via Cover Reveal!
During the critique of my novel excerpt in my Tinker Mountain workshop, I mentioned I’d completed the rough draft during National Novel Writing Month, and a small discussion ensued. The instructor, Fred Leebron, had a dim view of NaNoWriMo based on other workshops where people had submitted excerpts from their own NaNo works. Needless to say he wasn’t impressed.
Another workshop member sneered that NaNoWriMo emphasizes “quantity over quality.” That’s true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean quantity can’t become quality, I pointed out. I referred that person to the website, where the Office of Letters and Lights emphasizes editing and revising a NaNo draft, but I conceded you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink.
Later, during my one-on-one conference, Leebron admitted that he had a new respect for NaNoWriMo, given the quality of my work and another person’s workshop piece, also from NaNoWriMo. I explained that I do nothing with a NaNo draft for six months, then I pick it up and start revising. I also explained that the first twenty pages I’d submitted for the workshop had been worked and reworked during a writing retreat in May and honed especially for Tinker Mountain. The rest of the draft, I explained, needed a lot of work. Nevertheless, Leebron conceded he had new respect for NaNo but wished that every participant didn’t rush to publish or to submit to workshops before editing. I agree.
Of the two NaNoWriMo-ers in the workshop, I’m the seat of the pants writer. The other was an outliner. Now, I’ve done both, and, in fact, the only other NaNoWriMo MS I’m particularly proud of is one I meticulously outlined before November 1. Last year’s effort came from a germ of an idea in a piece of flash fiction I did for Friday Fictioneers. Either way works, but in some ways it’s the aftermath of NaNoWriMo that matters. The hype goes toward the build-up to November, to the daily word counts, and hitting that 50,000-word mark in thirty days. OLL can’t force you to behave like a professional writer and edit that MS–edit as in critically look at it and revise it into a polished MS. That’s up to the writer.
There are very few–I’d say negligible–writers who can go from a rough draft to a viable published work in those thirty days. For one, since the word count is what’s important, I’m finding that in my revision of last year’s MS, I’m eliminating about three-quarters of the dialogue tags. Using them for every line of dialogue is great for word counting but distracting when reading. Sometimes it’s the small things like that which distinguishes a professional MS from a rank amateur one.
So, I offer this challenge to fellow NaNoWriMo-ers: Do your part to enhance NaNoWriMo’s image in the literary world. Don’t publish that MS right away. Polish it. Edit it. Revise it. Run it through a critique group. Do whatever you need to do to make certain it reflects well on you as a professional writer. Making NaNoWriMo look good is just a pleasant side-effect.
“The only way to bring your novel to the final level is to address what worries you the most about it.”
So said workshop instructor Fred Leebron after having us answer, to ourselves, three questions he posed:
What excites you most about your novel?
What worries you most about your novel?
What do you want to accomplish in your novel?
The answers to those questions should all be the same, and that’s where you have to focus during the revision process. For me, the answer to all three was “It’s a radical departure from what I usually write.”
And this is just one example of a constant three hours of mental exercises about the novel excerpts we submitted for the workshop. It was a grueling yet very enlightening afternoon, preceded by Pinckney Benedict’s morning craft lecture “From Page to Screen.”
Benedict explained that when you attempt to bring a work to the screen, you can be successful only through “the power of collaboration.” He described the collaboration not only between him and the filmmaker but between them and the small town where they shot the very (very) low-budget movie version of one of Benedict’s most anthologized short stories, “Miracle Boy.”
Much of the collaboration Benedict acknowledges is accidental but because he and the filmmaker had a strong professional and personal relationship before the project, there was automatic trust. Benedict knew his friend would do his story justice.
We got to view the seventeen-minute film, which richly brought to life the short story I was very familiar with. “Thinking cinematically,” Benedict said, “helps you write how things look.”
Probably his best advice of the craft lecture was, “While you write, indulge the fantasy that your writing will win a Pulitzer or will become a movie. Why not? You can always dream.”
Leebron’s craft discussion on the first day of the workshop was intense and packed with information–he accompanied his presentation with a thirty-two page handout. It was complex yet simple in content. It’s all stuff I’ve heard before in various writing classes and workshops; yet, it was far more coherent and better explained than I’ve ever experienced. Conflict, for example, is far more complicated than we think and yet expressed in such simple terminology.
Leebron moved on to narrative arcs (using the example of The Great Gatsby), how to write movement in your work, how to make your work resonate, and more. It was a ten-pages-of-notes day. Great stuff.
Tomorrow is the first of the critiques, and I’m up second, purely by coincidence of having a last name that begins with D and close to the top of the alphabet. The craft lecture for tomorrow is by poet Thorpe Moeckel, and his topic is “Food and Drink in Poetry: The Techniques, Trappings, and Themes.”
In the evening is the time set aside for student readings, and I signed up and will read my short story, “Marakata,” which recently took third place in a contest.
Another busy day to look forward to.
National Novel Writing Month begins in just under nine hours where I live, but it’s already kicked off in other parts of the world. For those who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month–or NaNoWriMo–is a pure fun project where you write a 50,000-word novel draft in thirty days. You “win” by reaching at least 50,000 words on or before 2359 on November 30. You can download web badges, get pep talks by video, enjoy local write-ins, and generally have a good time writing.
The Office of Letters and Light is the non-profit that sponsors NaNoWriMo to highlight the art and craft of writing and to raise money for school programs to encourage kids to write.
An excuse to write and donating to a great cause, and NaNoWriMo lives up to its tag line: “Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon!”
Many writers have turned their NaNoWriMo novels into published work–after editing and revising, of course. Some, unfortunately, have self-published their work immediately after writing and omitting the key steps of editing and revising, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact it’s very liberating to sit down and just write for writing’s sake for thirty days, knowing revising and editing can wait for a calmer time.
I almost didn’t participate this year because I’m prepping two other manuscripts–one for a contest and one to publish in December–but I managed to get both MSS ready ahead of schedule, despite having a cold.
So, I’ll have leftover Hallowe’en candy for snacks, plenty of coffee, a fully charged laptop, and an idea I came up with back in the spring that I can now flesh out. I’ll crank Sat Radio or my iPod up to full volume and put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.
And I’ll write, and it’ll be fun, until the end of the day and the word counter hasn’t hit 1,667. (To get to 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to write at least 1,667 words per day.) Plus, I’ll be an election officer on November 6, so no writing that day, unless it’s all over quickly and the poll numbers add up.
If you’ve never NaNoWriMo’ed before, give it a try. It’s never too late to subject yourself to such exquisite torture.