NaNoWriMo is a great experience, an entire month of writing with absolute abandon. It is all about getting the words out. One of the cardinal rules of NaNoWriMo is that you shouldn't edit. Turn off that little voice inside your head that tells you to go back and clean up the language, try to smooth out the plot holes, or that maybe that last scene was a mess and it should be rewritten. When the goal is writing 50,000 words or more in a month, you need to be able to push forward and resist the urge to go back and edit. For me, that is very hard.
Like a lot of writers, I'm something of a perfectionist. It has always been hard for me to finish my writing projects. I usually progress so slowly that I become dissatisfied with them or go back and edit them so frequently that it stops my forward progress. No one wants to write badly, but the truth is that most writers have to, at least at first. The deadline that NaNoWriMo forces on writers requires you to keep moving forward or you will never hit your target.
Everyone writes differently. Some write really clean drafts, thinking carefully not only about the plotting and characterization, but about the language too; others write messy drafts that need to be heavily edited or rewritten. I've always tried to write drafts that are clean, that have minimal problems because I've been editing as I go. However, I've never managed to finish a clean draft. I usually get so bogged down in the editing, in trying to make it perfect, that I get derailed. This year, I forced myself to write a messy draft, to not worry about making it perfect. The result was a complete draft of a novel-length work. Is that work perfect? No, far from it. It is complete, though.
It was hard. I was forced to keep plowing through, even when the writing was difficult, even when the story felt like it was trickling instead of flowing. Sometimes I found myself thinking, "Is this story even worth finishing?", but continued to write through the doubt. I learned that writing messy and fast works for me. It forces me to not allow any time for critique to derail my progress. That isn't to say that I haven't thought critically about what I wrote during NaNoWriMo, just that I didn't give myself the time to act on my self-criticism.
I want to keep improving, keep working towards being a better writer, and that certainly involves thinking critically about my work and how it can be improved. My messy drafts will need edits, but even those edits will need to have deadlines, to keep moving. I can't allow myself the time to get too stuck in my own head. NaNoWriMo taught me that I can do it, I just have to get out of my own way and keep moving forward.