On June 1, I began my first big summer writing project: drafting a novel in a month. (This is the Andy Project that I’ve made oblique reference to on occasion—related posts are tagged as such.) I’ve been amazed at how quickly I’ve fallen back into the pattern of churning out 1600 words + change each night. Over the last two years, I’ve focused almost exclusively on short stories, which for me emerge at the agonizing pace of +/- 500 words at a time. So one-month novelling is like riding a bicycle! (Not that I’d know from personal experience—I don’t remember the last time I was on a bike.)
Anyhoo. Three years ago, I picked up Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem! on a whim. Baty of course founded National Novel Writing Month. I embraced the NaNoWriMo method to write a trio of execrable novels, one of which I thought had enough merit to revise (the project has since evolved considerably, but the revision is still in progress). Mind you, I’ve never actually done the formal NaNoWriMo in November, and probably never will, ‘cause I’m a lone wolfer that way.
I learned a lot about my process from the first three novels, but I’ve learned even more by focusing on short stories. Namely (and this isn’t earth-shattering by any means) that for me, writing is an iterative process of successive drafts versus an outline, or, you know, divine inspiration. I typically spend a week brainstorming and planning beats of a short story, then a couple weeks writing a first draft, then I trunk it for as long as I can. When I come back, I repeat the process. After the second draft, I almost always have something I’m not too embarrassed to bring to a workshop.
In the fall, I’ll be taking a novel writing workshop, in which we bring in ten pages of new material per week. Having been through my own personal NoWriMo three times now, I have a pretty good idea of the level of garbage I’d be turning out following this structure. So I’ve decided to apply my short story methodology to the class. A little over three years ago, I wrote a first-draft short story. This spring, I revised it. This month, I’m expanding it into the first draft of a novel. Then in the fall, I’ll rewrite the whole thing fresh, ten pages at a time, for class.
I still remember something that the MFA program director here mentioned in class my first semester in the program, which was that in the early drafts of a novel, she’s still figuring out what it’s about. This is definitely true for me, especially since I’m not a lyrical or even a very interior writer. Things happen in my stories, and those things have to hang together to create a cohesive plotline. By coming into the workshop with a complete draft in the kitty, I’ll know the world better and my new draft will be a lot more polished.
The downside to this process is that it necessitates throwing out thousands and thousands and thousands of words’ worth of material. But for me that’s not much of a downside. I have a workaday style and subscribe more to the Graham Greene philosophy than, say, Nabokovian flights of lyricism (much as I admire lyric writers, it’s just not in me). Because I’m rarely seduced by my own prose, I’m happy to cut, ruthlessly and often.
I don’t anticipate Andy Project updates hijacking this blog, but I may occasionally note my wordcount, which, as of this morning, stands at 9,270 (excluding today’s yet-to-be-written quota).