It’s October. It’s October?!?! It’s October. Gosh.
I’m currently feeling optimistic about a lot of things. Not, like, the fate of the world or anything; that’s still too big and overwhelming to think about. But on a personal level. I started my new job about a year ago now, and while it does still feel pretty new, I also feel like I’ve grown a lot and learned a ton and the company I work for wants me to keep growing and learning, and is investing in me as I do so, which is pretty nice. I’ve been back in my swimming class for a bit over a year now, and am usually swimming twice a week, which means my stamina and strength are the best they’ve been in awhile — helped by switching to a new medication for my arthritis this spring, which has reduced my day-to-day pain to the most minimal it’s been in years, which is awesome. (Me, to friends on a beach getaway, repeatedly: “I”m wearing sandals but I can still walk, do you know how cool that is?!”) And then there’s the writing stuff.
In August, I finished a revision of the manuscript I’ve been working on for a few years now. Depending on how you calculate it, in fact, it’s either the fourth revision of what I started in late 2019, or it’s the, I don’t know, sixth? seventh? revision/rewrite of the project I started in 2018. Either way, that’s a lot of years and a lot of revising. Every year I tell myself I’m going to finish it and get it out on submission, and every year I don’t. This year, I think, I still won’t. But I’m feeling optimistic because while what I thought would be a moderate but quick revision turned into rewriting almost the entire second half of the manuscript (and taking months longer than I anticipated), I actually feel pretty good about this version, and have started getting little bits of feedback on it that are also pretty positive. I’ve been working on this thing for so long that I’ve lost all perspective on it; each draft has gotten longer, more complex, and, I think, substantially better.
But that’s only part of why I’m feeling pretty good. Like I said, no, it won’t be ready to go out on sub by the end of the year, even though there are three whole months of 2022 left. I know revision takes me awhile, I’m still waiting on some feedback, but even if I hustled I doubt I’d be done. So I made a decision, which is that I’ll keep gathering that feedback, but wait to tackle it in January. And in the meantime, I’m going to start something new.
It isn’t about what I’m starting, though. It’s about how. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… I think I’m gonna do NaNoWriMo in November.
Okay, okay, some background: the only reason I can’t believe this is because I’ve written before, specifically about why I don’t do NaNoWriMo anymore. As I noted in that post: I’m pretty good at writing messy first drafts, and a lot less good at revision. The fact that I’ve been in revision on this novel for at least a few years is probably proof of that.
Another thing I’ve written about before is that I hate my writing process. (In fact, that old newsletter has more detail about the proto-versions of the manuscript I’ve just finished that revision pass on — yup, it’s the same one. It really has taken me this long to get this far on it.) That newsletter specifically calls out this part of my process:
When I say I hate my writing process, what I mean is this: my process involves writing a whole freaking manuscript, realizing I hate it, throwing it out, and starting again. All I keep is the concept, character names, and the occasional nugget of a good idea that was buried in the crap version. Then, more often than not, I draft a whole second version from scratch, still hate it, and throw it all out again. And for all this, I’d like to note, I have an outline! I’m good at story structure! I always think I know what I want to the story to be, and think I’ll get it right this time, and then… don’t.
That was true of Bound by Blood and Sand — the version I queried was the third version I’d written from scratch. Freed by Flame and Storm, written under contract and under deadline, had one whole draft thrown out the window to get to the proper story. And the beast I’ve been writing since back then went through two and a half proto-drafts before settling into the first usable version (and the revisions since then, while not ground-up rewrites, have been substantial rewrites to say the least).
And again, all of this with the aid of outlines, with me thinking I understand the plot and what it calls for. I’ve tried different outlining methods, but the same thing still happens. I hate that I always have to do massive rewrites, but I guess I just need to write a draft of what I think the story will be in order to figure out what the story actually will be, and sometimes I need to rinse and repeat that process.
So: back to NaNo. My thought is this: if, much as I gripe, I stop fighting against my stupid process and lean into it, that means I should stop spending ages crafting an outline I’m sure will work (only to be wrong), and I shouldn’t bother spending six months on a decent draft I think will nail it (only to throw it out later). If NaNo is mostly only good for writing fast, crappy drafts that aren’t really usable in the end, and that’s exactly what my process seems to need, why not embrace that for what it is? I’ll use November to churn out a crappy fast draft with the full knowledge that I’m going to toss it out the window, and try to condense what’s usually six months of my stupid process into one.
Don’t get me wrong: I do plan to outline, but loosely. I want to have the broad strokes of a story, so I know what I’m going for. But I’m not going to spend a lot of time refining it or worrying about it. I also know that character work comes in later drafts for me, so I’m not going to worry about that either. Worldbuilding? I’ll make that up as I go and later retrofit it into something coherent. Because ultimately, that’s all what I would do anyway. It would just take me a lot longer, and a lot more words.
Will this actually work? Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t done NaNo in over a decade, and I have a lot less free time, and a lot less emotional energy, these days. I feel weird about the idea of letting go of my outlining focus, for reasons that could probably be a whole newsletter in and of themselves. I don’t know if the concept I have is really ready for me to put words into or if I’ll kill a potentially good idea; I don’t know if it’s worth stepping away from my massive, multi-year project for awhile to try this.
The bottom line is: my process sucks and I hate it, but I also don’t seem to be able to get away from it. So what if, instead of trying to find an alternate process, I work with it and see where that gets me instead? Maybe I’ll even hate everything less in the end. I’ll let you know!