When Chris Baty and twenty-one San Francisco Bay area friends held the first National Novel Writing Month in 1999, I was preparing materials for a year teaching kindergarten in Colorado. Curriculum-writing, not fiction, was on my mind. But mountain lions, hiking, wild fires, white buffalo, and avalanche survival were part of my life in the Rockies. Someday, Fiction-writing, I would face you, armed with material.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, has been held every year since 1999. And for the last two years, I have written. I’d love to say that I finished writing last year’s novel, sent it out, and was instantly rewarded with a contract. But I’d be lying. The truth is I did something equally important.
Last year’s NaNoWriMo helped me break a bad habit. I once heard that the average number of revisions on a first paragraph is twenty-five. So I was about average, with twenty-five revisions of my opening paragraph. Except I had gotten into the habit of revising my first paragraph twenty-five times BEFORE writing my second paragraph. Which leaves a lot of second paragraphs never written. I had to replace my bad habit with a good habit.
NaNoWriMo helped me rediscover fluency – writing, without stopping for correction edits and better idea revisions. NaNoWriMo helped me to WRITE; to get a wealth of material on actual pages. And some of it was really good material. Later I can revise it . Later I can edit. Now, I must let my characters speak, discovering what they want to say, to what sights, sounds, and scents they attend, where they want to go, unhindered by my inner editor. It’s a happy habit to have. This experience worked with Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen (interview).
This year’s goal: Fifty-thousand words in thirty days. THEN revision. Then submissions. Then a contract.