By Margaret Lucke
This is the worst thing I've ever written.
Yes, this post that I'm in the process of writing for The LadyKillers blog. This scribble that is emerging on my computer's electronic page as my fingers do their dance upon the keyboard.
Okay, I don't feel that way every time I write. But there usually comes a point, as I wrestle with a first draft, when the little gremlin that likes to sit on my shoulder leans toward my ear and whispers, "You know, that's really awful."
I do my best to ignore its voice and persevere.
Because I know (I hope) that the gremlin is lying. I know that first drafts tend to be a mess. In fact, it's expected. Writing is like making mud pies -- you can't succeed at it without first stirring up some mud.
People who have seen the usual condition of my office will be surprised to learn this, but I'm not entirely comfortable with disorder, clutter, chaos, and confusion. Which may be why I find first drafts challenging, and why the gremlin's voice can seem so convincing. The productive way to write is to surge forward and let the chips of unresolved storyline and the debris of awkward words fall where they may. I subscribe to this idea in theory. But I have trouble letting go of the need to think through every sentence and polish every phrase before I move on.
I'm not the only writer who feels that way. Many of us have gremlins. And that's why Nanowrimo was created.
Nanowrimo -- National Novel Writing Month -- challenges writers to pen a novel during the 30 days of November. It began in 1999 as a dare amongst a group of friends in Berkeley and has grown to become a worldwide movement that encompasses half a million writers worldwide.
For the purposes of Nanowrimo, a novel is defined as a sustained work of fiction of at least 50,000 words. You start writing on November 1 and if you achieve that word count by 11:59 p.m. on November 30, you win bragging rights and a certificate of achievement. The Nanowrimo community offers encouragement, tools, and support along the way.
Writing a novel in a month requires you to lock the gremlin in a closet or, better, to bury it in some landfill, at least for 30 days. It means giving yourself permission simply to write, to free up your imagination, to quit worrying about commas and spelling and whether it all makes sense. You must suspend your judgment and let the words flow. Nanowrimo is all about quantity over quality. The quality comes later, during the rewriting and revision phase.
I've crossed the Nanowrimo finishing line twice. What it has taught me is that it doesn't matter how dreadful the first draft is. I can fix it later. What counts is getting it done.
There -- I've finished writing this post. Now I'll apply a little spit and polish. Maybe by the time you read this, it won't be the worst thing I've written after all.