NaNoWriMo: Sometimes You Have To Stop And Edit

NaNoWriMo: Sometimes You Have To Stop And Edit

My rail trip from Melbourne to Adelaide yesterday wasn’t just an excuse for even more 3G broadband testing. I’d deliberately scheduled it so I could spend a day largely doing editing work on my NaNoWriMo novel, and I’m really glad I did.

Since the NaNoWriMo project began, I’ve stuck to a simple model: writing for two scheduled hours a day and seeing what comes out. But while many participants treat NaNoWriMo as nothing more than producing a first draft of 50,000 words, and see their main challenge as actually producing the minimum 1,700 words a day, I take a slightly broader view.

Producing the basic word count every day hasn’t been problem for me; over the first 10 days, I averaged 2,800 words a day. But while I started out with a consecutive sequence of events, I soon found myself writing segments that were destined for later in the story, or which I knew I needed but hadn’t picked a definite location for. By the time I got near 30,000 words, I definitely needed to take a step back and review what I’d done and work out how I’d actually finish up with something resembling a novel, not 50,000 words or more words with no structure and no clear end in sight. I want something that’s structurally complete, even though I don’t assume that after 30 days it will be actually complete.

And that’s what my day on the train was about. I had my trusty HP loaner notebook, and I’ve never been more grateful for its 10 hour battery life (which pretty much covers the Melbourne-Adelaide journey). I had highly variable broadband, but that meant I didn’t get distracted by other tasks. And I wrote 3,400 new words, which is the most I’ve written in a day so far. Nonetheless, that looks a bit slack when the novel is all I worked on during the day and I had much more than two hours to do it.

But writing new text was always a secondary goal. The main goal was working through what I’d written, tidying up the ugly bits, noticing and fixing the inconsistencies, and making myself some structural notes now that my fictional world has reached a size where I can’t always remember every new, fresh detail. There wasn’t real pressure to work to a schedule: I could take the time I needed and do what I liked. I’m now very pleased with the stuff I started 10 days ago, and happy that I’ll be able to continue that process of expansion and improvement.

A friend asked me on Facebook if doing this wasn’t “against the spirit” of NaNoWriMo. I don’t think so: the fundamental aim here is just to set yourself a deadline so you get a whole manuscript done. If you can manage to make time to also edit that manuscript as you go, then I guess you’re lucky.

Getting myself organised to the point where I could spend a day doing not much else was a challenge in itself. But it paid off. Setting review milestones is vital in any large project, and I’ll definitely make room for a couple more before the month is done. But even that one day makes me much more confident that I’ll be able to have a workable, if not utterly finalised, novel manuscript when November 30 rolls around.

Throughout November, Angus Kidman will be blogging about his participation in NaNoWriMo to unearth lessons about writing, project management and creativity.


  • I’ve gone back and edited a section because I realised that things just worked better with the changes. I have not made an effort to look back at what has been written so far and try to make it coherent, although I have to admit that it is a tempting thing to do right now because things have not really advanced much in the last couple thousand words. I know where I need to get to, it’s just a matter of pushing the characters in the right direction.

    Maybe when I break the 50,000 mark I’ll do what you’ve done, but for now I’ll be content with the lack of quality in my 33,153 words so that I’m not constantly worried about editing as I go.

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