Q: How do you hammer out your first drafts? Have you ever used NaNoWriMo or the 3-Day Novel Contest, or a similar group motivation effort, to get your first draft done?
I don’t. Hammer, that is. I peck and squirm and occasionally lose myself in the story, but I’m not one of those authors who crow on Facebook that they banged out 2,500 words before lunch, again. NaNoWriMo is a great idea and I’ve followed it via Alexandra Sokoloff’s enthusiastic online coaching during the month of November, but the closest I came was writing 45,000 words in a determined effort last year to finish a novel set in France. I holed up in a cottage on Kauai (yes, I know, tough life) for three weeks, banned from being in the sun from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at least, and told myself I would not come home without getting to “The End.”
What I learned in that push was that there are big benefits to tackling a book-length manuscript that way. You aren’t as likely to lose the threads of the plot, to call the characters by different names from one scene to the other, and you're more likely to maintain a stylistic rhythm throughout the writing. You can let the story itself – not just the writing – flow at a faster pace if you’re not spending as much time re-reading the last chapters to get into the head space of your protagonist, villain, whatever. And, of course, you get to the end sooner, no small benefit. Disclaimer: I had already written about half of the book, threw away about 25,000 words that were torqued into something other than what I had in mind, and arrived with about 20,000 that I felt were strong, so I wasn’t starting from page one.
Another thing I learned is that I am more likely to keep writing without losing concentration when I’m not at home in my cozy study, with easy access to my kitchen, laundry basket, charming cats, and garden. It seems nuts to pack up and head to the Peet’s coffee house in town when I’ve gone to such trouble and expense to, finally, have a room arranged solely to foster creativity and writing output, but if I can’t do better at resisting the urge to jump up and do anything else but tackle the empty page, I may have to. It’s either that or head back to Kauai. I wonder if I can write off a trip like that? Note to self: Ask accountant and try not to deflate when he starts to laugh.