On November 1st, NaNoWriMo matters.
On November 8th, it still matters.
On November 13th, 18th, 24th, mmm, yep, it matters.
(Thanksgiving? Only pie matters. Do not argue this.)
On November 30th? Still matters!
*the quiet sound of crickets fucking*
Today, it doesn’t matter.
This isn’t a dismissal of National Novel Writing Month. Not at all. I’ve come around to love the spirit around that month — a 30 day descent into the lunacy of being a novelist, equal parts fun and frustration (“funstration!”). A hard dive into creative waters. Let it fill your lungs. Drown in it.
Rock the fuck on.
But right now? It doesn’t matter. NaNoWriMo is just the wrapping, the trapping, the springboard, the diving board. It’s what got you going, but it isn’t what matters.
What matters is you. What matters is the work.
And right now, you’ve got something.
I don’t know if it’s finished or not. Did you win or lose?
Forget winning and losing.
You left those words behind when NaNoWriMo ended. What matters now is what happens next.
Don’t know what happens next? Here. I’m going to tell you. Or, at least, I’m going to give you a general idea of what happens next — a menu of permutations and possibilities.
If you didn’t finish what you started, you’re going to finish it. (Why? I told you that last week.)
And if you did finish it?
You are going to congratulate the unholy hellfuckshitpants right off your body. You’re going to congratulate yourself so hard that you wake up in a New Jersey rest-stop three weeks later smelling of coconut oil. In your right pocket you will find a small bottle of whiskey. In your left pocket, someone’s finger. In your mouth: a half-eaten cookie.
Then, take some time away from the story. Just walk away. Cool and calm like an action hero strolling out of an exploding building. Hide it. Forget it. It’s not a thing that happened. It was a fever dream, poorly-remembered. And here’s where your brain will do insidious things because the brain is an insidious organ —
If you keep thinking about it even though you know you’re not supposed to? Then maybe you have something there. If you put it away and the memory of the thing slides through your fingers like so much dream-sand, hey, that’s okay, too. Maybe this one isn’t the one.
But if it is? Then it’s time to get to work. And the work always begins up here —
*taps center of forehead, which squeaks open on a rusty hinge so a squirrel can poke out, chitter at you, steal your bagel and coffee, then return to its nest inside the skull*
And that work first consists of thinking about what you did. Not in the shameful way, like you tell a child or a dog. Just hover over it, intellectually. Pick at it. How do you feel about it? What’d you like about the process, the story, all of it? What are you obsessing about when it comes to the story? Most importantly: start to figure out your battle plan.
What I mean by a battle plan is this: it helps to have an endgame in mind. Maybe you just want to make this thing awesome. Maybe you want to publish it, or self-publish it, or maybe this one is just a practice go-round, or could be that you’re going to just let it be a thing you share for free, or a story you scavenge for spare parts. Doesn’t matter — all avenues are valid. But noodle on it.
Then, you get to work.
You’re going to edit it, and edit it, and rewrite it, and re-edit it, and you write and rewrite till its right. You can take it slow or you can take it fast. You can fix the little things first or start breaking it all apart by pushing the plunger down on that box of cartoon TNT. Because now it’s NaEdYoShi month — National Edit Your Shit Month.
What you’re not going to do is send it off.
You’re not going to send it to an agent yet.
You’re not going to send it to an editor.
You’re not going to self-publish it.
Most of you know this already. Some don’t, or know it but think they’re somehow different — exempted from the rules. Do not do it. First, it’s rude to the agents, editors, and readers who have to deal with your broken work. Second, it’s dismissive of you and the story you wrote. You took the time to get here, and now you’re going to hurry it out the door? Nobody’s racing you. Again, get shut of winning and losing. This is not a competition. Don’t poison your own name and your own efforts by punting a deflated kickball. You spent all that time prepping these brownies and now you’re going to pull them out of the oven half-baked because you’re hungry? Fuck hungry. Let them finish. Go nibble on something else — which, creatively, means go write a short story or scribble some funny tweets or write an erotic manifesto at Tumblr. Don’t care. Just don’t put your unfinished, half-assed work out there. No half-measures, Walter.
