What I Learned Completing NaNoWriMo in 5 Days - Part II

3) Uncertainty in my editing process prevents me from writing.


NaNoWriMo offers a virtual gift basket of goodies when you’re a confirmed winner. This year’s included a special Master Class session by James Patterson on editing a novel. 

What stuck out was his matter-of-factness on the number of rewrites needed.

“I like to do many drafts…but I do these drafts very quickly - I do not, I don’t get constipated, I don’t get worried, I just keep going, let’s do it again, let’s do it again, let’s do it again…”

Although I’m getting better at outputting a draft, I still get stuck on editing it. Why? For one, it’s a lot harder to quantify. I can quantify rough draft output, and because I have stats I can begin to troubleshoot. How do you judge the quality of an edit? Can you consistently know how much time it will take? Or score it based on its sliding strength quality?


Because I cannot answer these questions clearly, the pressure to do a quality rewrite builds. Patterson doesn’t seem to care - there’s no pressure because he knows that he’ll do a bunch of them. And this prevents him from getting stuck. 

So taking from him, what if I matter-of-factly always had to do 3 rewrites? In my mind, just thinking about that already lessens the pressure I feel, and I think it might function very much like a lowered daily minimum does for starting any habit. Going to the gym for an hour might be a pain, but how does doing two pushups feel?



First, by quantifying my output it not only makes writing drafts manageable, but predictable. In a larger system of other habits, knowing exactly when I’ll get an article done is priceless. Right now, I can’t predict that unless I’m forced into it on a deadline, and I think that might be one of the bars of a true professional writer. This plays into all sorts of things like long term planning and the regimentation of my day.

Word count also helps me gauge my overall skill at writing rather than placing emphasis on one particular article - it shifts me into a process rather than goal driven orientation.


Secondly, the Pomodoro Technique and just starting the timer completely changes the moment where the habit “fold” is created, especially how it should be efficiently created with implementation intention. Rather than “wake up, then start writing” it’s more “get up, then set up blank page and start timer”. It’s an interesting form of a failure to start, because here properly formed habit has nothing to do with the habit itself, it has to do with the starting of the session regardless of content. And this fits into a meta model I have on self change, namely that once we properly get a system of change going, it works regardless of starting state. Self change then becomes more about the system rather than the person. More on that in another post.

Lastly, mastery over writing, something I’ve struggled with, comes in three major parts. Writing a draft, research, and editing. I’m nailing the draft writing, but research still bogs me down, as does editing. But I believe that Patterson’s approach may definitely be the key to helping me with the latter. It may also be a technique for dealing with other habits where clearly quantifying progress is not as possible.

photocred: rewrite by Alonso Mayo, microscope by Kiran Foster, folded paper by Deb Etheredge