By Marsha Nash Sultz
I’ve always loved to write. Aimlessly, gloriously, imaginatively. But not, unfortunately, with a lot of form or purpose. I had filing cabinet drawers full of half-finished drafts of stories, essays and one precious novel. For years I was a blitzkrieg writer. If I had an idea, I’d attack it with vigor but not a lot of style. I had the desire, but not the foundation of good practice.
And then I heard about a class at FVCC taught by Kathy Dunnehoff on writing a novel in a month.
I signed up immediately. NanoWrimo – National Novel Writing Month – is an interesting concept for writers. The goal is to write fifty-thousand words in thirty days. For a month, no editing, no fixing, no second-guessing.
Just write, write, write.
When embarking on a journey of fifty-thousand words, careful planning is required. Kathy encouraged us to fill out a calendar containing our word count per day, our days off for Thanksgiving, medical appointments and mental health days.
Above all, Kathy told us to remember what Hemingway famously said about first drafts. “All first drafts are shit.”
I kept that in mind when my eyes roamed over the scenes I had written the day before. I had to physically restrain myself, at first, from going back and fixing mistakes. Thankfully, Kathy reinforced our ‘rules’ each week in class and I muddled through a draft, knowing I had eleven months stretching before me to edit to my heart’s content.
I have participated in NanoWrimo six times. Twice I finished drafts of novels that I had started the year before. One year I wrote a novella. One year I started a novel and did a do-over two weeks into the month, so I only wrote about thirty thousand words that year.
NanoWrimo is a great way to jumpstart a novel and I’m grateful for the structure that it gave me. Now, three drafts of novels are on the shelf and I can choose whichever one calls to me. With experience, I realize that writing a first draft is merely the beginning of novel-writing. As I learn more about the craft of writing, more about the framework of scenes, plot and characters, I have those drafts in reserve to take out and refine.
If you are a beginning writer or a writer who struggles with how to dive into a new novel, give NanoWrimo a try. It’s a little like mind vomit, but the ideas you’ll come up with, unconstrained by trying to be perfect, will surprise you and lead to good content that can be corralled into form and structure as you edit after the month is over.
Remember: write, write, write!