On the first day of my Advanced Fiction course, I dropped the bomb. “Everyone in this class is going to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Even me.”
You should know this: not a single student dropped. In fact, many of them got pretty excited.
I’d never tried this before–as a writer or as a teacher–and, to be perfectly honest, I wish now that I’d called it “National Novel Drafting Month” instead.
To draft. To draw up a preliminary version of or plan for. To create by thinking and writing; compose: draft a speech.
It’s the name itself, “National Novel Writing Month,” that produces the derision. Oh, the humanity! All these-people-with no formal training, who don’t know what they are doing, pretending that they are actually writing a novel! It’s absurd. National Novel Writing MONTH! How about National Novel Writing Year? Well, in my case, you might call it National Novel Not-Writing Decade.
And at first, it was the name that confused my students.
You want us to write a novel?
No, I want you to write a draft of a novel.
Well, that’s not what the acronym says. WRI stands for writing.
I know. Ignore it.
But Cathy, to write 50,000 words in a month, I would have to write about six pages a day.
It takes me about four or five hours to write that many pages of good, solid prose.
I don’t want you to write good, solid prose. I want you to write a shitty first draft.
You want me to do what?
[I hand the student a copy of Anne Lamott’s famous essay.] See. There is sound pedagogy behind what I’m telling you.
You want me write shitty?
Yes. I want you to write really, really shitty.
But I can’t stand shitty prose.
Neither can I. But you if you fuss and fret over every word, you’ll never get a draft. The point here is to know what it feels like to finish a draft. You stand a better chance of finishing something if you turn off your Inner Editor and just go and go and go.
So: that’s what I’m calling it. NaNoDraMo.
I’m going to come up with a list of good books that were written quickly.
Strike that. Drafted quickly.