NaNoWriMo and just writing

So another NCIS fanfic writer was asking about NaNo on Twitter earlier today. I chimed in because NaNo changed the way I write fiction back when I first did it in 2003-ish. Which got me thinking, which led to me writing. (rambling?)

For those who don’t know, my FT job is a newspaper editor, and I’ve been a reporter/editor for about 10-15 years. One thing you learn pretty quickly in newspaper journalism is how to write quickly on deadline. I think my record was an 8-inch competition cheerleading story in less than 8 minutes because I got to the office at 11:20 and the last page had to be sent at 11:30. 🙂

But until NaNo, I had never taken that “just write” approach to my fiction. In order to produce 50K words in 30 days, you pretty much have to just write. It’s obviously not as simple as that – sometimes “just writing” leads to some not-great writing. In the newsroom, that’s when your editor says “there’s another paper tomorrow.”

So from 2003-2005-ish, my writing was “just writing” and getting it out and fixing later. Well, I also spent a lot of time on a mystery that went so far off the rails it wasn’t salvageable. I ended up stopping writing until my NCIS plot bunnies hit earlier this year. Fortunately, technology had evolved to solve part of my problem with the advent of cloud computing – aka Google Docs.

Kyrie — my wonderful, amazing editor — is really good about helping me improve what I’ve written, but if I’m too far along, it’s too little, too late. So now that Google Docs exist, she has access to my writing file. I write, she reads. She asks questions, or makes comments, and I can tweak what I’m doing going forward to reflect a better understanding of a character’s motivation or a scene that would help flesh something out. She comes back behind me and edits or makes suggestions. The end result is rabid plot bunnies on Caf-Pow and 102K words in 37 days. 🙂

The other reason “just writing” works for me is it allows the story to grow organically. A couple of people have heard me say that in Life, the chapters in the 30s are like Gibbs’ rules in the 40s – something unspeakably bad is going down. So fairly early on, I drafted out a couple of those chapters just to figure out where I was going. I’ve gone back a couple times to add more to that section. Now, because of the way the story’s evolved, those initial drafts are going to needmajor revision. If I’d spent a lot of time perfecting them, I’d fight it kicking and screaming. (I know – this is why my mystery novel clunked and I stopped writing for a while.) By just writing and letting them be, knowing revision was coming later, it’s like “Oh, OK. Need to fix X and Y and Z and K and J and…”

And I would ramble more, but it’s past my bedtime… 🙂

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4 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo and just writing

  1. That is a great philosophy, but it isn’t for everyone. I’ve been reevaluating my writing, to try to get more words actually written and hush up my internal editor.NaNo and Write or Die are great for not thinking too hard and just letting the words flow.

    • Actually, this started as a post about why NaNo and WoD and other tools like that DO work – we just get the words out. But you’re right, is does sound like I’m dissing them. I’m not. I rely on them. That said, it still helps that Kyrie can keep from going off the rails as I “just write.”

  2. It’s interesting, actually, that I kinda feel the same way. I had someone beta a fic recently that made me realize that my academic writing tend to carry over to fic writing. The fic ends up over-analytical and it’s a terrible habit that I can’t break out of easily. Also, I’m the kind that can’t move forward until I’m happy with at least the few paragraph that precedes it, which slows down my writing so very much.

    A couple days ago, in the middle of the night, I decided to join the NaNo Word Sprint, just to see what happens. I wrote snippets, scenes that I could use later on as the plot develops, gave my character voice, not caring if the voice is exactly right. I wrote more than 1000 words in less than an hour (which for me is a LOT), and it’s mostly usable (i.e. not utter non-sense that I’d have to toss out).

    I see the appeal now of using NaNo and WoD to boost writing, but I can’t see doing it on a continuous basis. Using word sprints as a tool to break past a writer’s block is likely what I’d use it for the most 🙂

    • Like any writing tool, we all use them differently. I like using them for drafting, especially for novel projects, because I need to get a full draft done so I can see how to fix it on rewrite. For shorter stories, I usually don’t need that big push because I write in one or two sittings and revise as I go. As long as you know what works for you, that’s the key thing.

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