Now, that said:
You’re going to keep working.
You’re going to take whatever time it needs.
You’ll hire an editor if you have to. Or farm it out to some beta readers. You’ll let a trusted loved one poke holes in it so you can patch those holes up. You’ll think about it again and again, a stone tumbling around the inside of your skull (just watch the squirrel), and then you’ll go back to it.
It’s a strange doll, this story, an ugly and uncertain thing: you’ll keep ripping it apart and tearing out the stuffing and stitching it back together again. Until it looks the way you want it to. Not the way anyone else wants. But the way you want. That takes time and effort though beyond the first flurry of activity, beyond the first draft.
See, the creative process doesn’t just stop with the creating part of the process. Creativity isn’t just in the inception of the thing. It isn’t just in the first iteration. It’s the whole journey. It’s creating, it’s thinking, it’s changing and critiquing and fucking it up and fixing it. It’s what you do with it. It’s how you deliver it. Parenting isn’t just birthing the kid — it’s how you raise it, and your creative work is the same way. People talk about the long tail of sales and exposure, but creativity is beholden to its own long tail, too.
Take the time — because as I’ve noted before, it takes the time that it takes. Maybe it happens fast, maybe it happens slow. But everybody wants things fast, everybody expects to just hit publish or just have an agent fall in love with a hastily-scrawled query letter. We try to jump to the end of our journey before we’ve even bought the damn ticket. Don’t do that. Give your story and your process the oxygen it needs. Give it room. Let it wander, stretch, kick over furniture. Let it settle in like a dog trying to figure out the Perfect Pooping Position or how sleeping must first require three pirouettes, a haunch-shimmy, and an ass-lick.
Give it your time. Go through the process. Take the ride.
Then we can talk about how you put it out there. And don’t worry about perfect. Perfect is somebody else’s idea. Just go with your own satisfaction. Be hard. Give it scrutiny. But hell with other people’s metrics. Use your own. Fuck perfect: just get it right.
(May I recommend NaNoFixMo, an online class by Delilah Dawson? Or consider a novel critique by Hugo- and Nebula-winning author, Saladin Ahmed.)
So, here’s where I ask:
How’d NaNoWriMo go for you folks?
Feel free to talk it up in the comments.
* * *
The journey to become a successful writer is long, fraught with peril, and filled with difficult questions: How do I write dialogue? How do I build suspense? What should I know about query letters? How do I start? What the hell do I do?
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65 responses to “NaNoWriMo Doesn’t Matter”
Great advice Chuck! I won Nano this year with enough words to reach 50K. And don’t worry, I haven’t open it yet because I immediately dive into another story. But I will make a pledge that when January 2015 came, I will edit/rewrite/revise the heck out of my ugly duckling of a Nano novel until I am finally satisfied that she is a beautiful swan.
Holy crap, I finished the damn draft.
62,415 words, and 100% of the story I wanted to tell.
[…] NaNoWriMo is always something I’ll dig – though I’ll most likely never do it – but what Wendig writes here is so true, do not rush these words out the door – November is the month for writing – take Dec through Jun to proof and edit and get feedback on those words before you slip them into someone’s back pocket and hope they care – http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/12/01/nanowrimo-doesnt-matter/ […]
[…] You do no one any favors if you just release things into the world without a second or third or fourth pass. Or twenty-fifth, if that’s what’s needed. Don’t want to listen to me? Listen to Chuck Wendig. […]
Well, I participated. But I did not finish.
I breached the 50,000 word mark with 3 days to spare and then I thought, “This isn’t what I thought it would be (meaning, the actual act of participating)…” I felt glad that I started the thing. I felt glad that I did the thing. But I felt exhausted and hollow in the knowledge that I was the lone fireman trying to control a firehose of a story.
I’ll come back to the story and finish it but I won’t be participating in Nanowrimo ever again.
Oh god. This reminds me. A friend gave me his already-self-published-but-why-isn’t-anybody-buying-it novel a couple of weeks ago and asked for “honest” feedback. I am trying to summon tactful words to tell him that it sucks arse as a published novel but it’s probably an acceptable “oh man, you should have seen the first book I wrote, that was *really* bad” anecdote.