Writing advice is never one size fits all. Some writing rules are meant to be bent, others are meant to be broken. Please take from this pep talk what you will or set it aside if it doesn’t work for you and your process. It is that time of year again! NaNoWriMo is here and it’s time to get the words on the page by any means necessary. What I love about NaNoWriMo is that it’s designed to do the one thing that, for a very long time, I had tried to avoid—complete a messy first draft.
I spent a lot of time at the beginning of my writing career trying to make my first draft as clean as possible. I wrote and rewrote pages, sometimes entire chapters, before I’d completed the draft. I stressed over making the prose as perfect as I could. I tried to nail to pacing in the first go-round. In short, I was doing the kinds of things that should have been saved for the revision process and because of that I often lost momentum and felt like I had writer’s block.
NaNoWriMo isn’t meant for you to draft a perfect manuscript. It’s meant to be the vehicle for getting that first messy draft on the page. I think writers are naturally the kinds of people who want to put their best work out there. We tend to be perfectionists, tinkering with our plots and prose, and characters until our editors pry the work from our carpel tunnel-riddled hands. There will be a time when the work becomes precious to you in that way, but that comes a little later in the process. In the beginning, I would urge you to let all of that go. First drafts are an opportunity for you to explore your story, to follow it where the characters take you. Write it all down. Leave notes for yourself in the margins about things you’d like to explore. Use brackets to block in more complicated scenes that involve a lot of detailed descriptions (for example, [FIGHT SCENE HERE] or [DESCRIBE THE ROOM HERE]) and then move on. Keep moving forward.
50,000 words in one month is a lot, and it’s okay to acknowledge that a lot of those words won’t be the perfect, engaging, gripping storytelling you want them to be. That’s okay! What you will have, is a complete first draft that you can then shape into what your story will eventually become. Use NaNo to put the words on the age and allow yourself the grace to know that a messy first draft can lead you to your best work. Happy writing.
Kalynn Bayron is the New York Times and Indie bestselling author of the YA fantasy novels CINDERELLA IS DEAD and THIS POISON HEART. Her latest works include the YA fantasy THIS WICKED FATE and the middle-grade paranormal adventure THE VANQUISHERS. She is a CILIP Carnegie Medal Nominee, a two-time CYBILS Award nominee, and the recipient of the 2022 Randall Keenan Award for Black LGBTQ fiction. She is a classically trained vocalist and musical theater enthusiast. When she’s not writing you can find her watching scary movies and spending time with her family.