A misapplication of NaNoWriMo powers

by Jon

At the beginning of the month, I laid out my plans to use the month of November, in which I usually participate in National Novel Writing Month. This time I wanted to spend the time editing my first Guineawick Tales novel, Hester and the Kookaburra King.

The result: I hardly made any progress, and not for a lack of trying.

I thought I could use the energy of NaNoWriMo, the community of writers and the dedication to crossing the finish line to make a serious dent in my editing. Didn’t happen.

But, I think I have a much better understanding of what makes NaNoWriMo work, and how horribly misaligned I was to attempt to bend it toward editing my novel.

First, the goal is to write 50,000 words, and everything, all the help and support of the website and community, is bent toward making that happen. Every moment you, the writer, have an immediate measure of your progress. The charts and the status updates; they nag you when you’re behind, give you props when you’ve made quota, and give you permission to stop for the day and unwind.

Editing doesn’t have that. There’s no way to evenly divide the work into predefined daily chunks, no word-sprint or prompt equivalents to make quick progress. My progress is measured in chapters, kind-of, but each is unique and there’s no rhyme nor reason toward estimating how much work still lies ahead, or how much work I just did.

Some chapters need just quick-and-easy stylistic updates, others take weeks to reshape, or require painstakingly returning through the text to update little details to avoid inconsistencies.

What it means is it’s hard to find a quantitative measurement on an editing session’s success. The end result of a great editing session can be one chapter polished off, or ten sentences spread across five chapters that get me out of little plot snafus later on.

I had a three hour session that resulted in one tiny paragraph being rewritten, but that I felt was a huge victory for the story.

Not to mention the plans for future books that I have to keep in mind, keeping an eye out for those innocuous, but often important, details that might be difficult or impossible to live with in later stories.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to complain about editing; this is what editing is all about. Nothing worth doing is easy, and I think this story is worth doing right.

The big mistake I made was in trying to shoehorn the energy and excitement of NaNo into editing a book. Don’t do it, it’s a bad idea. The site, write-ins, they’re made for rocking out that precious first draft.

Now, to be fair, I did make some progress editing: pushed through some difficult chapters, made a lot of world building decisions I’d been on the fence about. It wasn’t a bad month, just slow. And I’m not giving up on Hester.

But… it might be time for a short editing break, to recharge those creative juices. In a couple chapters I’ll be at a good pausing point, then I think I’m going to mini-NaNo a couple weeks and maybe write a short story or two, vent off some fun ideas that don’t fit into Guineawick.

And for the future, I’ll use NaNo for what it’s good at: jamming out first drafts in record time.

/jon