NaNoWriMo is a great tool for those wanting to attack a new work-in-progress (WIP) or those first wandering into the writing wilderness. The last couple of weeks I’ve talked about the planning I’ve embraced this year.
Though inspiration may scrap part of my efforts in November, that’s okay.
I’m not going to argue pantsing vs. plotting, for the truth is I do both. I’m a plotter bookended with pantsing. I’m continually pantsing in my head, brainstorming characters, plots, and scenes; reworking them; and tweaking as needed. At some point I commit the ideas to a hard or cyber copy and move on. That’s the plotting part. When I write I have all that as backup. I still allow the characters to lead, but always with an eye on structure. It’s like hiking without a map, but knowing where the sun rises and falls, recognizing landmarks, and having plenty of supplies.
Recently, I talked about the revised map I created in Photoshop Elements. Yeah, I’m proud of it and it’s a great aid, but when I first started writing fantasy 15 years ago my first map was a hastily scribbled monstrosity on the back of a sheet of paper. It served its purpose. It worked. That first map eventually became Carrdia (located at the center of the Ontyre continent) and most of that original map’s features have survived.
As long as you have it straight where people are going and what’s there when they get there that’s what’s essential. You can reach for fancy later. If you’re thinking, Oh wow, NaNo is this weekend…there’s no time! Grab a sheet of paper and a pencil (or your medium of choice) and go. Give yourself 30 minutes. Not writing fantasy? Open Google Maps and choose a location for an Earthbound tale, zoom in, and go. Haste, after all, is the name of the game during NaNo.
Don’t let today’s date keep you from participating.
Last week I talked about my character worksheets. They’re working well (after I fixed some formulas I copied incorrectly). In the end, though, their greatest worth is they force me to think about my characters. I’d stop at a trait and think, Whoa, I hadn’t thought about that! As much as you can think about that over the next few days the better.
NaNo doesn’t leave a lot of time for reflection. It’s about action.
My outline is a collection of scenes melded to proper structure. It’s a compass for when the sunrise is behind the clouds. It reminds me I can go over or around the hills. It isn’t carved in stone, but instead in pixels and easily revised on the fly.
Last year I had no plotting work until the literal eleventh hour on Halloween, and even that was barely enough to carry me to 5k words. What I did was maintain what I called “a rolling outline,” always staying far enough head so I could launch into writing the next morning without staring at the screen with brain freeze. It was more pressure and work than if I’d planned better, but it worked and sounded the alarm that warned me I didn’t have sufficient story to fill 50k.
There I was, somewhere around 15k, finding my rhythm, my confidence growing, and I realized my story would sputter before I reached 30k.
Solution? Road trip (it was a contemporary mystery/romance). It worked and led to more ideas that enabled the story to pass 50k on the way to 61k. Happy dance. Thankfully I realized the canyon was a dead end before I started down it.
In the end, though, the best piece of advice for NaNo is to do it!
Jump into the experience and learn, and you’ll learn more if you stick with it for the entire month even if your word count is less than spectacular. You’ll learn how much prep you need—or don’t. You’ll grasp how big a mountain 50k truly is, even if your production is meager. You’ll also interact with other writers in the NaNo Forums, learn their frustrations/successes, and have the opportunity to share your own.
Ultimately, NaNo is safe. Even if you entered the wilderness unprepared you won’t become a bear snack. If writing is for you then once you take a deep inhale in the NaNo forest you’ll be anxious for your next chance. It’s infectious, but you can’t acquire the infection if you find a reason to not participate. Go for it!