Monday, October 25, 2010


"This is a draft. For the next 30 days, you will write a 50,000 word big thing. This is only a draft." 
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.

That’s right.

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. 

Coming up: ideas on how to run a novel "writeshop" instead of a novel workshop. And a list of good books that were written quickly. 

Strike that. Drafted quickly. 

No comments:

Post a Comment