Not that anyone would ever accuse me of being too smart, but I have been doing some reflecting on my recent writing struggles. I participated in my fourth NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. Love challenging myself this way and I’ve succeeded in the past so I went into it with great expectations. But getting the words on the pages this time around was like slogging through an alligator infested swamp.
I had a project in mind. Had been mapping it out and mentally filming it for a couple of months. I couldn’t wait for November 1st to stike on the clock. The goal to complete the challenge is 1,667 words pre-day. Day one saw not quite a thousand, and each day that followed saw few and fewer. The weekends I couldn’t seem to catch up. What was the matter with me? Honestly, the creation part is the most fun. I love starting a project. Hate ending one. So what was going on?
As it turned out, in stalling for the beginning of NaNo, I filled my spare time by studying some craft. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but it ended up getting me stuck.
James Scott Bell advised in his book Elements of Writing – Conflict and Suspense, that every scene needs an element of internal or external conflict. There also needs to be questions and suspense built in.
Did that have conflict? Delete, try again. Maybe more suspense here? Or maybe here? Delete. How many words have I written today?
Jerry Jenkins also says that in editing you need to cut out the obvious. “He crossed his arms over his chest.” Where else does one cross their arms? Jerry asks. Write seven words delete three. Going nowhere fast. “She stomped her foot on the floor.” As apposed to stomping on the ceiling? Delete three more.
Jerry also says to not bore the reader with “On-the-Nose writing.” A writer’s propensity is to explain every action. “She rose early in the morning, yawned, stretched and slid her feet out of the warm covers. The icy floor made her toes tingle as she pulled her jeans from the top dresser drawer and her favorite green silk blouse from a hanger. The satiny fabric caressed her skin as she slid in her right arm then her left and buttoned each tiny button.” Yawn. “The cold floor bit at her toes as she dressed in her favorite silk blouse.” Tighter, better, and oh yeah, minus forty-nine words. Yikes, no wonder I was struggling to reach my goal each day.
I kept trying to remind myself of Jodi Picoult’s wise words. “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” My problem was I wasn’t waiting to edit.
For whatever reason starting NaNo this year I just couldn’t turn off the inner editor and just write the story that had been burning inside me for months. What had been a joy became a drudgery. Fun was now work.
So did I complete NaNo successfully again this year? You better believe it. A day early even. About half way through I started consciously refusing to edit any words until it was finished. It wasn’t easy, but the longer I forbid myself to dwell on the correctness, the style, the have-to’s and should-do’s, the easier the words came. Am I going to go back now and fix everything according to the expert’s advice? New Years Resolution #1: edit all my ‘bad’ writing done in 2016. Happy writing and then happy editing everyone.
Michelle Janene Murray blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind most days. She published Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015, helps edit the Inspire anthologies, and is working to expand her personal press to publish other authors.