Monday, October 31

Dare to Suck

Today is the 31st of October, so I thought I would touch on a frightening subject: writing something bad.

I mean writing something so bad it makes you scream. You are horrified that you could ever write something that bad. After all, you want to write quality stuff. You might even want your work to be published. Yet you wrote something so bad it is excruciating for you to look at. It can never be viewed by another creature. That includes your pet rock, Judgy McJudgerson.

No one wants to set out to write something with the mind that it isn't going to be any good. It's not a very encouraging thought. Why try if you're just going to fail? You're just wasting your time... All that jazz and lipstick.

The problem with being timid about writing something bad is that it breeds the need for perfection. Perfection,  in turn, breeds procrastination.

Tomorrow is the first of November and for a lot of us, that means one particular thing – the first day of NaNoWriMo. People all over the globe will be setting out to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. Talk about quantity over quality! Surely no one would want to write something so poor, just for the sake of getting it done?

Let's smother that thought. Sure, we all know the good ol' saying "quality over quantity," and it's still as applicable as ever. Yet the fact remains that your first draft isn't going to be perfect. Far from it!

Ever mumble to yourself or think, 'One day I'd like to write a novel…' or hear someone else remark the same? "One day" is too far away. Write it now.

Not prepared? Doesn't matter! Just write. The secret to being a writer is: Writer's write. It's a simple but important truth that doesn't hit home for a lot of people. They think that authors must be magic beings, and that achieving their feats just isn't possible for oneself.

Those authors you love? Their published works are not first drafts. Their first drafts were not of publishable quality and neither will yours be. The problem with fantasising about writing a novel (whether you have an idea for one or not) is that, in your fantasy the novel is perfect. It is as you would want it to be when it is finished...but you can't just make a wish on a flying toad and jump to the end.

I have participated in NaNoWriMo twice before. In 2009 I finished my first 50k novel in 6 days. I wrote another which I crammed the last 20k of on the very last day of the month. Threat of carpel tunnel syndrome aside, I was quite pleased with my achievement. That isn't to say that what I wrote was amazing.

Last year, I wrote the first draft of a novel that I had been aspiring to write for ages. I reached the 50k mark in 5 days this time. Yes, it was crazy. No, it was not the highest quality of writing. Yes, it was worth it. Why? Just because I finally had that first draft to work with. It was an existing work for me to tear apart, rewrite, and scrutinise to my inner editor's content. You can't do the same to the non-existent draft of an indefinite ideal.

Of course, sometimes you do achieve quality in these short-period feats. I wrote a screenplay in 2010 for Script Frenzy* that was an idea that I had been meaning to get out for ages. After I failed with one idea I was struggling with, I started again in the last couple of days of the month, and completed a new one. Imagine my surprise when I re-read it some time later and actually enjoyed what I'd written!

Regardless of whether what you write the first time around is horror inducing, or if it does produce some gems, you can tear it apart and rebuild it into something better afterward.

There are times when I write something exquisite. It's usually a first paragraph, page or chapter. I swoon over my sheer awesomeness and think, 'This is going to be an amazing novel.' I then try so hard to keep up the quality throughout the rest of the manuscript. When it doesn't hold up, I wallow in the comforting embrace of page one. The story goes nowhere, except in my mind, where I imagine the perfection I wish to achieve. 'My precious, you will be day.'

Then there are stories where I bash out an idea, and it's just the most wonky, crazy, nonsensical piece of potential awesome that went wrong. I look at it and it sucks. I could run away and hide from it, but it's such an eyesore that I'm determined to fix it. I must rewrite it. So I print out the horrific first draft and scrible "COMPLETE REWRITE" over entire pages.

Sometime later I might come across a teeny untouched paragraph and get excited. I think, 'This is my one little gem.' It sucks too. Even so, I am determined to get something out of this mess. In the end, among the mess, I still have something far more progressive than my aforementioned shiny precious.

If you have ever felt this way, then we are kin.

Just remember, the next time you're worrying about writing something rubbish, you can still turn it into a unique sculpture of literature. It just takes time and the willingness to try.

To my fellow NaNoWriMo participants, break a leg and bleed ink!

*Script Frenzy has now, sadly, been discontinued due to low participation rates and insufficient funding.


Debbie said...

All the best for tomorrow.

It's still Sunday here in the UK, so you'll have a head start(sort of)on me with NaNo.

Keri said...

Debbie: I'm also in the UK at the moment. Will be for the first half of November and then I return to the US. The blog just runs on NZ time, so even though I say "tomorrow" I still have a day to wait too. Let's just say...I wrote it in the TARDIS.

~Ang said...

Good advice, I do love how Nano pushes you just to get the ideas down without re-reading and re-writing. Good luck tomorrow!

redbone56 said...

What a beautiful, valuable piece of advice. My inner editor and his partner procrastination have a full-blown affair whenever I attempt to write. I'm dropping them off now at the NANO station where they can go bug someone else.