My Year of Writing Faster

By Sarah Pinneo

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote "the end" on a piece of fiction that had taken me three years. It was a difficult, cerebral book set in the 17th century. Even though the fate of that book is still unknown, I'm deeply proud of the work, and I learned a great deal while writing it.

But the words came slowly. I spent a ridiculous amount of time staring into space, yanking words one by one from the ether. It wasn't just the complexity of feeling comfortable with 17th century dialog, or researching the tools one might have used to build a house from newly split timber. I wasn't always feeling it. And it showed in my painfully slow progress.

This past November, having written nothing for a few months, I decided to try NaNoWriMo for the first time. You're supposed to write 50,000 words of fiction in a month. I figured I was the last person on earth who should try it. I like to edit as I go. The idea of writing 50,000 words of useless blather did nothing for me. Sure, I understood that the point was to temporarily silence one's inner critic. But I trust my inner critic. She is smart and savvy, if a bit overambitious.

But I'll try almost anything once. (Not escargot, though. Or skydiving.)

So I did it. I chose a contemporary novel that I'd previously begun, and I added 50,000 words during November. Eureka! It was actually fun. Not only did I like a startling portion of those 50k words when it was over, I'd rediscovered writing for pleasure.

Oh--and I learned that without a pesky day job, and if your kids are finally both in grade school, you can edit as you go during Nano. Who knew?

And then things just spooled out of control. During the early days of December I realized that a tertiary character from my NaNo project was just a YA book waiting to happen. So I made some notes. And in 22 days, I had a 55k rough draft. Suddenly, I was thinking about my characters all the time. I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking about them. They spat out lines of dialog while I did the laundry, and while I drove my kids home from school.

That book has since been substantially edited and revised, and if I'm lucky, it will be submitted to editors sometime in the next six months. But the characters kept talking, so I wrote 40k of a sequel just so I wouldn't forget what they had to say.

And then? I kept going. I dabbled on five other projects, two of which are potential keepers. I kept up my pace, always working on the project which felt the most lively on any given day. The danger of this flavor of productivity is that I might never finish anything.

But my word count? I totaled it today on a whim. I've written 360,000 words of fiction since November first. Those are the words I've kept, so far. (You know how it is.) If you divide that by seven months, you get 51K. In other words, I've done seven NaNos, back to back.

(Important Note: Not coincidentally, I became that parent. The one whose permission slips are never in on time, the one whose kids have mismatched socks on, because the dirty laundry is piled up. I haven't had anyone over for dinner in a ridiculously long time, and I owe everyone on play dates. Everyone.)

This pace is not sustainable.

And not everything I've begun will be finished, and for once in my life I'm wise enough to understand that's a good thing. Gagging my inner critic was exactly what I needed. And now I shall set her free for a bit, and let her do her worst. She can't possibly strike out all 360,000 words. I dare her.