shaky start. the words came slower because I was trying to incorporate everything I thought I wanted. Occasionally I found myself going back and tweaking some things just to make them match what I wrote further on.

 

Not good.

 

Eventually I lightened up and I kept the bare-bones descriptions, the skeletons of dialogues, and flatbread characters. It was like a crack appeared in the dam. Words began to trickle out faster.

 

Then I hit the writers mortal enemy: the block. I had a scene coming up that I could see in my mind’s eye, yet had no idea how to articulate it into words. Pretty sure I stopped writing for a few days after that. I started adding up the deficit I was going to have to make up on my days off. Panic settled in around 10,000 words or so. I had two days off coming up, so I thought whatever, I’ll bust it out then. I figured maybe taking a few days off would replenish the urn of inspiration.

 

No such luck. The moment I sat down I knew I was doomed. I was getting angry. I was starting to see the discouragement coming. I was disgusted with myself. Finally I got fed up enough that I outlined the scene as an actual paragraph, and moved on to the next scene. Or, as I’m going to demonstrate below, when my scenes began to contradict things that I wrote earlier, I wrote notes to myself to go back and fix areas later. Sometimes it happened right in the middle of a paragraph.

 

noediting.jpg

 

Some of those notes happened to refer to scenes I hadn’t written, but now wanted to write based off ideas that were literally just written down. I chose this particular paragraph because it also demonstrates my lack of caring when it came to how well-written things were (i. e.: word vomit).

 

Now, for me, this switch was easy enough to flip. I managed to shut my brain up long enough to look at an annoying, glaring error and continue on.

 

Some people aren’t so lucky. I’ve found a couple of things that might help those that need a little extra motivation, or maybe a heavier, more disciplined hand. These are the two easiest that come to mind while also maintaining the low price of: free.

  • BlindWrite blurs out your words as you go so you can’t judge what you’ve already written
  • Earnest locks you out of editing, formatting, grammar/spellchecking, ect…

 

RescueTime and Freedom are both paid, internet browser writing apps.

 

Freedom is also available for free in the Apple App Store. so is Unplugged and Focus Keeper.

 

Much like the time-constraints of NaNoWriMo itself, I’ve found that setting a timer will increase the likelihood of me just writing. Some people perform well under applied pressure.

 

Now these methods aren’t for all people. Some manage to make it through NaNo just fine, editing the whole way. Ted Boone’s managed to finish several rounds of NaNo, all the while editing his novel as he went. If you’re struggling one way, try it the other. If you’re struggling that way too, try a blend of both. Find what works best for you and stick with it.

 

PREVIOUS: WORD VOMIT                                                    NEXT: OUTLINES ARE GUIDELINES

 

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What I Learned During NaNoWriMo

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So, with November behind us, National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) is behind us as well. I really want to take a few minutes and discuss just what I learned in such a short amount of time.

I think that as an author, there are many concepts of which we are aware of–things that we see written in every advice column. Things like: “write what you know,” “show, don’t tell,” and “don’t use adverbs/passive voice.” Sounds familiar, right? With rules like those, it’s no wonder that so many authors get intimidated before they can get a single word down; some level of perfection is required of a rough draft. Perfection? From a rough draft? Looking back, it strikes me as one of the most ridiculous concepts, and I can’t believe I thought that was actually a thing.


 

WORD VOMIT IS A GOOD THING

From 6 of the Best Pieces of Advice from Successful Writers:

[…] writing well doesn’t come so easily for a lot of us (including me). It takes a lot of mental energy, strains your working memory and often makes you feel vulnerable if you try to be open and honest in your work.

The pure effort of writing is hard enough, but coupled with the pain of putting your work out into the world and letting others judge it, this can be enough to stop you from getting started at all.

The trick to overcoming this isn’t easy, but it’s surprisingly effective: give yourself permission to write badly, and just start.

I would honestly give the links provided above a look-through. All three articles were very relevant and helpful.

Below is an excellent example of ‘give yourself permission to write badly.’ I did it using my phone, which I later e-mailed to myself. This will make you feel better about yourself, guaranteed.

ex_realybadwordvomit

Oh, man. That’s terrible on so many levels. However, it is the result of just getting the words out. I didn’t give a lick about punctuation, spelling, or even what words emerged. As long as the basic concept was written out, I stopped caring. The time-crunch associated with NaNo puts enough pressure on you that caring becomes too much effort. Additionally, the more you care, the slower your word count will come. 50,000 is already an intimidating number, you don’t want to slow the process down any more than you have to.

To be honest, this might be the single, most important thing that I learned. With your aspirations as an author, your work is going to be seen by millions, right? Sure, they’re going to see your best effort, but the people working with you to get you there will be seeing your worst. You need to get comfortable with that, and this is a good way to start. Now, not everyone can flip that switch in their brain to just stop caring. For some people, it’s nearly impossible.

