The importance of flexibility

Before I started working on my current novel draft, I could have told you three things with certainty:

  1. I edit and revise while I write.
  2. I have to write in order.
  3. Word count-based goals don’t work for me.

But here I am, writing my novel in 5,000-word increments, skipping over parts occasionally that are giving me trouble, and holding off on any major edits for the time being.

Nothing has changed for me. The above points are still true in terms of how I generally prefer to write. I would much prefer to write in order, and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) still has the opposite effect on me than what the challenge is supposed to do (it’s like my mind takes offense at the idea of writing 50,000 words in a month and is determined to sabotage me if I try). But I realized fairly quickly that this novel is the most expansive project I’ve attempted and that if I don’t want it to languish on my hard drive forever, I have to do what I can to keep the momentum going, even if that means creating something imperfect right now.

I’m 45,000 words into my first draft right now. I suspect I’ll have a lot of rewriting and revising to do, but I still feel good, overall, about my progress. I don’t think I would have been able to anticipate the challenges I’m running into without throwing myself into this project and focusing on getting the words out. I’ve never been fond of the advice to let yourself “write crap,” because my earliest attempts at novel-writing weren’t really salvageable even with revision. But one of the great things about experience is that you start to see the difference between something that’s pure crap and something that’s good experience for honing your craft and that’s hopefully the start of something that can be good, even if it’s not good yet.

I think everyone wants to know how they work best, and to have their own rules and rituals. But it’s smart to have some flexibility and to be willing to change your approach if a project seems to demand it.

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