If I’ve learned anything about myself as a writer over all these years it is this: I am not good at unfiltered composition. That is, I cannot in good conscious simply allow my mind to spill haphazardly into written format without any sort of quality control, without any sort of restraint.
Is it a failing of mine? Maybe.
Following other writers, both professional and amateur, on social media, I often hear about how up to tens of thousands of words can be written within a single day as long as caution and consistency and any sort of sense of cohesion are thrown to the wind. It doesn’t matter what you write, they say, as long as you write something, as long as you can get it onto the page. You can always edit it later.
Of course you can, you can always edit later. But editing pure, unfiltered garbage is a gargantuan task in and of itself. Sometimes it is harder than the act of raw creation itself. Sometimes, reading over word vomit and trying to salving it can be discouraging to the point of stalling the creative process.
So, long story short, I tend to edit while I draft. A bad practice? Probably. But it’s what I do and it’s the only way I know how to do it.
As you, dear reader, can probably guess after reading the title of this post, NaNoWriMo 2019 did not end well for me. In fact, it hardly began. More accurately, it was pretty much dead on arrival and I should have known as much when I set out to complete such a task.
50,000 words in 30 days. Roughly 1667 words a day. What a joke.
I’m lucky to produce 1,000 words on a good day. That is, a day where I’m not working a 12 hour shift, a day where I don’t feel utterly mentally and emotionally drained from said work, a day where the stresses of life haven’t sapped my will do anything more than vegetate with a PS4 controller in my hand. So yeah, Nano was a pipe dream. A momentary lapse in judgement where foolish, indulgent self-belief and gumption outweighed a more measured and realistic review of my own capabilities.
I failed NaNoWriMo 2019 and I failed it spectacularly.
But I did write. Not every day. But I did write. And even when I didn’t write, I thought about it more, building the plot, creating lives for my characters.
I looked across the vast graveyard that is my many discarded drafts of this novel and picked out good bits here and serviceable bits there, welded them to new and more coherent scenes. I learned to let go of chapters that I have clung to for far too long, sprawling passages that I had grown too attached to that no longer fit into the new narrative that had formed. I taught myself how to separate the trash from the salvageable, how to recycle.
There’s no shame in recycling. Nothing wrong with reworking a piece of writing into something different from what it was initially intended to convey. If it is done artfully, with respect to the new work being created, introducing recycled words into a piece can be as challenging if not more so than producing fresh content.
Even the parts that I can’t currently use, the lines that I love but no longer have a sensible home, I will keep them saved in a sort of cryosleep, unseen and unknown, waiting for a day when they will perhaps be of service again.
I learned that a story can drastically change its shape, that characters can have drastically different motivations that what they originally began with, that sometimes everything you once believed was rock-solid must be torn down and rebuilt anew in order to create something better.