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December is for editing

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Seven days of writing have produced 15,000+ words for this year’s NaNoWriMo story. Some of the words are good, fewer very good, and the vast majority are just okay. It’s easy to string letters together to form words, then sentences and finally paragraphs that express an idea. What’s difficult is meeting one’s high personal standards for good writing.

Despite the very subjective nature of the word ‘good’, a writer’s standards are different than those of the average reader (if such a person really exists any more). The writers whose words I think of as good may not be the same as yours, and even if we agree that a writer is good we are likely to differ on our reasons for thinking a work is ‘good’.

I am not a published writer. I haven’t submitted any of my stories to any house or magazine, online or brick & mortar, for consideration. For all intents and purposes, I’m writing into the void. I have a friend who criticizes me for participating in NaNo. He says quality is more important that quantity. I smile and nod and wish I could tell him that he’s missing the point of the exercise.

For me, NaNoWriMo is about getting the idea that’s been scratching the inside of my skull for some time out onto the page. There are others in the local group that meets once a month the rest of the year that had no clue what they were going to write as little as three days before we started. It’s not about quality at all, though we strive for that as personal goals. Good is about coherence and quantity in November for us WriMos. It’s not about the quality of the words.

Or is it? This year, I’ve been backtracking and ‘editing’ a little as I go along. I didn’t do that last year. One passage I wrote around Tuesday evening was so challenging to me that I gave up on the quality of the words and just started typing in order to get the idea out. The idea was seeing sound as color against a black and white wire frame background. I don’t know where that idea came from, but it was essential that I get it typed up and fixed in the narrative so I could go back and revisit after the novel was done. I couldn’t leave the words alone like that, I had to make sure they were ‘good’ enough to tell me what they really wanted to say later.

What I took away from NaNo last year was the habit of writing every day. I had so many ideas from writing a bunch of comic book scripts that I could explore, but somehow I’d tapped an undercurrent of new ideas that then rose to the surface. I began writing short stories, and in June of 2009 I put them on a website with my name on them. Some of those stories have garnered me a couple of casual fans who have told me they enjoy the work.

This year, NaNoWriMo is about creating a work that I can go back and make better with some editing. It’s about writing well enough the first time that when I go back I can get over the initial cringe and make the words ‘good’.

At least good enough to put on my website and see what others think of them.

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