I promised when I started this series of posts that I’d explain how it’s possible to write both quickly and well. Meaning that – despite the odds – you CAN get the basis for a quality novel in a contest such as NaNoWriMo.
Here’s the secret. As we’ve seen in previous posts, there is a lot more to writing books than simply putting words together and watching the word-count meter rise. On my experience the ‘drafting’ component takes up less than half the time that has to be devoted to any given book, and that’s true of both fiction and non-fiction. Not least because the research needed for good fiction (or world-building, if you’re writing fantasy) is just as time-consuming as the research needed to write good non-fiction.
But sooner or later you have to sit down and get those words assembled. Everybody has different ways of doing that, of course. Some writers sweat over every sentence, polishing them up piece by piece. That’s a valid approach, though to my mind it’s quite micro-level and even if you’re working from a plan, there’s a high risk that you’ll lose perspective of the big picture and – hence – lose structural integrity. That won’t be evident until you re-read the material and discover it needs re-writing.
That micro-approach is also very slow. The faster way is to sketch out the text in much larger chunks, pressing ahead and initially not worrying too much about the wording but focussing on the structure. That means the first draft, in detail, is often quite bad – but in the broadest sense has the right rhythm, pace and structure. It also means that, except in the broadest terms (to the nearest 300-500, on a 50,000 word structure), word count is irrelevant as a measure of result. Because the words, individually, will be changed.
The time needed to polish up rough styling is usually less than what’s needed to fix fundamental structural problems. And that’s important if you’re on deadline – or in a contest such as National November Writing Month, with its 50,000 word-in-30-day pressure. It’s perfectly possible to write a draft in that time.
The accepted outcome is ‘well, it’ll be terrible’. But I figure that if you get the structure right first – paint that picture in broad strokes – it’s possible to go back later and fix the words without re-casting the whole. Get the foundation right, in short, and the rest follows. Quality, therefore, is perfectly possible within NaNo constraints – or, for that matter, some of the deadlines publishers come up with in the profession.
It’s a technique that’s been made practical by the word processor. Back in the days of typing – or earlier, when pen-and-ink was the only medium – words were a precious commodity because ink was permanent. Re-drafting also meant re-copying. Today that’s changed; words are disposable – changeable – meaning we can focus on the essence of writing: structure, and from that, meaning, which is the essence of what writing is all about.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014