Throw out 50 Thoughts #20 – If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all

snowballToday is Day 11 of National Novel Writing Month. To be on pace for 50,000 words by the end of the November, I should be somewhere around 17,000 words. I crossed the 32K threshold last night.

It’s been a heady, liberating experience. My writer friends have asked me – What’s my secret? It’s simple. Don’t think. Write.

I generally work with careful deliberation. Every move considered, planned, and re-evaluated. I like to do things right the first time, or at least limit the amount of rework required. My biggest work complaint was the ready, fire, aim nature of the business I was in. The pace of our projects didn’t give me time to think, only act, which only created more work down the road as I had to fix what never should have been wrong in the first place.

Sitting down to write a novel in one month is a daunting task. Writing 2,000 words in a day is not. These posts are generally 500 words, and as much as I love you all for reading my work, I don’t spend four hours making sure my thoughts on every subject are crystal clear. On the other hand, I have a nearly finished novel. It’s taken me four years to get where I am, and it’s still not right. I’m still agonizing over bits of dialogue, and the ending that isn’t paying off the way it needs to, and moving the lens to focus on a different part of the story.

To succeed at NaNoWriMo, I had to let go of the idea of having it be right. It won’t be right. A first draft never is. I don’t even consider this to be a first draft. I see this as the primordial soup that I will draw from when the real work of creating a first draft begins. I have an outline. I know where the plot is going. I have the main characters in place. Each day, I target a list of scenes and let the words go. No editing. I repeat. No editing.

I know there are inconsistencies. I will fix them later. Some of the places need names. They will come to me later. I type asdf and move on. A scene is in the incorrect point of view. That character is speaking to me for a reason. Roll with it. Some scenes don’t move the plot forward. They inform the plot, however, and will make the first draft that much richer when I craft it.

I’m not growing a novel. I’m tilling the soil from which it will grow. Perfectionism has its place. I do not leave the house without directions to where I’m going. I’m learning, however, that while the devil is in the details, the joy is in the chaos, and I have to wonder how often getting it right has prevented me from just plain getting it.

So this week, I loosen the stranglehold of control I impose on my life, and in the wise words of Steve Winwood, just roll with it, baby. Like one of those little snowballs in the cartoons, when I reach the bottom of the hill, I might be big enough to take out the whole chalet. Look out, here I come.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph, “Playmobile Snow Day,” by Scorpions and Centaurs © 2009 Creative Commons


One comment on “Throw out 50 Thoughts #20 – If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all

  1. Zan Marie says:

    32K is amazing!
    That’s the attitude! You’re right, the first draft is never perfect…so why do we spin our wheels trying to make it perfect? 😉

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