And now we continue our interview with NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty with Crossroads Writer Makenna Johnston
Makenna: Do you still try to write a novel every November?
Chris: I do still write a novel every November!
M: NaNoWriMo focuses on the get it done, fast first draft mentality of writing. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the ‘then what?’ and revision process.
C: That first NaNoWriMo was such a shock because I discovered that you can write a totally credible novel draft in 30 days. But the subsequent thirteen years I’ve spent revising my NaNoWriMo manuscripts have taught me that getting a novel from promising first draft to finished product is HARD.
I absolutely believe that the first draft of a story is best tackled in a deadline-driven frenzy. When you write for quantity rather than quality, you end up getting both. But when it comes to revision, you can’t just wing it. And because editing requires years of mucking around with a not-quite-there story, it’s really easy to lose momentum and give up.
There are two tips I’ve found really helpful in keeping a book moving steadily through the rewrite process. 1) Work out your entire story arc before you start on the second draft. I tend to write up a ten-page synopsis of my book and share it with readers. Then I revise the synopsis based on their feedback. You’ll save yourself months of aimless wandering if you make a map before you head into the wilds of your novel. 2) Let your prose be ugly until you reach the third or fourth draft. This is SO hard to do, but trying to make your sentences sing in the second draft is like trying to decorate a house that’s still under construction. Entire blocks of your book will end up getting changed or cut between the second and third drafts. Your creative hours are too precious to waste them fine-tuning prose and dialogue that won’t make it into the final draft. Let everything be clunky as long as possible.
M: I’m sure my MFA professors would balk at your prose comment! (I wont’ tell them don’t worry. ) Why do you think the story is more important than the initial prose? Has this always been true, or is this changing due to reader and publisher expectations?
C: Ha! Thank you for your discretion. In my experience, writing projects really don’t come into their own until the second draft. This is true of shorter non-fiction pieces, but it’s particularly acute with novels. The story you think you’re writing in Chapter One turns out to be very different than the story you have on your hands by the time you hit The End. Which is great! Those elements of surprise and discovery are what make novel drafts so much fun to write. But it also means that people who spend months (or years) agonizing over the opening chapters of their books before tackling the rest of the story are likely fine-tuning prose that will end up on the cutting room floor.
I still polish prematurely all the time, and because of that, it’s taken me seven years to revise a short Young Adult novel. Writers: Learn from my mistakes! Use your writing hours wisely! Postpone that polishing!
M: One of our Crossroaders asked “Please oh please would you make a NaNoWriMo tracking app for my phone so I can carry NaNoWriMo with me everywhere?” Any thought about mobile technology?
C: It’s such a great idea! I’d love to have an app that sends goons to my house if I ever fall more than 10,000 words behind in November.
Chris Baty will be the lunch keynote speaker at the 4th annual Crossroads Writers Conference. If you haven’t already registered, do so while you still have time!