Holding on and letting go by Jody Casella

I've been there, November 30th, typing in the fifty-thousandth word. Uploading the "finished" novel onto the NaNoWriMo site. Collecting my virtual Winner badge before collapsing in a frazzled heap, elated that I finished writing a book!! and thrilled that I won't have to deal with the gigantic mess until January.

I can tell you about my struggles and breakthroughs doing Nano (for the record, I "won" five times, and published one of those novels after extensive revision). I'm a big believer in the write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants/spew-out-words-every-day-even-on-Thanksgiving process.

I'm also realistic about what you end up with on December first (if you dare to sneak a peek at the mess). So, I don't want to talk about NaNoWriMo.

I'm gonna be the giant buzzkill here, smack dab in the middle of this frenzied marathon writing month to talk about


The hardest part for me is always gearing up to read what I wrote.

Because I know-- I know it's going to be bad. Those days back in November when you hammered out your words, muttering "Quantity not Quality" to yourself while you meandered off on tangents, blathering about the scenery or what your characters were wearing or where they were sitting in the school cafeteria, spilling out every inane thought in their heads, or

alternately, forgetting what your character's motivations were or what they looked like or what the minor character's name was back on day three or

when you figured out the entire Point of This Book on day twenty-three (Oh MY GOD that was a good day, because it all made sense!!) but too bad none of the previous 150 pages led up to that momentous climax.

Well, all of those pages have to be read now

and dealt with.

Okay. Deep breaths. Let's do this.

You read this crappy mess pile of spewed garbage first draft,  slowly, and then quickly. Trying to resist the urge to make notes, but scrawling questions to yourself in the margins:


All the while the vision of what this book was when you wrote it--the beauty and complexity and brilliance and heartbreaking drama-- receding and falling away, until all you have left is what this book is. 

And what this book is
is, um, not that great.

But stay with me here: it still can be. 

Which brings me to the hardest part of revision (yeah, I know I said gearing up to read the draft is the hardest part, and reading it--that's hard too--but who are we kidding here? Did you really believe that you could write a novel in 30 days?)

It's revision that is the hardest part of the process. It's also the best part of writing. Because, listen:

Thirty days ago you had nothing but an idea.

Now you have the building blocks of a story. Characters. Conflict. A handful of decent scenes. If you're lucky, you've stumbled upon the voice. You have the potential beginning.

You have the end.

All you have to do now is hold onto what works, let the rest go, and write!

Anyway, this is what I am telling myself today, in the middle of a NaNo month for you, but in the middle of a revision for me, a revision of a draft first written ten years ago. A meandery mess I read one time, and never dealt with

even though it had the building blocks of a story. A few decent scenes. The glimmer of a voice.

What I have is not great.

But here is what I am telling myself today:

It will be.