Little did I know, when I befriended Rachel Cotterill, fantasy author of Rebellion and Revolution, that in addition to meeting a skilled writer and an exceptional person, I would finally learn to write fast.
I have been a writer for years now, but I was a slow writer. It took me years to finish the three books of The Masters That Be fantasy series. True, I had a day job, so I could only write in the evenings and in the weekends, and writing was just a hobby then—but when I could write, I was still a slow writer. I would often think the same sentence over many times, trying to sift the best possible words rather than the almost-best, I would re-read and fix the paragraphs I had just written, I would get buried in my thesaurus. I would research fantasy creatures, religions, and rituals from various parts of the world—and do you know how many creatures and rituals there are?
Writing is a lonely craft, people say, although I prefer the word “solitary.” I have a wonderful husband who supports me in this, so it has never been lonely. However, it is a solitary endeavor to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, especially when you learn that the process is different for everyone. People can give you hints, but no one can teach you.
So, how do you defeat procrastination and even the striving towards perfection? How do you make a novel happen? Years ago, I set myself a quota. I would write 500 words every day, no matter what. And I did. I wrote in the small hours of the night, I wrote in the car on a laptop while Alex was driving, I even wrote on pieces of paper in a chair by a hospital bed one night. Sticking to this process, or to versions of it, can make novels happen. It did for me. It also took years. I was writing the first draft of several novels from a series at once, and I was not writing much more than 100,000 words per year, so it took a long time.
When I noticed Rachel participating in something called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, I got intrigued. Write 50,000 words in thirty days, and you become a winner. Your prize for winning is bragging rights that you have completed this feat—this, and 50,000 words of your new novel, complete in 1 month and not half a year. I wondered then, could I do this? I had just released my three slowly-written books. After figuring out how to make my own cover art, produce a multitude of file formats, and setup a blog and an e-bookstore the way I wanted, I needed a new challenge. I was also not writing the fourth book the way I should—so I thought, I’ll take a break and write another book. Or, half of it, since there is no way a book of mine can be as short as 50,000 words. I’ll do it in eighteen days. You see, I was joining NaNo late. I made the decision on the 9th of November and started writing on the 10th, and I also knew that during the three days of SFContario in Canada later in the month I would probably not write at all. I figured that if I wrote 3,000 words every day for the remaining eighteen days, it should do it.
It did. Indeed, most days I wrote more than that, since I later decided that I wanted to finish before the 30th, in seventeen days. I did that, too. It is a different way of writing. You don’t have time to get lost in your thesaurus. You don’t have time to ponder every little element of the plot. It helped that the science fiction book that I half-finished this November had been in my mind for years, but still typing away for hours without allowing myself to stop and think was a challenge. But I did it. Besides, I actually wrote a first draft (or half of it) of quality, not something full of word-padding and the like. I don’t like editing, so I prefer to make the first draft as good as possible—and I could do it even while writing 3,500 words per day! Sorry about the exclamation mark, I just had to shout here.
NaNo did not only teach me about improving my writing process. It also taught me that it helps to announce your goal in public because you are more likely to strive for it in this way, and that it helps when there are thousands of people sharing your goal. The writing process suddenly becomes much less solitary when, in the little time you have left in your day (or the time you steal from sleep), you can go to the NaNo forums and discuss genetic engineering or artificial intelligence, or share encouragement on Twitter with a stranger who is doing the same as you. I’d like to mention Kathleen Edwards (@K_A_Edwards) and Amanda C.Davis (@davisac1) from Twitter here, as well as mrscoach, Birds and the others from the NaNoWriMo thread on the Mobileread.com forums.
Especially, I would like to mention and to thank Rachel, as well as the wonderful Dee Marie, author of Sons of Avalon: Merlin’s Prophecy. Dee organized the Oswego NaNoWriMo write-ins, which were a great experience. I enjoyed meeting everyone there, and Dee Marie herself is a well of wisdom and encouragement, as well as a writer worth reading. I like to think that I have found a new friend in her.
So, what now, after NaNoWriMo is over?
I will finish Dissenter, Luminant, Ultimator in another month or so, then finish The Shards of Creation with the same speed (and edit both, of course). I am a fast writer now. I am also looking forward to next year’s NaNoWriMo.