Padding is for bras, not novels

It’s November 1, day one of NaNoWriMo.  While this is my first attempt to write 50K novel-worthy words in one month, I’ve heard for a few years about the padding that takes place in November.  No, aspiring novelists aren’t stuffing their bras and jocks with socks.  It’s much worse.

Hoping to break writer’s block, some Wrimos write filler to increase their word counts.  They separate contractions, fill their fiction with purple prose, add in verbose emails, tweet exchanges, gratuitous sex and all those meaningless dialogue phrases you’ve been taught to cut.  When one word will do, they use three or four.  When three words are enough, they use seven or more.  Some even resort to writing chunks of fan fiction in the middle of their original work when the muse gets sleepy.

I think these strategies are short-sighted.   Size only matters if it’s real.

Yes, it’s everyone’s goal to reach the first 50K words in a month, but the larger goal is to jump start the first draft of a novel that will be extended, rewritten, critiqued, edited, and polished until it shines. Using filler just makes your novel look like the Pillsbury Dough Bough and you’ll end up doing major liposuction while editing.  Word padding creates extra work.

More importantly, word padding is bad writing.  How can you hope to hone your craft when the word count means more than the content and when everything you’ve learned about a well written book is thrown out the window in pursuit of a certificate that says you won?

Now, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t shush your inner editor while writing the first draft, or that the first draft will be anywhere close to publication quality.  I always expect my first drafts will need a lot of revision, whether I’m writing an 800-word article or a 90,000-word novel.

I do believe that during a first draft my inner editor should be locked in a closet and my imagination let off the leash.  I want to get to know my characters and discover plot points as they overcome their obstacles to achieve their goals.  I expect that when I first play with these imaginary friends, I’ll write a lot of words that I’ll eventually cut.  But I’m not going to add extra verbiage to meet a 50,000-word goal.

It’s my hope that each time I write a first draft it’s better than the last first draft I wrote. I want to improve.  So, I’m not padding.  I’m still aiming for a win, but I’d rather “lose” NaNoWriMo than make my book look like a prepubescent girl wearing a bra full of facial tissue.

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