Taking Your Novel Slowly


Being already over a week into Camp NaNo, this seems like a rather silly subject to talk about. But I’ve been thinking about it a whole lot more, lately. As always, when any sort of NaNo rolls around, thousands of authors around the world set a goal and then furiously scribble (or type, most probably type) away at their beautiful, messy baby. Going slowly isn’t even a thought. 30 days, 50k words… even with more caffeine than can possibly be healthy there is no way that going slowly is going to make that work.

But then… what are you left with? This past NaNo, I made my goal. I started with a blank sheet of paper and wrote over 50k that month. But then I stopped. I’ve written maybe 5,000 words since last November. And not a single one of those 60,000-something words are going to make it into the finished draft, or even the second. This isn’t just my author insecurity talking –  “oh, my book’s so awful, I hate every word of it…” It’s not that. Because I was careening through my first draft I completely lost my sense of direction, even with an outline. I didn’t take the time to work on my characters – I still don’t know who Clara is, just that she exists (this being a problem because she’s the main, point of view character…), my story world’s all flat and illogical, none of it makes sense. The plot’s garbled. This is all stuff that you could take care of on the first edit, of course, but it’s so totally beyond salvaging that I need to re-write the whole book.

Now compare this to my first novel. My first original novel I was on a horrible, horrible time crunch.  I had to get at least four different, specific scenes to be at least presentable enough to show to others – in under a week. Yeah. I wrote a lot that week, and I actually finished the last excerpt literally two hours before we drove out to the place they were due. But even with that I wrote much, much more slowly. I sat down, visualized the scene in my mind, and typed out what I saw and heard and that first draft – while it’s by far not my best work, is presentable. I’m not embarrassed to show it to any one, where as the first draft of Forgot will never see the light of day.  For For Hailey, that first novel, it’s clean (in the opposite of messy way), it’s clear, and I don’t get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I look at it, despite it’s many plot holes. With I Forgot I feel dread whenever I even contemplate it.

When you take the time to write slowly, or slower than you normally do, your characters sound more like people, more like the people you want them to be. Your themes are developed – it’s super hard to work a theme in if you’re tearing through the draft. You plots tend to have less wholes and are more coherent – especially if you’re pantsing.


Now, while I’m saying all this, I’m not arguing for being a perfectionist. Please don’t! You’ll only hurt yourself, and if you refuse to put down anything on paper that’s less than perfect, you will never write a novel. Sometimes words just aren’t coming. Your words will not be perfect when you first set them down. That’s what editing and rewriting is for. But surely there’s a happy medium between obsessive perfectionist and almost nonsense speed writing. Maybe it’s time to slow down, to think a little more when we write.

I want to clarify a bit – all this is from my own experiences. I honestly have no idea how anybody else writes their drafts. I tend to word vomit, but for all I know I’m just saying stuff that’s all common knowledge. But if this helped you in the slightest, or made you think, I’m very glad.

Do you write slowly? Quickly? In between?