Writing Fast & Baby Dragons

14 Nov

The first time I tried to write a novel, I was ten.  I rewrote those first eight chapters dozens of times.  It wasn’t working.  Maybe it would be more exciting if I added a baby dragon?  Alas, that way lay failure.

Sometimes I wondered what I was doing wrong.  Perhaps nothing?  Wasn’t writing a novel supposed to be a grueling, multi-year process?  After the baby dragon draft failed, I started another ill-fated revision.

Then I picked up a book on writing (time has unfortunately erased its title from my memory).  It suggested writing “literary experiment”, not a “novel.”  Novels are those perfect, polished things we see on gleaming bookstore shelves.  “Literary experiments” don’t have to be beautiful.

This kind of self-induced semantic trickery seemed useful.  So, I set the tortured novel aside and began a fresh “literary experiment”.  I came home from school and wrote, laying one page on top of another in my file folder.  I never looked back, never revised.  In less than a month, I’d finished.  The book on writing promised that “experiments” look remarkably like the first draft of a novel — and mine did.  Ten gold stars for self-induced trickery.

It wasn’t a good first draft.  I hate to say it, but despite opening the first chapter with combusting hair, even the final draft was significantly less than brilliant.  But the hours invested in that novel were anything but wasted.  I learned so much — about subplots, characters, endings, and that the solution to a sagging plot is not (usually) throwing in a baby dragon.  I learned about finishing what I started.

For the first time, I felt the success of a finished novel.  My novel.  Layered page after page, thick and real.  It will never be a masterpiece, but it was mine.  A part of me will always be proud about it, even though I’ve long retired it to the bottom drawer.

NaNoWriMo always makes me think about that first book, even though I’d never heard about NaNoWriMo when I wrote it.  Would I have finished if I’d been trying to write slow and careful, one perfect word after another?  Doubtful.  So November is an exciting month for me, thinking about all the pages that are being hammered out.  Thinking about all the novels people will have, tangible, ready for revision come December.

What about you?  Do you prefer a meticulous first draft, writing fast, or something in between?


Posted by on November 14, 2012 in goals, NaNoWriMo, Writer's block, writing motivation


9 responses to “Writing Fast & Baby Dragons

  1. Meredith Allen Conner

    November 14, 2012 at 6:40 AM

    I write, edit, write, edit. I have to edit as I write. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I can’t stop trying to improve things as I go along.

  2. Judith Keim

    November 14, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    I have to do something in between. Because I’m a pantser, I write, go back and edit, pick up the threads or sometimes develop new threads that I’ve thought of, write, go back, etc. When I’m doing the actually writing, I’m flying but then comes the editing.

  3. Janis McCurry

    November 14, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    I’m somewhere in between meticulous first draft and “somewhere in between.” I don’t put it on paper without thinking about it first, but then I can strengthen it in a second edit.

  4. stephanieberget

    November 14, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    I’m trying to plot for the first time and find it slow going. Maybe I’m a panster at heart. I love the idea of Literary Experiment.

  5. Jennifer

    November 14, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    I decided to let go of all the rules, grammar, etc when I was at retreat. It really set me free. It was the most fun that I’ve had writing.

  6. Clarissa Southwick

    November 14, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    What an inspiring story. I’m so glad you stuck with it. I love to write fast first drafts, but I hate revisions. So I’m trying to slow down a bit the first time through and think more before I start.

  7. mkhutchins

    November 14, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    It’s always so interesting to see all the different way people write books! Revisions (especially 2nd draft) are actually my favorite.

  8. maryvine

    November 14, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    I think I’m somewhere in between, that way I can use most of the stuff I write.So, I don’t know how well I would do in a NANO where I have to speed through writing to get the number down. I do better with a 100 or 200 word challenge, and go beyond on some days and hold to the 100 or 200 on others. But never say never!

  9. Peggy Staggs

    November 15, 2012 at 8:15 AM

    I get down the first draft and set it aside. Then I edit and edit and edit.


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