nanowrimo week one

Week one NaNoWriMo check-in! Well, sort of. It’s only been five days at this point. Week one is fun because everyone’s energy is high, the community is strong, and the enthusiasm is boundless. Watching everyone hit the goals and cheer each other on is so great. Affirms that good things can still happen in internet communities. I’m involved in a few Discord servers for people who are participating, and the advice and encouragement being so easily and freely given is gratifying (and if I’m going to be sentimental about it, heart-warming) to see.

The biggest tips I’ve seen floating around about week one are basically thus:

  1. Turn off the inner editor as best you can. Don’t agonize over best first sentences or best any sentences. Just get the words out. Invite the inner editor back when you’re editing. Until that point, the inner editor is just going to slow you down and fill you with doubt.
  2. Don’t delete anything. Even if your story takes you somewhere completely unrelated to where you started. You’ll fix structural issues on your second go-through. Plus, even if those sentences or paragraphs or chapters feel wrong, they might have little bits of beauty inside of them that you should keep.
  3. Ride that momentum and just write, write, write and try to get a bit of lead on the word count goals in anticipation of the inevitable week two slump.
  4. Don’t share your story with anyone yet.

There’s quite a bit of back and forth about that last one, but I definitely believe it now. In several of the writing books I’ve been reading, there’s this idea that the first draft is your draft. Your opportunity to get out all of the ideas, vomit out all the words, into a vaguely story-shaped lump. Actually carving a novel out of it comes with rewrites. But until you are done with the first draft, trying to tell the story to someone else is almost impossible. It’s literally a story that has never been told before, and you are telling it to yourself. So until you’re done telling it from start to finish for the first time, you don’t really know what it’s about either.

When you tell someone you’re doing NaNoWriMo (or writing something in general), the first question they usually respond with is “What’s it about?” And when you fumble and can’t really explain the plot yet because it’s still being spun into existence, it can feel defeating and like you don’t know what you’re doing. Because, well, you don’t. And that’s totally okay.

Here’s the thing. First drafts are like fight clubs. The first rule of first drafts is you do not talk about first drafts.

It’s a rule that has given me a lot of peace of mind when my good-natured friends become curious about what I’m doing. It prevents me from going back and trying to edit bits and pieces so they are presentable enough to be shared. It keeps me from agonizing over the inevitable mess that happens when you’re furiously trying to keep a few words ahead of your inner editor. It lets me give my characters free reign so that I can experiment and see what they’ll do instead of trying to force them into a structure that they might not fit into.

Once all those words are there, I’ll shape them into a more coherent story. Once those words are there, I can sift through them and find the pieces of truths hiding there amidst all the uncertain fluff. But the key is, I need to get the words first.

5 day word count total: 10,349