Notes on the journey of motherhood

What are we writing for? The flip-side of NaNo

Old Manual Typewriter

Post by Gill Harrison

Jack Kerouac famously wrote the draft for On the Road in three weeks. Remind yourself of this while you hunger for your NaNoWriMo word count this November. Be inspired.  Me though? I’ll be using my knowledge of Kerouac’s three week draft to keep me well away from NaNo in 2012.

I fell into November last Thursday. And then stumbled into NaNo. I took my place in front of my laptop in much the way my children assume their position at the breakfast table each morning. There is a presumption of Weet-Bix and porridge. On November 1st, operating somewhat on autopilot, I wrote 1956 words. But still I lacked the desire.  Last year I wanted that word count. I craved it. Hitting the 50,000th word on Day 29 of 2011’s NaNo nourished the writer inside of me and I left November proud.

But winning NaNo may just be the easy part.

In the three years prior to the first draft of On the Road Kerouac labored through a long creative process. He planned and built his story in handwritten notebooks and letters. Then came the three week draft … followed by another six years of numerous rewrites. Kerouac persevered beyond the initial creative process. He wanted the book, not just the draft.

So as the morning of November 2nd broke around my gastro stricken household I wondered – What the hell am I writing for? Do I want my book?

I’m proud of the work I produced last November, too proud to let my draft linger and fade. I’ve spent the last year playing with my plot and characters, sometimes, like Kerouac in handwritten notebooks but mostly in my head while I wash dishes or vacuum. So rather than create another new beginning this November I’m spending quality time with last year’s four week draft.

Because if I want my book, if I want it to shine, then the time has come for reworking and revision.  Approaching the task with clarity helps. Na No Wri Mo works because it creates focus. You slash distractions ruthlessly throughout the month. You focus on word count. But for the writerly process to continue beyond that first draft the focus has to shift. Concentrate on giving that word count design, plot, pace and rhythm. That’s what I’m writing for this November.

What are you writing for? For first draft or finished product? How does revision fit into your writing process?

18 Responses to “What are we writing for? The flip-side of NaNo”

  1. Kelly Exeter (@kellyexeter)

    Ha!! I BET there were 6 years of re-writes of that Jack Kerouac novel! I am still traumatised at the level of re-writes and edits I had to do for the 5000 words I released of my book on Saturday (as they were 5000 very raw NaNo words!)

    Good luck with your re-writes and editing Gill. This is the crafting bit now yes? And in theory this is the ‘fun’ bit?!

    • Gill

      Kelly – it is the fun bit! Who would have thought it? I have to check out this book of yours! I like the slow reveal of it…

    • Gill

      You do have a story, I’m sure of it. Getting some insight into the journey of writers (such as Kerouac) really helps me – it reminds me of all the hard work that is required. Remembering this makes me feel more in control of the process.

  2. sarahtsib

    nicely posed K…I write for the sake of writing. Im just playing around with it all – whatever it turns into is far from my mind at the moment, it makes me nervous if I package it all up with a pretty bow in my head. Im taking the Nike approach to Nano. Im just doing it.

  3. Anna Spargo-Ryan (@annaspargoryan)

    This year, I’m writing for my book. Last year, I was writing to prove that I could actually make 50,000 words sit in a row. I’d never written that many before, and I felt that I couldn’t tackle my “actual” book until I at least knew I could make the distance.

    I learned a lot last year, with my draft that will never be anything but (seriously, it is rubbish), and that has eliminated a whole swathe of mistakes I might otherwise have made this year.

    • rhythm & method

      I’m curious to see if I can make the distance, but admit to being a little frightened at how crap the draft might be in the harsh light of December. I keep having to reminding myself that this is a craft, and the draft is like a sketch that you build upon. K

  4. Cathy Powell

    Great post. I lost my draft from last year, so I signed up again this year to essentially re write it, but I doubt very much that I will get anywhere near the 50,000 words. Incidentally last year I only just nudged over 10K, but still that is 10K of lost words.

      • Cathy Powell

        I’m reworking the whole book. With a similar beginning but more depth. I still want the same basic story line but with an additional pivotal character.

  5. C.B. Wentworth

    I ended up turning NaNoWriMo into my motivation for the revision and editing process. Instead of writing an entirely new novel, I set “revised” word count goals. So far, I’m right on track! :-)


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