No, this isn’t a Nike commercial. It is, however, something of an endorsement of NaNoWriMo (that’s National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated). Because I am beginning a new book now, I figured I might as well participate in NaNoWriMo this year. After all, the book I just finished, and that I have high hopes for, began as a NaNoWriMo novel several years ago. It took awhile to turn that heap of words into something readable, but eventually it worked. (And the reason for it taking years is that I was working on something else in the meantime.) So I am merrily writing away again, just spewing the words, aiming not for the normal goal of 50,000 words, but a rather ambitious 75,000. It’s mostly crap, of course, but that’s fine.
In fact, that’s sort of the point. This is the “shitty first draft” that Anne Lamott wrote about in Bird by Bird. Without the first draft, there would be nothing to refine, to shape into a better second draft and, eventually, a good last draft. I don’t always write like this. When I’m writing a short story, I generally take more care. I write almost as if the first draft is the last, although I know perfectly well that a story will go through many, many drafts. And with flash fiction I’m more careful still. I write every sentence as though I’ll never change it (although I do).
With a novel, though, if I wrote each sentence that way, I’d never finish the damn thing. If I edited as I went, I'd be paralyzed. And while I doubt this is true for every writer, allowing the words to flow freely from my brain, through my fingers, and onto the page, helps to unleash creativity. In other words, I’m trying hard not to think too much about what I’m writing. Not yet. I’ve set the stage. Let the plot take care of itself.
Is this good advice? I think it might be, if you’re writing a novel. Don’t worry about the writing so much. Don’t think about art. Don't edit as you go. Just write. Get to the end. Pat yourself on the back. And then start over.