by Susan DeFreitas, Associate Editor, Indigo Editing & Publications
Kurt Vonnegut posited in his novel Timequake that there are two types of writers: “swoopers” and “bashers.” Swoopers write higgledy-piggledy and produce a first draft as quickly as possible, then go back and painstakingly revise. Bashers write slowly and obsessively, but when they’re done, they’re done.
As an editor, I’d say there’s a lot of truth in Vonnegut’s distinction. The former type of writer tends to love the process of producing a first draft (and often struggles with revision). The latter, on the other hand, tends to find the process of drafting absolutely excruciating.
So—which are you? A swooper or a basher?
If you’re a swooper, the prospect of writing the first draft of a novel in the course of a single month may seem like fun. After all, you’re the type of writer National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was built around—the type who, armed with a great idea, a few intriguing characters, a game plan (maybe), and a whole lot of caffeine, is good to go.
Of course, the problem with producing 50,000 words over the course of just thirty days or so is that what comes out the other end is liable to have some structural issues. Plotlines that don’t carry through or resolve, nonexistent character arcs, and (quite likely) an ending that doesn’t really feel like an ending.
If you’re this type of writer, you may balk at participating in NaNoWriMo simply because you struggle with revision, and you suspect that producing a novel this way may yield something even messier than the messy first drafts you’re used to working with.
But it’s worth noting here that there’s a remarkable resource available to you in revising your NaNoWriMo draft: an editor. This highly trained professional can very often see what you, as the author, cannot, and can help you bring structure, continuity, and depth to that maddening first draft, producing a fully fleshed novel.
If you’re a basher, on the other hand—one of those writers who tends to inch forward on a writing project at a nearly microscopic pace—the prospect of participating in NaNoWriMo may strike you as a really bad idea. Nearly all of the editors here at Indigo can sympathize: we are (believe it or not) obsessive revisers.
Which is why we feel qualified in pointing out to you, the basher, that you cannot revise what has not yet been written. And if you insist that every sentence achieve a Sistine Chapel–like level of perfection before moving on to the next, you may not find the time during the course of your life to write the amazing stories we’re all waiting to read.
Regardless of what type of writer you are—regardless even of whether or not you officially sign up for NaNoWriMo—you can join us here at the Indigo offices in downtown Portland for our NaNoWriMo write-ins. And bashers, rest assured you’ll be in the company of other obsessive revisers who’ve chosen, at least for the month of November, to turn off that old internal editor and get those words on the page.
And if you produce a stunningly messy first draft, just remember—editors are standing by!
Associate Editor Susan DeFreitas is a self-admitted obsessive reviser who has, nevertheless, managed to get a few things published (in the Utne Reader, the Huffington Post, and Southwestern American Literature, among other publications.) She specializes in editing speculative fiction.