There’s that quote that says writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
Sure, the balance is a little off – but I’ve always thought that you need an idea to start writing something and everything you put down onto paper/screen after that should hopefully centre around – or at least have its roots in – that idea.
But in increasing my writing to over 1,200 words a week (bear in mind I have a full time job, learn Japanese and take Improv classes, and I’m planning a wedding), I’ve noticed that to get to those ideas sometimes you just have to write words.
I’ve successfully completed three NaNoWriMos. For those who don’t know NaNo, it ends up a lot like a marathon boot camp for writers. The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days – or 1,667 words a day, every day, for a month. It really should be InterNaNoWriMo now, because it’s absolutely worldwide, but that’s far less catchy.
In working towards those insane goals, I tried a variety of different approaches. One year, I brought nothing to the table. The second time, I came in with a fully formed plan, characters, backstories, and so on – so that I would just start writing the actual book on that basis. Last time (2017), I did a little thinking ahead of time and wrote down some concepts I wanted to cover. NaNo world calls these paths ‘Pantser’, ‘Planner’, and ‘Plantser’ respectively.
But no matter which path I took, I always found the same issue. I was trying to write thousands of words in a matter of hours in the evenings, when I didn’t have much time to spare anyway.
Writing is like mining for gold. You have to knock an awful lot of other rocks out of the way to find the precious stuff that’s worth keeping, or even better, selling on. And that’s where this analogy diverges.
Gold is pretty frickin’ obvious when it’s discovered. It’s shiny and such, right? But on a first pass, when new words are going onto a fresh page (i.e. not the editing phase), every writer I’ve ever spoken to admits that they are absolutely not best placed to determine what’s gold and what isn’t. And they’re more likely to undervalue the good than overvalue the bad.
Undervaluation of the words you’re writing makes you hesitate. It makes you pause, lose faith in your idea, lose your train of thought, lose focus, and then you lose time trying to recover where you were.
When I’m writing new material, I give myself an hour to produce 600 words, and then another 10 minutes at the end for a sense check and fast edit (which sometimes produces more words). And I hate this phrase because it’s become so politicised in Britain lately, but don’t let the best be enemy of the good. The best is for your fourth pass doing Edits & Revisions.
Getting the words on the page in the first place, whether you’re doing insane marathon writing challenges or not, is always Job 1.
Trust yourself, writer!