The art of writing shitty first drafts

I don’t have a plot. I don’t know who my characters are. I don’t have anything ready. I’m worried that I’m behind if I compare myself with other participants. All I know is that I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo and that I’m going to spend the next 30 days writing… a lot.

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month is a month-long writing marathon in which participants write a novel of 50,000 words. What’s important to note about NaNoWriMo is this: What you’re asked to produce is a shitty first draft rather than a well-polished masterpiece that’s ready to be published. Quality doesn’t matter. Quantity does. (You can read the details here. )

Last month, I realized that I want to focus on creating. So, the timing of NaNoWriMo was perfect for me except that I got reminded of it only few days before its first day. At the time of writing this post (5am in the morning on 1 Nov), I can safely say I’m not ready at all, if by ‘ready’ I mean ‘having story materials handy’. My inner critic loves to pick on this point and insist how unprepared I am.

Here’s what my inner critic’s voice sounds like.

“Dude, you don’t have any plot. That’s horrible. You aren’t going to write a great story without it. It’s very likely that you’ll waste your time. Don’t even start it. Whatever you’re going to write is bound to be crappy.”

My inner critic may sound right. But he’s wrong. Sure, I don’t have a plot. This plotless state of affairs is probably going to make it difficult for me to write a consistent, non-crappy story. I’m not going to worry too much about it, because he is trying to mislead me. My aim is to write 50,000 words of a crappy draft and not a best seller novel. It’s totally fine and even apt for me to produce bad, boring boo boos.

Having said that, it’s scary to accept and to embrace this plotless state of affairs. This is the first challenge I need to overcome in NaNoWriMo. Can I accept my current situation and simply start writing anyway? I say I can. The first sentence of my novel is most likely to be “I’m going to tell you a story, but I have no idea what the hell I’m going to tell you”, and that’s OK. This attitude, I believe, is what underlies the art of writing shitty drafts. If I don’t write anything in the first place, there’s no way I get to write something brilliant. Embrace imperfections and dive in.

By the way, since I don’t know what stories are buried inside the treasure box in my mind, I can’t judge whether they can be good or bad.

Either way, I believe in the power of writing them down.

If my stories stored in my treasure box are indeed rubbish, I want to take them out of the box by writing them down so I cam make some space for new stories, which might turn out to be better than the ones I have accumulated. There’s no reason why I should keep old ones when I’m aware that they are rubbish.

Of course, those stories might turn out to be great as well. If that’s the case, there’s no reason why I should keep them only to myself either; writing them down and sharing them with the world seem to be a better way of handling them.

Through out November, I will make sure to report my progress on this blog as well. I want to share some lessons I learn through participating in NaNoWriMo with you too. Stay tuned.

If you are reading this post on 1 or 2 Nov, it’s not too late. If you’re curious, why don’t you give it a try? Your inner critic might tell you all sorts of things, but remember, your inner critic is trying to mislead you and to scare you away. (This whole thing reminds me of my post, Cat vs. Curiosity. Check it out if you liked this post.)

My account name on NaNoWriMo is Masafumi. Feel free to add me as your writing buddy on the site. Happy writing!

Photo: Ernst Moeksis

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