Camp NaNoWriMo is nothing without you, our incredible participants. Today, Camp NaNoWriMo participant Ashley Jean Granillo offers you some advice for this week of Camp:
Your story is worth telling, even if the writing hasn’t caught up to the ingenious idea that you’ve been working out on in your mind as you shower away the filth of your day job.
If you’ve forgotten: writing is a process. Currently, you’re probably in the drafting stage. And drafts, especially first drafts, aren’t perfect. They are messy––riddled with grammatical errors and sentences that appear to be in the language of your choosing but sound foreign. This is exactly where your writing is supposed to be. Yes, you are supposed to be writing cliches and flat lines of dialogue because you are only in the beginning stages of unveiling your story’s true potential. Think of yourself as an artist, sketching out the shapes of a landscape. The detail and color will come with patience.
As a college composition professor and author, I’ve seen and experienced failure, and it’s usually as a result of the self-doubt that occurs during the drafting stage. Too often my students, and occasionally my own brain, tell me that the inconsistencies and poorly structured sentences deem us unfit to continue writing––that we are a disgrace to the art of composition. Remember that artist: just because they sketched a mitten in place of hand doesn’t mean they can’t draw fingers. They’re waiting for the right moment.
“You must to be willing to be imperfect to be a writer. As an artist, you must accept that the first line you draw won’t be your straightest.”
Love from the Barricade, my debut novel, was written during NaNoWriMo, and its first draft would give you secondhand embarrassment. It had ten identical characters, and a main character who didn’t know what she wanted, and neither did I at the time. But that first draft, however horrible it was, served as a reminder that: having the draft of a novel is a lot better than having an idea for a novel. You can revise a draft, but you cannot revise an idea, because it does not physically exist for you to rework. I couldn’t discover Aijae without sifting through her confusion. You must to be willing to be imperfect to be a writer. As an artist, you must accept that the first line you draw won’t be your straightest. Luckily, there are tools to help you reshape the work, but later.
You’re a writer and an artist even though your novel is not finished. What separates you from so many other people is that they have ideas for stories, but they fail to do what we do everyday, what you do everyday: write.
Writing is not a competition, albeit this challenge may make it appear that way. Art is practice. You are only here because you have one goal, and that’s to complete what you haven’t had the courage or time to do in the past. You aren’t here to outdo someone else, or make your partners, friends, and family members proud. Let them cheer you on, but don’t allow yourself to think that if your word count slips away that you’re letting them down. By being here, getting in those 500, sometimes only even 100 words a day, you are doing the right thing for yourself. You are taking part of something much greater than you could ever imagine. Revel in the journey of discovery.
I had a student who came in every class with the same defeated look, and the same exhausted sentence, “I completed the essay, professor. But it isn’t any good.” My response wasn’t that they’d better get their sh*t together before I failed their work for its disorganization and comma splices. Instead, I told them this:
I am proud of you. You’re just about to surprise yourself with how incredible your story can actually be.
Ashley Jean Granillo is an English instructor at College of the Canyons. She has her BA and MA in Creative Writing from California State University Northridge. For a time, she was a freelance music journalist, which serves as the inspiration for her debut novel. Her first novel (a NaNoWriMo Winner 2015), Love from the Barricade, debuts in September from Black Rose Writing. Currently, she is on a mini tour along the west coast, following the music of her favorite band.
Top image licensed under Creative Commons from César Astudillo on Flickr.