NaNoWriMo: Overcoming First Draft Paralysis

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). According to the website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Many writers have first draft paralysis—just the thought of starting terrifies them and paralyzes their ability or willingness to write.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned early in my writing career is that the first draft is supposed to be “pure green dreck.” The only writers I know of who can write a great first draft are published authors who have written dozens of novels over many years. If you haven’t done that, chances are pretty good—in fact, close to 100%—that your first draft is going to be terrible. But until you have that “pure green dreck” as a starting point, you have nothing to polish into a masterpiece.

I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, but I’ve always been an advocate of the writing method used: sit down and write … something. Give yourself permission to write badly. Tell yourself it’s okay if you cringe repeatedly when you re-read what you’ve written. Expect to have to revise, rewrite, and edit over and over again.

Do you know someone—maybe even you—who has been working on the first chapter of a novel for months, even years? They—or you—never finish anything because they—or you—want to produce a finished product. The only way they—or you—will ever produce that finished product, though, is to produce an unfinished product first, then finish it later.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you done so in the past? What has been your experience in writing a first draft that is “pure green dreck”?

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