National Novel Writing Month started three days ago. CUCKOO – out in March 2011 – was my second NaNovel. The first draft was written in November 2008 – even during the weekend I spent in Cornwall at my dear friend Max’s weekend long civil partnership celebrations. You know the sort of thing: come back to the dear little cottage after a whole day of drinking champagne in the ruddy outdoors with an eclectic crowd of gay aesthetes down from London and local farmers, write 1700 words, pass out at the kitchen table….
Thank goodness one of the Nano tenets is never look back. By the time I braced myself to read what I had produced (January 2009), the issue of what I had written when and where had mostly been forgotten – most particularly the Cornwall passages, which suprised me by their – ah – freshness.
My first NaNovel languishes on my hard drive, unseen. Simon says I mustn’t show it to anyone. Is it really that bad? most likely so. But when I read the first draft of CUCKOO, I felt it had legs, and, after nine months of editing, I showed it around a bit. The rest could possibly be history. Or histrionics.
There’s quite a lot about at the moment about how NaNoWrimo puts people under undue peer pressure, and it’s probably all right. People work in different ways. But I know for me, it is the perfect way of dragging out an imperfectly formed first draft. The important thing is that it permits you to write utter bilge. More than that, it permits you to admit that you are writing utter bilge. But at the end of the month you have something really tangible to work with, or against. All I can say is that there are some passages of CUCKOO that sailed through the entire editing process, and structurally it is pretty similar to how it first appeared. It did gain 70,000 words, though – and about 30,000 of the original words were changed, and the rest were mostly – apart from those virgin passages – moved around into a different order. But the important thing is, those 50,000 original words were extracted from my brain.
This year, I plan to keep up the NaNoWriMo wordcount – ie 1700 words/7 days/week for a month, but to use it to completely finish the first draft of novel #2, which is already standing at an unwieldy 120,000 words. Then, the editing begins in earnest, on a far bigger scale than ever before.
Bring it on.
Best of luck, other NaNoWrimos. Keep the faith, keep moving on, don’t stop and remember you have the rest of your life to sort out the editing.