Year 14 of National Novel Writing Month for me started yesterday. Well, NaNoWriMo started for everyone yesterday, but it’s year 14 for me. (Starting in 2001 should have made it easy to figure out, but I seem to forget every year which year it is for me.)
I’m part of a NaNoWriMo facebook group, and people have been asking questions about silencing one’s “inner editor,” and what to do when you can’t seem to stop deleting your work. Well, after many years of novel-in-a-month Novembers, and some Octobers, Aprils, and Julys (Julies?) as well, I’ve got some experience in that area. Here are my thoughts.
Ignoring your inner editor isn’t simply a matter of removing your delete key. It’s about changing your entire psychology around writing. All your life, you’ve probably had to do things well, if not the first time, then pretty soon after. Over time, you probably learned that if you didn’t do something well, you probably shouldn’t do it at all, and that other, talented people don’t have these same problems.
To put it briefly: that’s all a lie.
Anne Lamott put it more eloquently in her magnificent novel Bird by Bird, which you should go buy right now. (Go ahead. I’ll wait. You can even get it digitally and read it without ever leaving your couch.) The gist is that in order to create something beautiful, you have to first create something shitty. You can get beauty later, but shitty comes first.
In order to trust the process, you have to trust Future You. You may not know what you’re doing yet, but Future You will be able to figure it out and fix your problems. You cannot successfully edit a novel that isn’t finished yet. You have to create the entire arc, beginning to end, and write every terrible bit. Then and only then can you go back and make it beautiful. Well, beautiful eventually. First it will be decidedly mediocre, and then a little better, and someday wonderful.
As you write more and more novels, you’ll get better at trusting Future You. But the first time is all blind faith. So trust me. Leap and the net will appear, and all those platitudes. Just keep writing drivel, trust the process, and trust Future You.
Day one is done. Bring on the rest of November.