Well everyone, let me extend to you my most sincere congratulations! You’ve done it. You’re here. The month is over and you’re still alive. While this is more than likely not because of the NanoWriMo Survival Guide I’ve offered over the past month, I would like to think that I have had at least a small hand in the maintenance of your sanity. Whether or not you’ve directly applied my suggestions to your writing or written them off (no pun intended) is, I suppose, moot at this point. Seeing as it is December 1st, you may be wondering why I’m bothering with this final installment. Well, I purposefully planned for this final blog to be after the “official” conclusion of NaNoWriMo for a few reasons. Firstly, I figured that you all would be far too consumed by your caffeine-induced, sleep deprived frenzies in your race to the finish, to concern yourself with a lowly blog post. (I mean let’s face it, most of us needed to be reminded to eat, bathe, and even breathe in the final days, am I right?) Secondly, I felt as though we all could use a little encouragement and support after 30 days of hard work. Finally, and most importantly, I chose not to include this final post within the confines of NaNoWriMo month because as the clock wound down last night and the harrowing strokes of midnight drew closer and closer, I found myself feeling that this wasn’t the bitter end of something, but rather a hopeful beginning. Such a statement may make some of you wonder if I’ve finally lost it or question my credibility if not my sanity. However, before you draw any conclusions, consider for a moment these final two suggestions.
1. Take What You’ve Learned…This is only the beginning
“Take what you’ve learned” – such a basic concept, but one which is so easily forgotten. Look back at the past month. What happened? What didn’t? What could have? In the second installment of this series I encouraged you to reevaluate your expectations. I encourage you to do the same now. Only now, instead of reprogramming yourself for days of endless marathon writing, I suggest you analyze your expectations offor yourself as a writer overall. Now that you’re a pro at identifying priorities, recognizing your strengths, and distinguishing your writing habits and tendencies in the stressful, demanding context of NaNoWriMo, why not take what you’ve learned and apply it to the writers you’ll be for the rest of your life? Consider what this past month has taught you. (I’ll pause now and let you determine for yourself what exactly that is….) Whether, when you reflect on the past thirty days you grimace, smile, break down and cry, or burst out in laughter, take what you have learned about yourself and the writing experience away with you. Consider it a road map for the rest of your career. Fold it up and put it in your back pocket, you’ll need it. After all, this is only the beginning.
2. Never Underestimate the Power of the Draft
This suggestion is two fold. Whether your work this month has materialized in a completed novel the length of Steinbeck’s, or whether you have only produced a chapter or two, whether this is your first experience trying your hand (or pen) at NaNoWriMo or if you’re a schooled veteran, this will apply to you all. Firstly, be proud of what you’ve done. It’s yours. It’s real. It never existed to this degree thirty days ago. Whatever it you have in front of you, whether you love it or hate it, it’s yours – and that sure is something, I’d say. But remember, drafts are tricky things. Undoubtedly they are something for which to congratulate yourself (didn’t I just force the concept of self-satisfaction down your throat?). However, they have the power to trick us into believing we’re done. (You may, considering you’ve been writing exhaustively for the past thirty days, be tempted to put me in a choke hold for suggesting that you’re not done, but before you do, hear me out.) Let’s face it, despite the amount of blood, sweat, and tears we’ve put into our writing lately, despite the calloused hands and baggy eyes, we aren’t done yet. We haven’t done laundry in God knows how long. (That yogurt stain on the sweatshirt you’re wearing right now? It’s from the 17th.) We can’t remember the last time we swept the floor (The dust bunnies may or may not have become characters in your stories.) And that friend that called three weeks ago? You may want to factor a large box of chocolate into your December budget…maybe more than one. But despite all we have sacrificed, all we have learned this month, what we’ve created is only a draft. A wise writer once said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” (One of William Faulker’s timeless words of advice.) I don’t think there’s any other way of looking at drafts and the process of editing. Don’t be overpowered by the romantic notion of your first draft. It’s not done. Not at all.
However, (get ready for that second fold now), the draft is powerful in an entirely different way. It speaks volumes for your work ethic, your skill, your dedication. But besides this, it is the foundation. You’ve built it, now just expand upon it. Whether, during the process of editing, you contrive an entirely different story or if you merely change a few scenes here or there, return to the draft and return to it with a sort of reverence. It’s a powerful thing. Consider it the fuel for your hike through the journey of writerhood (Shakespeare isn’t the only one who can make up words.). Through your travels, let it be the bottled water in your backpack, the energy bar in your zip-up pocket. Or, better yet, let it be the trail mix you grab handfuls of when you need a little “umph”. (Oh…and let all your best characters, scenes, and plot points be the chocolate chips and M&Ms. I mean, admit it, that’s the only reason any of us buy trail mix anyways.)
And so, my friends, I leave you, for now at least. And I leave you with most profound admiration, genuine compliments, and earnest hopes for your future as writers. As always, take these suggestions straight to heart or print out this post and use it as scrap paper as you begin your editing process.
Whatever it is you do though, keep living, keep loving, and most importantly, keep writing.
It’s been a pleasure.