I recently complained on Facebook that I had to cut my writing short for the day because the scene I was about to write was just more than I could handle that particular day and in that particular mood. A friend of mine replied to remind me of advice I had given him almost five years ago when we both participated in NaNoWriMo 2011.
My advice? “Write crap, but write.”
Now of course I had to feign indignation that he would save up my words all that time just to hurl them back in my face, but I couldn’t help but feel a little flattered. Someone remembered something I’d said! And for five years! But I also felt just a little shamed, too. Here I was quitting early for the day just because it got a little hard and I didn’t want to write a bad scene.
We all get that urge to self-edit, that little voice that tells us we can’t just write, we have to write well. We have to write “Art.” Hence my advice. Granted, it was originally geared to NaNoWriMo and the Herculean task of writing 50,000 words in a month. If you spend time editing and polishing, or trying to create perfect prose on the first pass you’re going to fail. It’s as simple as that. Hence the advice: to make that word count you’re going to have to just accept that some of your words are going to be pooped out by something less elegant than unicorns. Accept that, and keep writing. Don’t look back.
It was good advice for NaNoWriMo, and looking back, it’s been good advice for the past five years, even though that was the last time I did NaNo. I hit my goal that year, and though it was hard, I proved to myself that I could sustain a solid writing effort. I’ve written more or less continuously ever since, finishing three novels and part of a fourth in that time while mostly writing during my lunch hour at work.
I’ve had to accept that, working under those conditions, there are going to be days I write crap. There are going to be days when 300 words are the best I can do. But I’ve tried my best not to give up. I’ve accepted that there are going to be entire months worth of work that may have to be reworked or even tossed out. But if there is any truth to the notion that you have to write a million sub-par words before you start to become a good writer, then I do myself no service by not writing until I’m certain what I write will be pure gold. The sooner I burn through that million words the better!
And yes, I’ve written crap, and I’m probably still writing crap. Twice now I’ve thrown out half of a draft and completely rewritten them (hence only three finished novels in five years). But I haven’t given up, and I haven’t needed NaNoWriMo for motivation. I write, even at risk of writing crap.
By now I’m getting pretty close to at least halfway through those million words. Am I getting better? I don’t know. Have I wanted to give up? A couple of times, yes. Have I got anything to show for it? Well, no, not really. But as they often quote on “Writing Excuses”, “Anyone can tell you you can’t write. Don’t let anyone tell you you don’t write.”
In that regard, at least, I am a success. I write. Five years later I still write. I’d like to think my writing doesn’t stink, but I don’t really know. That’s not important, anyhow. After five years I have learned at least one thing: I write because I want to, and because I want to, I write.