On NaNoWriMo Day 3: An Outline and My Fear of Editing

Well, NaNoWriMo is proceeding apace. The story is outlined in Scrivener, with 25 scenes planned out and named. That means I’ll need to average about 2,000 words per scene in order to hit the 50k total. So far, I’m averaging 1k per scene. This suggests that I need either another subplot or another fairly major reversal. Already I have one reversal, which I’d planned for a while but I’ve changed the resolution for it. On the one hand, I don’t want to obsess too much: as I write, I’ll come up with ideas. On the other hand, I don’t want to hit a brick wall and discover that I’ve run out of plot and need to start cramming things into the middle in order to hit the word count. Being mindful of the eventual need to expand seems to be the best course.

So far I’ve hit my word count quota for the first two days. I’m feeling good about this, I think that this is helping me with something I actually need help with: putting my ass in the chair and putting words on paper. It’s one thing when I’m actually inspired to write and have a clear vision in my head. In that case I can churn out a good amount of verbiage, and I like to think that it’s not terrible. (Guts is still out at its market, BTW, approaching that market’s average response time according to Duotrope) But when I’m not so inspired, the font dries up pretty fast. I used to think that this was fine, that it was better to write only inspired words than to have to go back and edit. (I have since been disabused of this pernicious little notion.)

But boy howdy, do we hates editing, precious. I like to think that I’m pretty good at critiquing other peoples’ work, but I’m very bad at self-critique and extremely bad at rewriting. This is part of why I tend to cling to the internal editor while I’m working, because I know how much I hate revising later: the more perfect I can make the first draft, the less painful the final drafts will be.

But the first draft is never going to be perfect enough, and I have more room to maneuver if I know there’s going to be a second draft anyway. (This, I think, is part of why I’ve had good experiences doing a first draft at least partly by hand) I know full well that I’m an ad-libber: the stuff I come up with while writing is always better than the stuff I plan. But that means that I need to go back later, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how needing to do this benefits me. Primarily, it lets me smooth things down, streamline things once I know for sure how the plot goes. In this vein, I’ve been thinking a lot about Chekov’s famous admonition that a gun placed on the mantel in the first act must go off later. It’s early days yet, so my plan right now is to put in as many half-baked ideas as I can. Basically, I’ve been running around putting guns on every wall I can find in my story in the hopes that it might prove useful later, like some kind of cross between the Easter Bunny and a Branch Davidian. If I’m later stuck, hopefully a read through earlier chapters will turn up something I can use. Some of the ideas will definitely be useful (I think that the character Thomas’s older brother who wrote a letter from the Western Front, a spur-of-the-moment addition, will feature again later) most probably won’t. That’s the beauty of editing: the ones that aren’t useful will be gone by the time anyone else reads it! Nobody will ever know how many blind alleys and failed gambits there were in this draft, each one of which inflated the word count! Mwahahaha!

*ahem* Of course, what all this means is that in order to get the full benefit of having taken a month of my regular writing to do NaNoWriMo, I’m going to need to take another month to edit it. (Besides, I will not be one of those jerks who on Dec 1st puts an unedited NaNoWriMo MS into an envelope and starts sending it off to editors and agents. I can tell you right now that Hell won’t have that particular abomination.) I’ve already started thinking of this project as a practice novel, to be honest, but it’s not good practice unless I’m doing it right, right?

11 thoughts on “On NaNoWriMo Day 3: An Outline and My Fear of Editing

  1. Glad to see you are on pace! To fatten up your chapters, you might make sure they’ve got enough twists and turns. Have your character fail and have to refigure out how to get to their goals before they’re successful. Good luck and write on!

    1. Thanks!
      I have some delicious failures planned, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for opportunities for the character to screw up, argue, miscommunicate, and otherwise fail. Otherwise I’ll have to resort to filler and description, which will just make me sad. Yours is coming along well, I trust?

  2. like some kind of cross between the Easter Bunny and a Branch Davidian

    That definitely goes in the annals of “things never said before.”

  3. “But boy howdy, do we hates editing, precious. I like to think that I’m pretty good at critiquing other peoples’ work, but I’m very bad at self-critique and extremely bad at rewriting. This is part of why I tend to cling to the internal editor while I’m working, because I know how much I hate revising later: the more perfect I can make the first draft, the less painful the final drafts will be.”

    You could have ripped that out of my own mind. God, am I ever with you on that. Self-editing is so painful.

  4. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but i’m on the other end of the spectrum from Michelle; I love revision. of course, I tend to over-invest there, tweaking individual words and phrases, sometimes multiple times. The danger here is obvious: my first book had 13 drafts. I’m down to 4 or 5, though!

    You’re absolutely right about getting to the end first. I’m also a big believer in the outline, but I can still never foresee all the places my characters will take me (and yes, they’re driving), and if I don’t let them show me, we’ll be forever stuck trying to get out of the parking lot.

    Mainly, though, I love revision for two reasons:
    1) For me, this is where the craft truly is. I genuinely enjoy spending an hour on a particular phrase or word. I know, crazy and perhaps a bit sad, but true.
    2) Will Shetterly’s quote: “The great thing about revision is that it’s your opportunity to fake being brilliant.”

    1. I *want* to enjoy revisions! I expect to be spending a great deal of time doing them. Maybe I should take some sort of drug after writing the first draft so that I don’t remember writing it, and I can pretend I’m critiquing someone else’s draft. The line edits aren’t so bad, actually. Sitting down and getting just the right wording can, as you say, be fun. (Especially when trying to pull off some very subtle puns — I’m so disappointed that nobody picked up the “hoist with his own petar” line in the mystery where the victim died in a sealed room of CO2 poisoning, and instead everyone just flagged it as a misspelling)

      It’s dealing with more structural issues that give me the most trouble: making the decisions that scenes work or don’t, changing plot-lines. Uncle Jim recommended making as many plot changes as possible in the outline stage. Which is good advice, but outlines pose a pernicious problem for me as well: I sometimes risk finishing the outline and then my brain says, “Well! That was a nice little story. Let’s move on to the next one, shall we?”

      1. Maybe it gets easier with practice? I know I don’t like it right now because I fee like I’m awful at it. But that could change with time.

        1. One of the things that I hear is that is does get easier with practice — not so much because the editing is easier, but because you start to adapt your drafting style to your editing style. You start to subconsciously focus on getting things right that you have a hard time fixing, maybe?

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