As most people who either write or who follow author blogs know, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo to devotees. Participants pledge to write 50,000 words during the month, hopefully concluding their endeavors on the 30th with a decent draft to edit and then ship off to a publisher. (Does that make December National Novel Editing Month?)
There is a whole culture around NaNoWriMo, including t-shirts, comic strips, parody musicals, etc. and clearly they are all methods of procrastination. It’s a lot of writing and a LOT of pressure, but, as the Leonard Bernstein quote indicates on the flyer, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” As participants attest, you must average writing 1,667 words per day in order to make the target of 50,000 words.
While I do well under pressure, not having writing partners who I would be held accountable to certainly makes NaNoWriMo like exercising or dieting – it’s totally up to me to make it work and when life gets in the way, writing (and exercising) has a tendency to be the first thing to go by the wayside when I have kids and faculty relying on me for whatever is taking precedence.
When I went to my monthly meeting of the PLRW (Pocono Lehigh Romance Writers) Chapter of the RWA, not only did we do our holiday schmooze but we also decided to listen to a couple recordings from past RWA conferences. Our scheduled speaker had to be canceled due to weather complications (a few of our members from New Jersey and Pennsylvania couldn’t make it because they were still without power – thank you Superstorm Sandy).
With NaNoWriMo on the brain, the even more outrageous goal set by “Fast Draft: How to Write Your First Draft in Two Weeks” by author Candace Havens seemed downright laughable. And it was…until she started speaking. It turns out that not only is Candace Havens a hilarious public speaker, but she puts her money with her mouth is, not only using this technique personally but also teaching thousands (yes, I said THOUSANDS) of writers how to implement her Fast Draft method with the end result being 30% of them going on to actually publish their book.
Because I think you should actually buy the workshop (that’s the above link and it’s only $8 to download the hour-long seminar), I’m only going to highlight a couple key points that stood out. The number one way to get me to buy into an idea is to give me actual research, and Candace did that, right off the bat referring to the Fast Draft method of writing 20 pages a day (*gasp*) as tapping into a specific part of the brain. Once she started speaking, I knew exactly what she was talking about.
Candace said that, as writers, in actuality our creativity – our ideas, characters, plot, etc. – stems largely from our unconscious or subconscious parts of the brain. Our conscious brain fulfills the role of a highly critical editor and, unfortunately, when we write a small amount at a time painstakingly rereading our previous writing (and I am in no way casting aspersions – I know there are lots of people for whom this is a good method), we are feeding that conscious editor. The difficulty lies in the fact that he/she gets in the way of our creativity which is then relegated to the back of our minds where we are unable to benefit from it as directly.
The Fast Draft method takes into account the concept that “the more you write, the faster you write” and that by utilizing a methodology in which you agree to write for two and half hours a day (some people do a block of time, other people do snippets during the day which add up) and refuse to go back and read what you wrote or edit your writing, you are letting your creativity bubble to the surface. Because she offers Fast Draft in both a free Yahoo forum or a paid class where you get personal attention from Candace, she has said that by day 3 of the program, she receives a slew of emails from participants astonished by not only how much they were writing, but by how good the ideas were. Many people mentioned having no memory of several of the pages they wrote, yet those pages contained high quality material.
This description of participants’ experience made me think of the psychological concept of “flow” developed by Hungarian psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, discusses how people are happiest and most productive when they are completely absorbed in whatever activity they are doing. Writers, artists, gardeners, and athletes all describe a feeling of “being in the zone” where they lose a sense of time and feel like what they are doing is fascinating and exactly right. In essence, Candace’s description of the state experienced by her writers mirrors Czikszentmihalyi’s work, showing that Fast Draft has tremendous potential to unleash creativity.
It also makes me wonder if the successful participants of NaNoWriMo actually are using, perhaps unknowingly, Candace’s methods. I get the sense many participants sit for a few hours a day and work to crank out as much as possible, a process that would shut off their inner editor and be more likely to induce a state of “flow”.
Because I have the terrible habit of rereading everything I have written in a project and then continuing with part of the next scene, I tried Candace’s method when I got home from the workshop last night. I was astonished at how well it worked! I’m happy if I can reach about 1000 words in a session, but by giving myself permission to not have every sentence as perfect as I can make it (and by writing little notes to myself about things I needed to look up during the revision stage), I wrote almost 2900 words in about two hours. Considering that next week is fall term exams (meaning no prep for classes at night) and then I have a week off for Thanksgiving, I plan on putting this method to the test each day and see how I progress, with the goal of getting to her twenty page/5000 word mark each time.
Many thanks to both NaNoWriMo and the talented Candace Havens for helping me understand my creativity – and giving me a swift kick in the pants to write my novel! May all November writers find equal inspiration. 🙂