In grad school my thesis supervisor called me an “economical writer.” I took it to heart, interpreting it as a nice way of saying I never met my assigned word count. Through novel writing, I have learned that it was a compliment, not an insult. And yet, despite being wrong, I retained the ability to transform an off-hand comment into something negative, giving my inner editor free reign to fire insults at will, wounding my delicate creative process. I would have thought that after publishing a novel, going on a national tour, and getting great reviews from strangers, I would have moved past this point. So when I started an experiment called Fast Draft, I thought I was in the clear. I was wrong.
A Little Bit About Fast Draft
For those unfamiliar, the objective of Fast Draft is to write a certain number of words a day (5,000) in a short time period (14 days) in order to yield a 70,000 word first draft. The theory being that a) writers should write, and b) once you get that many words on paper you will probably bother to finish it. The point is to power through now, and clean it up later. Yes, it’s a bit crazy. And crazy loves company, so I highly recommend suckering a friend into doing it with you. Just make sure its someone as committed to finishing as you are or you will end up rationalizing and making excuses (legitimate, no doubt), rendering the exercise useless.
There Is No Such Thing As Perfect
I come from a high achieving academic background and I am at home with structure, which I suppose is unusual for a creative type. When I took on Fast Draft I planned to do it right. I outlined my story ahead of time, got a friend to sign up with me, and read an informative blog by an author friend with her tips on getting through it.
Every morning I woke up, had breakfast, and wrote 2,500 words. Then I’d do a workout and have lunch. After lunch I’d go straight back into it and complete my last 2,500 words for the day before dinner. It was great. I breezed through my first week, wondering if I’d ever write a novel any other way. I couldn’t believe I was on track to finish in one more week!
Then I got to days 8 and 9, and I had to make some serious choices about my plot. If I continued on the trajectory I was on, I would complete my story by day 10 or 11. But if I got all the way through day 14, I would have to add some plot devices or expand on things I didn’t think deserved that much of the narrative. What to do?
I mentioned this problem to both my husband and my Fast Draft partner. My husband said I should follow the story, no matter what. My Fast Draft partner called me an over achiever. Which is when it dawned on me: I was being ridiculous. Instead of being thrilled that I was going to finish a full first draft in just 10 days, I was upset with myself for not meeting an arbitrary 70,000 word mark.
Be Nice to Yourself
Which leads me to my last point. Everyone has their own version of unrealistic expectations—cruel inner editors, critics, and media-fed images of what they “should” be/do/say/look like. But if you’re like me, then you have a tendency to internalize the negatives rather than the positives.
Why? I think, at least in my case, that I don’t want to be delusional in believing I’m talented if in fact I’m not. But whom does that serve? Is it less delusional to believe the negative rather than the positive? And if the cliches are true, and you can’t know unless you try or get better if you don’t practice, then why not be nice to myself when I put myself out there. Because I am proud I’ve written the first draft of my second novel. And I should be. I know I will publish it, and when I do I will be proud then too. Once it’s out there I hope it finds readers who enjoy and get something out of it. But ultimately, that is beyond my control. So in the meantime, I’m going to give myself permission let go and enjoy an unexpected couple of days off. And I hope that if you relate, you will do the same and be nice to yourself too.