Giving yourself permission to write a first draft

I am participating in National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org). I’m working on a story that I’ve wanted to write for the past few years. I’m pretty grateful for this whole nanowrimo thing which is something I didn’t even know existed until I saw people tweeting about it like crazy in late October.

One of my major stumbling blocks was my fear that I couldn’t come up with realistic dialog, technical terms, and situations for my characters. I have a feeling many writers share this fear. The words I write down often fall short of how I want them. I’ve heard many times that the best advice in these situations is to keep writing. Don’t worry, keep writing. I’ve heard that a thousand times but it didn’t help. So I left my story alone for a long time.

Then for some reason I picked up a story I wrote seven or eight years ago and read it through. I liked the story but I thought it was full of problems. I thought that I could do better now. So I began to edit that old story. I made one reading pass and marked up minor grammatical errors or logic inconsistencies. Then I went through it again and started changing the story. At first it was a little here and a little there, but over time my edits started to become major changes. By the time I got to the last three chapters (there are nine chapters total), the story had diverged so greatly from my original ending that I had to completely rewrite the ending. Then I read it all over again and started making more changes. These changes were more subtle, but I was still working. I was still improving.

Then it hit me. The reason you should just keep writing is because you can fix it later. You can fix it later and then fix it again and then fix it again. But if you stop writing now then you are robbing your future self of the opportunity to fix it. The obvious nature of this revelation had a profound impact on me. Things are going well for me now that I’m approaching the half-way mark of the fifty thousand word goal by the end of November.

I have to thank the folks at the NYC NaNoWriMo Write-in earlier this week for coining that phrase for me, “Give yourself permission to write a first draft.” Love it.