Sometimes It’s Nice to Just Go with It (Some NaNoWriMo Thoughts)

We’re into week three of NaNoWriMo! While I’m a little behind the official marker, I did start  eight days late (Thanks, Disney World, I regret nothing) I’m clipping along pretty well, to the point that I think I’ll catch up by the weekend (just in time to fall behind over Thanksgiving, yes).

I’m following the outline that I slapped together before starting pretty well, and I’m pouring out words, plugging along forward. And the result so far? A big, steaming, snarled up mess. And I am so happy with it.

Sometimes when I'm on the couch, clacking away...
Sometimes when I’m on the couch, clacking away…

The whole point of NaNo is quantity, getting as many words out as you can before the month dries up. Quality, coherence, that’s not the point. This, of course, always feels really wrong. When I hit a snag, or realize I took a wrong turn in chapter two, or realize halfway through that no, this is a world where the Internet doesn’t exist, I’m tempted to go back and fix it. Or, if I’m really frustrated, I imagine stuffing the manuscript in a drawer and pretending I never had this awful idea.

But it’s NaNoWriMo. You’re supposed to keep pushing through, and so I do. And I’m glad, because when I keep going with it, I start to like it again. Yes, I keep finding things I want to change, or add, or snip out entirely, and it’s definitely not forming into its final shape. But this method, of just rolling through to the end, is a road of discovery. With each rambling paragraph or nonsensical plot turn I learn about the characters and the story and the world. I realize that one person’s motivations have to change because she’s not who I thought she was at the beginning, or that technology has to be different because it better suits the story and the world view of the characters.

Maybe my story doesn’t have a good shape yet, but writing in this way, not stopping until I discover my middle and my end, is helping me to plot through all the different bits so I start to see what that shape will be when I’m done.

 

Hey WriMos, find me and friend me! I love stalking other people’s progress.

 

It’s NaNoWriMo Tiiiiime!

As of this posting, it’s the third day of NaNoWriMo, in which a slew of crazy-crazies try to write a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month. Time is limited, so every day matters…which means I’m in a little bit of trouble. Because also as of this posting, I’m in the middle of my Disney World trip, and I just know I am doing little, if any, writing.

To prepare myself for this, I decided to spend a lot more time plotting out this novel than I normally do. This way, I figure, I won’t get hung up on wrong turns in the story, and that I’ll know enough about what’s coming next to motor me through to the next scene. We’ll see if this helps me with my writing speed next month. But definitely one thing it’s helping me do: visualize my whole story.

I’ve generally been a pantser with my writing, coming up with a few vague ideas and then running with the story from there. I’ll scribble down future plot ideas in notebook margins as I go, but I rarely spend time figuring out the big twists and turns my character will take. I love doing this — I stumble across awesome ideas this way — but I’m also super likely to crash into a wall, or spend all day on a tangent only to scratch it all out and drop my head on the desk.

Not that I don’t think I’ll do some of these things with an outline — a couple of bullet points can look awesome, while the paragraph itself is garbage. And it’s not as if I plan on having every single detail hammered out; there’s still plenty of room for my character to walk into this house, talk to this stranger on the street.

But I know what my beginning is; my middle has a gelatinous form; my ending is a mountain peak that I can see in the distance against the sky. My story has a shape, vague as it is, and while I know I have the freedom to change every point on a whim, it’s comfortable knowing that I have a path, that I’m very excited about, laid out ahead of time.

Other WriMos: how do you do it? Do you write by the seat of your pants? Or do you plot out your novel meticulously?

Writing Problems: Not Writing What I Expected

For a few months, much of my writing time has been spent on researching and plotting a story that had been sitting in my head for quite some time. I read books, looked up myths, took notes, and thought out the characters and plot as deeply as I could.

Finally I thought I’d figured out enough of what was going on to sit down and write the story. So I opened the notebook, put pen to paper…and I was bored. No matter how long I kept at it, I couldn’t get excited about the story I’d been preparing to put to paper for so many weeks. It simply wasn’t sparking for me.

Then, I got comments back on a story I had sent to one of my writing friends, a short piece that I had written months ago. I’d been unsure if this was a stand-along piece or a chapter one of something bigger. I had been unable to think of where to go with it next, so I shelved it until sending it along to this person. The comments I received were so enthusiastic, and he even asked the question I’d shortly puzzled over myself: was there more?

Tony Angell
Maybe I’ll get back to the crows someday…

Bolstered, I tackled this slightly older story again, this time only brainstorming for a couple of days before rushing into the real writing. I’ve written dozens and dozens of pages now, a great majority of them to be definitely thrown out, scenes that I re-imagined different ways one right after another. I know I’m generating a hot mess as I go, but I feel the story in my fingers, and I feel right and accomplished when I finish the pages. I haven’t gone back to my plotted story since.

I’ve uncovered something about myself as a writer through this. If I plot and outline too much, I lose excitement, the need, to bust the story out. But if I jot down ideas as I go, and let the story take me wherever it pleases, I feel excited, invested, and as if the story is taking up more of my brain even when I’m not writing. Probably at least 90% of what I’m doing now will be reordered, rewritten, or thrown out by the time I reach the very end; my method is not the most efficient, and considering I like to know what the plan is so much in life it’s strange that I operate this way in writing. But I’m better, more productive, as a writer if I don’t lay out much of the track.

Writers, do you plot out your stories first? Or do you scribble out a hot mess and carve the plot out after?