The Third Day of the Rest of Your Life

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.

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5 Comments on “The Third Day of the Rest of Your Life”

  1. IrishUp
    December 3, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    Ev, I have lurked and loved and learned from every single nanowrimo post – actually all of your writing process posts. I really want to say thank you for squeezing these in all of the other writing you did this month. And just in time, too; a friend has tapped me to be a “pre-editor” on a project they are hoping to shop. It’s past first draft stuff, but still needs A LOT of work. I know what I think about the project, but the stuffs you’ve written in this series, and in other posts, has REALLY helped me to frame and organize how I want to give feedback. We’re finally meeting to talk about the project in the next week, so if we’re still friends at the end of the week, you get part of the credit ;).

    I can’t wait to read “Parallax”!

    • evmaroon
      December 3, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

      @IrishUp: Thank you so much! That is really kind of you. I just muddle through, trying to crank any bit of artistry into my words that I can install, or so it seems, most days. Sounds like an exciting role on your friend’s project! Many years ago, a book club of mine took on an acquaintance’s unfinished novel, a mystery set in Alaska. I thought that was a clever way to get reader feedback. When I think about how judges break down manuscripts in literary contests, I feel like my own critical eye is more focused:
      Character
      Plot
      Language
      Pacing
      Mechanics
      Structure
      I dwell on those concepts because I think it results in consistency and quality. It seems a little antithetical to the idea of writing as art, but I believe the art is in the reading, anyway, as each reader brings their own experience to whatever the writer has laid down.
      Anyway, I hope it goes well! My money says you’ll still be friendz.

  2. December 4, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    I think to be a true writer you just have to love to write. If it’s all about getting published then I think you’re in trouble to begin with (though don’t get me wrong, publishing is the ultimate goal.)
    If you never get published, but you still keep typing away every day you know you were born to be a writer!

    • evmaroon
      December 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

      No, I wouldn’t want people to think that writing is only about getting published. People need to write the stories that are busting inside of them, not shoot for what they think will be hot in the market in three years (plus, nobody really knows that), although I’m sure a lot of folks write with that in mind. But I am interested in selling at least some of the things I write, in part because I think I’m telling stories that others aren’t, and that some people—specifically young LGBT adults—would really get a lot out of reading. I promise I’m not delusional, either!
      One of the things that has struck me about this process of engagement with the publishing machine is the diffuse, contradictory nature of advice to new and emerging writers, so I try to be a voice for other folks like me who are seeking publication. If I focus on my own experience, hopefully folks know to take some of it with a grain of salt.
      All of this is to say, yes, writers write and keep writing. And I am grateful that I have copious amounts of time to spend on it. Thank you for your comment!

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  1. Top Writing Posts of 2010 | Trans/plant/portation - December 23, 2010

    […] 3. Life after NaNoWriMo—It can be a blue time for some. Why I stressed keeping a focus. […]

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