The Journey to NaNoWriMo 2013: The Risks & Rewards of Editing while Drafting

The subject of this post might have captured the attention of some people. Just what am I thinking, discussing editing during the preparation phase of NaNoWriMo? One of the most common pieces of advice given is to never edit while drafting. Don't look back, always walk forward. Don't do this, don't do that.

Well, screw that nonsense. There, I said it. Sometimes, editing is a valuable part of the drafting process. However, if you are the type who needs to edit as you draft, you have a lot of work ahead of you as you plan and prepare for NaNoWriMo.

Editing has a lot of risks when drafting. It is important to weigh the risks and the rewards and determine whether or not the risks are worth the reward. That means taking a closer look at the project you are planning on working on, and determining what you want to get out of your NaNoWriMo experience.

Some people just want to write a book. It doesn't need to be a good book. It just needs to be a book.

Others want to write a masterpiece, their Magnum Opus. Their great work.

Well, NaNoWriMo and Magnum Opus are non-compatible. Get used to the idea. You can turn a NaNoWriMo novel into a Magnum Opus, but it involves a great deal of motivation, dedication, and hard work. It involves hours upon hours of editorial work. It involves sacrificing your pride and making the novel the best it can be.

That sort of editing work just isn't possible during NaNoWriMo. Sure, there are a few folks out there who have a genuine gift of immediate perfection. Don't assume you're one of them. Leave your pride on the back burner, and realize when you approach your NaNoWriMo that you are creating something that won't be perfect — yet.

You're laying the foundation for a work. Maybe your Magnum Opus but maybe not. That's something for you to discover in the months following November.

That said, editing can play a role in NaNoWriMo. As always, this is my opinion, and it may or may not work for you.

That's something you'll have to discover for yourself.

The Role of Editing during NaNoWriMo

Writing a novel is hard. No matter what quality your book ends up after November, you've really accomplished something. It doesn't even matter if you didn't reach your goal. Going out on a limb and trying to write a book is a big thing. It isn't for everyone. It's hard work.

Editing can serve a purpose during NaNoWriMo. It can help resolve problems that bother a writer and prevent them from moving forward in the manuscript. It can provide a place to start each day of writing. It can help boost fragile egos and self worth.

There are a lot of good things editing can do.

However, there are a lot of bad things editing can do, too.

So, the first thing you need to do is consider how you'll edit when November comes along. I think there are several main camps. These are stereotypes, and while there are variations of each of these groups, just bear with me. (Or we'll be here all day and never get to the main point.)

Stereotype 1: The Obsessive-Compulsive Editor

This person re-reads everything they write, and compulsively fixes every little error they find before moving on. This person will spend more time editing than they do on writing.

Stereotype 2: The Minimal Correctionist

This person fixes the bare minimum. If they have a plot hole that is blocking them on a story, they fix it and move on. If they forget to keep following a character, they add them back in when necessary. If a scene doesn't work, they flag it for being cut at a later time, and move on.

Stereotype 3: The Hybrid Editor

This person is fairly inconsistent on how they edit while drafting a novel. Some days, they are the picture-perfect case study for OCD. Others, they don't even bother fixing the plot holes they know exist. They do what they need to — or feel like — doing at any given point in time.

Stereotype 4: The Grammar Nazi

This person cares about one thing: The Perfectly Worded Manuscript. If there is a slight issue with the wording of a single sentence, they will fixate on it until it is fixed.

This person doesn't tend to get a lot drafted very fast. They also don't tend to be the type of person who has any use or interest for NaNoWriMo. (Blitz writing + grammar and spelling don't often coincide.)

There are many other different types of editors, but these are the four I want to really look at. You can make a spectrum between all of these types, including the type who simply doesn't edit while drafting, and be in the general ballpark.

So, what should the role of editing be during NaNoWriMo.

Honestly, I think the people who fall into Stereotype 2 are on the right track. They're writing. They're fixing the basic minimums to make sure their novel makes sense to them, and that they can move forward with a clear conscious. This person has the drive and the kill — and the discipline — to move forward with their novel. THey're constantly improving themselves and their story.

They address problems before those problems morph into the excuse of writer's block.

Fixing problems isn't a bad thing.

The most important thing is, if you are going to edit while participating in NaNoWriMo, that you are writing more than you are editing. Editing is a tool to help you write more. November is not the month to make pretty words. It is the month to write words, period.

Here are a few of the things I think about when I am writing and drafting. If all of these criteria are met, I will allow myself to do minimal editing.

  • 1: Does the editing work resolve a critical problem with the novel?
  • 2: Can I leave a notation and leave it alone?
  • 3: Does the editing work take less than 30 minutes for the day?
  • 3a: If it doesn't take 30 or fewer minutes, can I make extra time to write today?
  • 4: Can I do the editing work as I reread to find my place for starting today's writing?
  • 4a: See 3/3a.

#4 is worth pointing out, as I tend to have to reread at least a little bit (usually 3-5 paragraphs) to recapture where I was at in the story. Sometimes, I only have to read a few sentences. I will allow myself to fiddle with these paragraphs as I get into the mood to draft.

The key thing here is that editing while writing during NaNoWriMo requires discipline. If you do not have the discipline to stop editing you should never start in the first place.

Spend a little bit of time in October getting used to the idea of disciplining yourself. If you complain you can't shut your editor off, you have absolutely no business editing during NaNoWriMo.

Editing during NaNoWriMo is for those who want it bad enough to work hard for it, and have sufficient self-control to force themselves to get back to the real work instead of procrastinating.

Go ahead. Prove me wrong.

If you can and do, you're someone who has the discipline to handle it. And, it may very well mean that editing while working on your NaNoWriMo is an effective tool you can use to help you finish your book in November.

Leave a Comment:

Mihla says October 16, 2013

My editing compulsion has been my downfall each time I’ve indulged in the rigor of NaNoWriMo. This year I’m determined not only to reach the 50,000-word quota, but to continue writing, editing, and revising until I have a product suitable for publication. However, I had no idea how I was going to rein in my perfectionist tendencies for the 30-day duration. This article gives me the ways and means to do so. Thanks!

Hendrik Boom says October 22, 2014

For nanowrimo, at least, when you decide to delete text, you just mark it for deletion. If you wrote those words in November, they still count towards your 50K words, even if you’ve decided to delete them.

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