NaPoWriMo Week #1

NaPoWriMo WebsiteFor the third year in a row (after 2013’s success and 2014’s failure), I’m attempting NaPoWriMo – the challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days, one each day in April, and optionally post them online.

Because this isn’t strictly a poetry blog, I’ve opted to collect all of each week’s poems into one large post, instead of posting them daily. This one is for April 1st – 7th.

Some of these first drafts are a bit cringe-y, but I guess the point of NaPo isn’t so much quality, as is it experimenting and letting loose. One thing I noticed, is that several of the poems so far seem to share themes and motifs, especially the poems written immediately after each other. Perhaps that’s an effect of writing them in such close proximity.

Also, a note about the long, first poem for Day #1. I almost didn’t post this one, because it’s pretty personal. I had a really bad experience at a writer’s group I attended a few years ago. While in the context of the writing craft, it wasn’t a critique or anything like that, it was a very specific comment (what I now recognize as a microaggression of sorts) that really messed with my head, both as a writer and as a person. I wanted to do something unique to kick off NaPo, so what I wrote is a sort of imaginary open letter to that group, about what I never got to say, and about how I wish I’d reacted differently, without wasting so much time worrying.

Day One: The Hiatus

You broke me
In an instant
A few simple words
Laced with poison
From a sweet, old smile

You told me who you thought I was
The way that you saw me
My writing, my world, all wrong
You said
I hadn’t realized it yet
I was simply naive

Replaced my words – my world – with yours
This was the way it had to be
My essence, defined by my body
You said
A good writer with wrong ideas
You only wanted to make me better

It didn’t hurt at first
Numb, like a missing limb
When it came, it smoldered
An author silenced
The pen fell from my fingers

I didn’t want to be angry
You spoke with good intentions
You laughed with friendly ease
Sometimes I wonder,
Did you?

[Read more…]

Don’t Just Subtract

When I see discussions about editing, the focus often seems to be on refining drafts by polishing material and removing excess content.

I generally consider the first draft the ‘idea draft’. It’s the act of getting the basic, conceptual skeleton down on paper, more than a complete product in itself. Almost invariably, some bad ideas will sneak in with the good ones, as well as plot threads, scenes, and descriptions that were ultimately unnecessary, or left dangling as the plot developed in other directions. While trimming off this extra fat to expose the meat of the story is definitely important, I think that the act of cutting content is sometimes over emphasized.

During the first draft, you will also get to know the story and characters in a way you can’t through outlines and imaginings. The first draft will always be very rough, but it will contain the actual core of the story. Building off this core, instead of simply polishing what’s already there, can lead to some really great, and sometimes unexpected, developments. Your project is now a familiar friend instead of a stranger, and now that you are acquainted, ideas for new scenes and events will likely present themselves as you begin working through the second draft. Not only will there be sections that need trimming, there will also be areas that can be enhanced by adding new content.

In my case, I usually find that my characters really come alive in the second and third drafts, instead of the firsts, and that some of my best character development enters the novel after I’ve already written ‘The End’. In fact, while there are cuts along the way, my overall word counts tend to grow with each draft. (For instance, the first draft of Night Plague was 54k, while the final was 64k, after the addition of another 10k words through a new chapter and a few new scenes.)

While you don’t want to be afraid of cutting content while editing, don’t hesitate to add new scenes, events, or even entire chapters, either. It might require a little extra work to get any new segments up to par, but revision is a phase where some powerful drafting can happen, too. Revising a novel isn’t strictly about polishing or rewriting what’s already there, it’s about enhancing the ideas its made of, and that often requires adding as well as subtracting.