Sunday, November 30, 2008

When You Stop and You Shouldn't

Today is the last day of NaNoWriMo, and all around the world, thousands of writers have either completed their 50,000 word target or at least have written many more thousand than they thought they could. The problem is: now what? 50,000 is not a novel (unless you're writing YA or middle grade). If you're writing an adult novel, you may only be 1/2 or 2/3 of the way there. Can you keep it up?

The first thing I'd suggest is Don't Stop! You may not feel you can keep up the relentless pace of NaNo - 1666 words a day - but what you need to do now is slow down a little (let some normal life back in, perhaps) and set yourself some realistic daily targets. And stick to them. NaNo has probably already shown you (again) that you can find time to write when you have to or need to. It's just that most of the time, we LET our daily life take over and consume us. Set a target of 500 or 800 words a day. If you feel you're slowing to half-time, set 833!

I'd strongly advise you not to stop and re-read what you have written so far, even if you are feeling pretty proud of yourself. Sometimes, re-reading your NaNo draft, however rough it might be, can be enough to send you into a depression so that you stop, and then give up. You have to keep reminding yourself that it is only a draft, the raw material that will eventually be crafted into the thing you were aiming at all along. Resist the reading!

If you have used NaNo to complete a project, resist the urge to re-read it straight away and put it away for a couple of weeks. Go work on something else. See a few movies. Read some great books, and one or two not so good. Then come back to your novel and try to read it without the Big Red Editor leaning over your shoulder. You could decide that it was just all good practice, and that the novel came out so badly that it belongs in the bottom drawer. It's more likely that you'll have that manuscript ready to revise, ready to see with new eyes. Keep at it. The first draft can be the hardest, but you've done it now.

I didn't attempt NaNo this year, which was just as well. Hong Kong doesn't allow for much personal creativity in terms of keeping a novel in my head and working on it. But my own personal "Don't Stop Here" time is around 12,000 words or so. That's the point at which I'm often flagging, feeling maybe the impetus for the story is fading, wondering what it is I'm trying to do. If I stop here and re-read what I've written so far, it can be so depressing that I want to give up. I've learned not to stop, to just keep going, no matter what. Where is your Don't Stop point?


Anonymous said...

My Don't Stop Point is 13,000 to 15,000 words. A voice starts yabbing at me: what on earth are you writing? This year I had to stop NaNo half way through at 25,000ish words. I had an unignorable influx of work which took up lots of time, but I didn't stop completely. I just dropped my target to a more manageable 400 words a day. I'll hopefully push it up to 800 words a day from tomorrow. Agh! Work. It gets in the way.

Sherryl said...

The great thing is you haven't stopped altogether. It's easy to say that it's too hard (I know lots of people who find work takes over their writing life, and I'm one of them!). But like you say, 400 words a day keeps you moving forward to the time when you can go back to the novel again. And it keeps the novel in your head.
Once you stop for a long period of time, it's a major effort to get back into it.

Kristi Holl said...

Sherryl, there's a lot of writing wisdom here! I made the mistake of re-reading some stuff yesterday before doing the final 5,000 words and I couldn't believe how bad it was. (Today it looks a bit less horrible--just a bit!)
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Sherryl said...

No, no, don't stop! Tell yourself you were wrong and what you read was really, really wonderful. It was just that you weren't in the right frame of mind for reading that day.
Keep writing!