November 7, 2010
Too many notes
Right now I want you to write your heart out. Put down as many words as it takes to set up whatever it is you need to talk about, then talk about your target topic, then wrap it up.
Later, I want you to clean it up.
The magic of NaNoWriMo is that you count how many words you write each day. The reality is that many of those words will never make the finished manuscript.
That’s ok. You need to write them down in order to get to that finished product.
I often go back and edit what I wrote yesterday to get myself in the groove for my writing for today. Other people need to put their daily production away for longer. They need to distance themselves from what was in their head at the time they were creating the prose in the first place.
When I face what I’ve written I often have one of two reactions. Either I think, “this is complete crap. How could I ever have written any of this? Was I just not paying attention?” The other thought I have is, “this looks pretty good. Maybe I need to fix a misspelling or two and break up a sentence here or there but that’s pretty good.”
I’ve learned that the truth is somewhere in the middle. I call this the “Morgan rule” after a friend of mine I worked with in radio. Matt told me to listen to the tape of the show every day. He says a good show is never as good as we think it was and a bad show is never as bad as we think it was. Mostly our shows are just ok. They’re about the same day in and day out.
The same is true about our prose. It’s never as good as we initially think it is and seldom as bad. We may write ourselves into a corner where we have to throw out what we’ve written—but the prose we pitch is as likely to be good as it is bad. It’s just not serving our needs.
Anyway, when you sit down to look at what you’ve written, you can’t worry about throwing out words. They’ve already counted in your favor. You wrote them down so you get credit for them. Now throw them out. Check out this stanza from the John Prine song “Donald and Lydia”.
Small town, bright lights, Saturday night,
Pinballs and pool halls flashing their lights.
Making change behind the counter in a penny arcade
Sat the fat girl daughter of Virginia and Ray
That’s quite a picture painted in 31 words.
I know, you’re not writing fiction you can’t possibly shorten your prose. I know your characters or topic has more depth than a silly song.
Really? Here’s Prine’s picture of the other character in his love story.
Bunk beds, shaved heads, Saturday night,
A warehouse of strangers with sixty watt lights.
Staring through the ceiling, just wanting to be
Lay one of too many, a young PFC.
Keep writing today. Write freely. Let the words flow through your fingers. But soon take another look. Do the words sing a song you’d listen to? Perhaps you can tighten up the words. You’ve most likely used too many notes.