If you’re someone that is bothered by the thought of someone reading over your shoulder while you’re spewing out this absolute garbage, take your phone and hide in a corner where no one can see you unless they’re actively trying. And even then, you’ll easily be aware of it. Writing on your phone can be a pain (hence part of the reason why the excerpt just sort of runs together), so I found a few nifty apps to help me out. Please note: I’m not being compensated for the following.

wersmith
Werdsmith

Werdsmith is the one I use most often. It does have a “pro” version which gives you access to different layouts (screenplay, novel), and categories to sort your different projects. However just the vanilla version is fine for me, as the singular category that I have allows me to have multiple projects within, just in a less organized manner. It keeps track of word count (which really came in handy). You can set word goals, get breakdowns, and even an undo button in case you accidentally delete everything (I can’t tell you how many times that’s saved me).

Now, go figure, the one I use the least is the one that I paid for. Writing Toolkit is $3.99 in the app store, but this one is more of a portable literary reference guide.

It’s got lots of nifty little tools for where you’re on the go or don’t have access to the internet. Writing terms, a place to organize your characters, and plot devices are all available in one place. This one’s more dedicated to keeping track of everything you need while you’re writing so you can focus on more important things: like writing. I flipped back and forth between the two the entire time. Using these apps kept prying eyes away from my really crappy writing and therefore gave me a bit more confidence to keep going.

You can always use a notebook or a laptop towards the same end, but as I quickly learned, it’s easier to keep your phone away from nosy passerby. It took me a few days to acclimate to being so secretive. Eventually, though, I found that without anyone looking over my shoulder, I could just write, write, and write. The very last day was a word sprint of approximately 5,000 words. It wasn’t the only day I had word sprints like that, either.

The point is: JUST GET IT OUT! Is it relevant to the plot? No clue. Sort it out later. Is it what you wanted? Not really, but it’s a good placeholder. Hell, you might not even end up using it, which is okay. Quite a few difficulties authors face are in their heads, and are usually the hardest things to overcome. IT. WILL. BE. OKAY.

In the next blog post for the NaNoWriMo series, I’ll talk about the hangups of editing.

UP NEXT: WHY EDITING IS THE DEVIL

 

Was this information useful to you? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Advice as Given by Stephen King

Writing’s not easy, no matter how many people say it is. Chances are, the people who believe that are struggling to write a 1,000 word essay while you’re stuck on the ending of a 75,000 word novel. 

You’re plagued by self-doubt and self-consciousness. A little troll in your ear telling you that your work isn’t good enough, that no one’s ever going to read it. That first rough draft’s been sitting for months because…what’s the point?

Let’s take a moment and see what words of encouragement the master can offer us, hm?

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. The timid fellow writes “The meeting will be held at seven o’clock” because that somehow says to him, ‘Put it this way and people will believe you really know. ‘Purge this quisling thought! Don’t be a muggle! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put that meeting in charge! Write ‘The meeting’s at seven.’ There, by God! Don’t you feel better?” (I highly recommend the Hemingway Editor for this)

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend. Consider the sentence “He closed the door firmly.” It’s by no means a terrible sentence, but ask yourself if ‘firmly’ really has to be there. What about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before ‘He closed the door firmly’? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, then isn’t ‘firmly’ an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?” (Again, Hemingway Editor is a godsend) 

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.” “While to write adverbs is human, to write ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ is divine.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story… to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all. “

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.”

7. Read, read, read. “You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second to least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

9. Turn off the TV. “Most exercise facilities are now equipped with TVs, but TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs. If you feel you must have the news analyst blowhard on CNN while you exercise, or the stock market blowhards on MSNBC, or the sports blowhards on ESPN, it’s time for you to question how serious you really are about becoming a writer. You must be prepared to do some serious turning inward toward the life of the imagination, and that means, I’m afraid, that Geraldo, Keigh Obermann, and Jay Leno must go. Reading takes time, and the glass teat takes too much of it.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success. “When I’m asked for ‘the secret of my success’ (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy, and I stayed married. It’s a good answer because it makes the question go away, and because there is an element of truth in it. The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible. And I believe the converse is also true: that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.”

12. Write one word at a time. “A radio talk-show host asked me how I wrote. My reply—’One word at a time’—seemingly left him without a reply. I think he was trying to decide whether or not I was joking. I wasn’t. In the end, it’s always that simple. Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord Of The Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what the writer is doing may seem. You can’t aim a book like a cruise missile, in other words. People who decide to make a fortune writing lik John Grisham or Tom Clancy produce nothing but pale imitations, by and large, because vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot is light years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.”

15. Dig. “When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or Game Boys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all the gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.”

16. Take a break. “If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings that it is to kill your own.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your ecgocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “If you do need to do research because parts of your story deal with things about which you know little or nothing, remember that word back. That’s where research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it. You may be entranced with what you’re learning about the flesh-eating bacteria, the sewer system of New York, or the I.Q. potential of collie pups, but your readers are probably going to care a lot more about your characters and your story.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi post office. Other writers have learned the basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills or doing time in America’s finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and commercial) part of my life’s work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

What do you think of Mr. King’s advice? How well do you think it would apply to your situation?