Years ago I had a job where an annual task was to oversee refinishing the facility’s gym floor, a wood floor two basketball courts long. I’d seen how the work was performed to that point and witnessed epic disasters. When I took over I explained how to solve the problems, for 95% of the problems were tied to two issues. The first was the finish application and process. I advocated switching to a water based finish and applying it with an applicator, a safer, faster, and more consistent method.
The second issue?
The time spent on the project was backwards. Too much time was devoted to applying the finish. Preparation was key and required more time. That year we focused more on cleaning, sanding, and tacking and the result was a finished product with fewer problems than anyone involved thought possible.
This year I approached NaNo and my writing process in a similar fashion. For weeks preceding the November 1st start I labored over backstory, character biographies, outline, and other important considerations like the structure, conflict…you get the idea. I even overhauled the world’s map in the months preceding NaNo. On Halloween evening I was still laboring on bios, the eleventh hour acting as added inspiration.
Not to say I wasn’t sick of writing biographies…
November 1st arrived. The first day of NaNoWriMo. I woke early, had a strange moment where I wrote a poem while cooking an omelet, and headed to the computer. What’d I do? I stared at the screen and thought, Oh wow, an entire novel in a month. Am I up to this again?
My moment of doubt and dread.
I wrote the first sentence, which was already in my head. I pounded out the first paragraph, which took more effort. After that it was agony. I stared at the outline and struggled to mechanically craft sentences. After 45 minutes I had 137 words (it’s imprinted on my brain because I kept checking the word count as if it’d magically change). Still, the outline saved me that first hour.
Believe it or not, that opening torment was valuable, for it opened my mind to process. After one more sentence the flood gates opened and my fingers went into overdrive. At day’s end I’d surpassed my personal best for a day’s writing, and that was nothing compared to what came the next day and the day after.
My speed, aided by preparation and having all my prep available on Scrivener, resulted in total immersion in the story. It reached a point where I was writing and constructing the next paragraph at the same time. Excess content in the outlined story? No problem. I excised the bloat on the fly. Unexpected inspiration? No problem. I’d expand the idea and meld it into the story. Yes, on the fly.
This was writing experienced in a way I never had.
I’m writing this on Day 4 and according to NaNo I should finish the day with 6,668 words. As of this writing, with several hours left before midnight, I have 18,548. That’s what preparation has done for me. Preparation doesn’t kill creativity, it enables it. Without it I’d have spent the first four days writing what I already had in the outline. Instead, I went beyond it, perfected it as I went. I’ve reviewed my work to this point and it’s the best first draft I’ve ever written (biased acknowledged). Still, preparation (I could have done better, actually) led to total immersion, which led to operating at a higher level.
Here’s another fact that’s even more unbelievable: I have a writing buddy who’s an established author and her word count is putting mine to shame. Her pace is about 50% faster than mine.
Think about it.