Winter being the best time for me to get some serious writing done, as the days grew shorter last year, I was excited when a new idea took shape in my mind. But I didn’t want to make the same mistake as the year before and end up losing interest at around 30,000 words. (I might write a post one day on deciding to abandon a project, although Emma Darwin has done this better than I ever could on her wonderful blog This Itch of Writing.) Hitherto suspicious of NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d make use of its slipstream to knuckle down to my project, albeit with a less ambitious target of an average of 1000 words a day.
Have I achieved my goal?
Linking myself to the nether edges of NaNo for the first month certainly enhanced my motivation, cheered on by virtual coffee from Charli Mills. But the game changer was a post by Naomi Frisby on word counts, in which she mentioned two strategies she’d found helpful: one was seeing how many words she could write in an hour, and the other was relabelling the fast writing as the draft that precedes the first draft. Having previously perceived myself as a slow writer, both techniques helped me to get the words down. Much to my surprise, I found that, on some days, if I limbered up properly and didn’t go overboard on dialogue, I could plough through my 1000 words – and more, as I grew accustomed to the method – in that single hour. Also, if you know you’re writing crap, it does silence – or at least quieten – those voices that slow the pace by telling you you’re writing rubbish.
Am I a convert to the fast first draft?
Of course, it’s too early to say. One of the things I enjoy about writing more slowly is how the story develops through idle moments in the spaces between writing sessions. So I definitely missed arriving at my desk brimming with excitement at the scene already established in my head, almost ready to write itself. But I discovered a different kind of excitement as my writing hour approached, curious as to what I’d discover, and a certain satisfaction as the word count mounted across that hour. As Philip Teir said in a debut novelist Q&A on this site:
you just have to sit down and write. Get the work done. This is often said but it’s true: don’t wait for inspiration, the inspiration comes – if it comes – as you are writing.
Yet, despite the mounting numbers, I also found myself from time to time despairing at their quality, with unpleasant reminders of my early attempts at fiction when I had no idea how far I had to go. Being a natural hoarder, the notion of throw-away pages and paragraphs, and writing as inherently wasteful, still sits slightly uncomfortably with me. But it definitely got easier over time and I don’t think a month of NaNo would have been long enough to see if it could work for me.
The real test of the method, however, has to be what happens next. Certainly, I haven’t lost interest in this story but I’ll be glad of a break before reading through what I’ve written to decide what to take forward into the next (or first real) draft. Whether to try and move as rapidly through that, I’m not sure. And the overall goal has to be quality, not speed.
I’ve felt quite bereft since ending the project that has kept me company for over ten weeks so, when it came to my response to Charli’s latest flash fiction challenge (from the beautifully revamped Carrot Ranch website) to write a lifespan, I’ve made a vain attempt to describe the process in those now familiar 99-words:
A tiny seed, at first unnoticed, blossoms in my mind. I watch, awestruck, as characters and settings crowd my head. Words spill onto the page as if from a bottomless pot.
My characters play hide and seek with me, switching identities and desires. My hero is too timid to embark on his quest. I write through their stubbornness like I’m breaking in a horse.
Some days, words stumble. Some days they flow. I try to rein them in as they quickstep towards the end. Triumph, relief, sadness that it’s done. Now I’ll rest; the cycle starts again next week.
On the day I finished, my publisher sent through the edits of Sugar and Snails, so I won’t be resting for a long! I’m expecting the first mock-up of the cover soon, also, but, in the meantime, I’m delighted with this version generously created by Lori Schafer. A bit literal, of course, but it certainly made me smile. And, while I’m not even an expert on the snails in my garden, I do know that, while they might move slowly, they do cover quite a lot of ground.
Have you tried fast writing and, if so, does it work for you?