I’ve always regarded NaNoWriMo participants with a mixture of admiration and skepticism: I love the can-do spirit of the movement, but I’m also curious about what kinds of novels come out of the experience. I remember when I was first considering NaNoWriMo for myself, I read an article by founder Chris Baty that “Slow writers find they can write about 800 words of novel per hour; a speedy writer (and good typist) can easily do twice that.” I knew then that I was not the droid Chris Baty was looking for.
Whatever the merits of NaNoWriMo, someone writing 800 words per hour is not a slow writer in my book. When I was writing Stranger Bird, I rarely wrote faster than 250 words per hour, I would guess–and that was on days that I was focused and serious. And that worked for me–Stranger Bird turned out well, I think, and while it may never get picked up for publication, it’s not a badly written novel at all.
So why do I even care how fast Chris Baty thinks a slow writer can write? Well, for a number of reasons, I don’t have the luxury of writing time that I had when I was working on Stranger Bird: long empty summer months when writing a novel was really the only thing I was doing. One of the main reasons I turned to writing short fiction since then has been that a slowpoke like me can cobble a good story together with the dribs and drabs of time that are available to me: a half hour here, a few minutes before bed there, maybe a couple of uninterrupted hours on the weekend.
Pacifica is the working title of my second novel. Often I’ve felt foolish for taking a run at it: I feel so starved for time on most days that I’ve no idea how the whole draft will come together. As I work on it, I have to calm myself down daily, get clear with myself that this draft will be sloppy, come to accept that it will be full of dead ends and plot holes. All first drafts are loose, but I am consciously giving myself permission to write something truly horrible in the rough draft, in the hopes that somewhere in the slop of it there will be a story I can draw out. Otherwise the book will never come together; I just don’t have the time to write a tighter rough draft. This isn’t a NaNoWriMo project–I’ve been working on this draft since July and have at least another month or two to go–but I feel as though I’ve absorbed something of the NaNoWriMo ethic.
It’s been an uncomfortable process, almost painful some days. And it may turn out to be a flaming disaster of an experiment. But if anything good comes of it, it will be because I got over my control freakery long enough to allow 50,000 words to erupt on to the page.