Sunday, 15 November 2015

NaNoWriMo: Quantity over Quality by Matthew Presley

A mine doesn’t immediately dig up jewellery. First is the excavation; thousands of tonnes of ore, gravel and dirt are churned out, with no attempt made beyond the broad stroke of following a promising vein. Then comes sorting; ore is separated from rubbish, uncut gems from pebbles, and the rest is mercilessly thrown on the slag heap. Then comes refinement; ore is smelted to remove any further impurities and to strengthen it into metal. Gems are cut, polished and carefully graded. Finally, the fine details are added; rare metals are fashioned into trinkets, gems are set into them, and the final product is ready for the market.

National Novel Writing Month is stage one; excavation. You’re aiming to push thousands of words worth of ink and keystrokes out in a month. Your daily quota? 1-2k words. Don’t think about refinement till you’ve finished your quota. All that matters is word count. Follow the broadest strokes; got an idea for a scene? Write it down quick. Stuck on writing a scene? Move on, write something else. Not sure how the short story ends? Follow the vein; it might lead you to a number of conclusions. Write them all down.

Last year I managed 39k words in what added up to a 90k first draft. I’m not in the process of refinement and editing; chucking out the garbage, picking out gems and making sure each scene had more useful ore than pointless gravel. Refinement and manufacture are the hard parts of writing for me. It’s taken me a year to almost finish the second redraft of that story, and that was after throwing out the very very first draft as it was utterly unsalvageable. There’s still short stories hanging from last year which I put on the back burner till I’ve finished redrafting the stories I’ve got, which might take me another year if I’m lucky. After having an editor go through my first story, I’m faced with a completely redraft and rewrite of the first half. And I know that, if I let that editor (who, incidentally, is my brother) read any of my other ‘finished’ stories, I’ll be faced with the same level of rewriting/redrafting as well as potential familial arguments. Once I’ve finished the redraft of story 2, I might go back to fix problems with short story 1.5 before revising story 1 again, which I’m already putting off, in the same way I put off standing up when my bad knee seizes up. That’s a better analogy than I was expecting; yes it’ll hurt, and hurt for a long time, but as some point I’ll have to do it if I want to move on.

You might have noticed this post is pretty rambling and all over the place. Well, it’s NaNoWriMo, isn’t it? It’s not about quality writing; at this point, it’s about word count. I’m writing this in the cafe of my gym, waiting for an appointment. I’ll probably get more written in other spare half-hours along the week. When I’m looking for motivation (at the gym as well as writing) I’ll listen to ‘Moral of the Story’ by Watsky. Not heard it? It pretty much sums up what you have to do to be a writer, or an athlete, or anything which requires determination. Please listen to it on YouTube. If you’re still unclear what the moral of the story is, then I’d suggest listening to it again.

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