Holy crud, NaNoWriMo is over. Finito. Those of us who finished with 50,000 words or more, let’s give ourselves a pat on the back. Those of us who didn’t, I have something to say.
It doesn’t matter.
It never did, really, except that NaNoWriMo is a great front for a writing program for young people, so I enjoy making a donation to them, and no, I’m not their pitch boy. But as far as writing goes, it’s a lot of fun to struggle through a first draft when hundreds of thousands of people are doing the same and talking about it online and in meet ups across the country. That’s wonderful. And it’s a fallacy, because in any given month, hundreds of thousands of people are slogging through a first draft. And most of them don’t finish. And most of the ones who do wrote something awful, or close to awful. And the vast majority of finished projects won’t see the light of anyone’s ebook reading device.
The garden variety literary agent will review something like 10,000 query letters in a year and offer to represent one or two people. Although this sounds bad, consider all of the people who play lotteries—those odds are 1 in more than 1 million, and they have the additional limitation of having no control over how attractive their numbers look to the machine of bouncing, numbered balls. When we sit down and write a query letter, it’s all about us. Do we know the market, where our project fits in, how to play up the manuscript without sailing into the sun of self-aggrandizement, melt all the wax off our wings, and crash down to earth looking foolish?
I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me slow down for a moment. What’s valuable about NaNoWriMo is and has been that it gets people into the habit of writing. Perseverance isn’t innate, it’s learned. And nothing requires copious quantities of perseverance like long-form fiction. It’s not getting stuck in an Antarctic ice flow and watching one’s ship be crushed to pieces over a span of months, but that’s not the point. Sitting down and making time for writing is what writers do, and those of us who have put off working on a project like this need to find ways to make it work. NaNoWriMo is great at motivating people to invent those methods and strategies.
It’s okay if that first draft is sitting on the desk or in the memory forks of one’s motherboard. Drafts should sit for a bit, like meat just pulled out from the oven. Our subconscious needs to ferment the ideas for a while, while we focus on something else. I hear even breathing happens in stages, as do our heartbeats. Having multiple moments coming together to arrive at a useful destination is part of our human condition, so letting the draft—even the 12,000-word draft—gather a little dust is an okay thing. It will either start calling out for attention, or it will, out of kindness, shrink away to the bottom of the hard drive or under a pile of library books and copies of Cooking Light, because it really wants to be trunked.
To trunk a story is to realize, once and for all, that it is not going anywhere special, it’s not something on which one should devote any more time, or it’s acceptable to pretend it was never written in the first place. I’m a firm believer that every word I write as a creative endeavor (so, no grocery lists here) is a word that helps me improve my craft. Not everything I write is fit for publication or has an audience. If my current work in progress fits those criteria I won’t seek representation for it—but I bet that a YA, trans-themed, disability-focused dieselpunk time traveleing story with multiple mothers in distress is pretty marketable. Query responses will tell, if time won’t.
It’s okay, however, if everything I wrote during November turns out to be for naught. That is part of the whole writing gig. And let’s remember, all anyone wrote during the contest were first drafts. The real writing happens now, once we dust off the manuscripts and dive back in. It’s rewriting time, whenever we get started. It behooves us to attend to rewrites more carefully than we laid down the draft. And again, it’s completely fine if the second draft is only a modest improvement. We can rewrite from now to forever, after all, until we’re satisfied. I will probably have seven or eight major rewrites on this project, and many more ones that tweak the language and characters.
NaNoWriMo just got us to the keyboard, and that’s the only reason why it matters. The rest is up to us.