(written by Judy L Mohr)
So, you have signed up for NaNoWriMo.
Wait… I hear you ask, “what exactly is NaNoWriMo?” Well, this is the international event where writers decide to throw caution to the wind and attempt to write that first draft of a novel within the span of a month, and not just any month. NaNoWriMo is in November every year. It’s free to participate. All you have to do is sign up at nanowrimo.org and commit yourself to your writing. To win amazing prizes and discounts to brilliant writers’ sites, you need to write 50000 words. Simple enough… Or is it?
All writers fall into one of two main categories: plotters and pantsers. The plotters will aim to plot the details of their manuscript before they write, determining the full structure of the story from start to finish. Pantsers will have a rough idea and will just let their fingers decide what finds the paper as they just go for it. Both methods have their merits, and they both have their flaws. Neither is wrong, just as neither is right. It all comes down to how your brain works.
For myself, I’m definitely a pantser. My mind is often flying off in a million directions at once. When writing, my brain will hone in on a particular story thread and follow it through to a natural conclusion, even if that’s not the conclusion of the story. My fingers fly across the keyboard, taking me along a journey of discovery as I delve into the minds of my characters. I just go with it.
So what does this mean for my first drafts? Well, they’re all over the show. More often than not, I’ll be following a character, then he (or she) will have a conversation with another character referring to some event in the past that hasn’t been written yet. That mysterious event is a vital turning point for one or more of the characters. Oh boy, now I have to go back over here in this part of the story and actually write that event.
The plotters out there would cringe about this, but it works for me, and I’m sticking with it. But how does this method of writing help me plough my way through events such as NaNoWriMo?
Well… Imagine that you’re on a roll with your writing, the words are pouring out of you. You’re following the journey of your characters, then you hit a snag. The characters enter into a cave and refuse to come out. Inspiration has failed and the characters have fallen asleep; they won’t wake up to do anything worth writing about. Some writers would just stare at the computer screen (or page), unable to write another word. Their characters would spend eternity in that cave waiting for inspiration to strike.
The plotters out there would say that you deviated from your plot somewhere and you need to go back and rewrite it until you get them out of the cave. But this is where my erratic, out-of-order writing style becomes a godsend.
The characters went into the cave for a reason. They were supposed to find something of importance. Exactly what it was, you can’t see. Exactly how they found it, you have no clue. But you do know that the price in getting it was extremely high: Joe died in the process. The details of the scene elude you, but you can clearly see the outcome.
At this point, I make bullet-point notes about the details that I can see (i.e. Joe died and Sally is hysterical, meaning that Daisy is forced to take command and get the rest of them out of the cave safely). Then I jump to the scene that I can see and carry on writing. In a future scene, Sally and Daisy will explain the details to the officials and… Wow… I can now go back and write the details of the scene I was missing, and if I’m lucky, I’ll discover that Joe didn’t die as Sally and Daisy first thought, but was taken captive by the cave monster and now needs rescuing.
I will agree with the plotters in that the new sub-plots that develop out of this methodology are not always strong ones and need to be edited out at a later date, but I would like to remind the plotters of Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote: The first draft of anything is shit.
NaNoWriMo is not about writing that masterpiece from word go. It’s about actually getting the story down on paper so you can edit and re-write it in the months that follow. I don’t care how good a writer you are, if you have nothing on paper, then you don’t have anything to work with and you don’t have a novel.
There are many ways of pushing your way through a first draft of a story, propelling yourself toward your NaNoWriMo goals. This is just one way, and it works for me.
Kiwi Judy L Mohr writes fantasy and science fiction filled with adventure, dark monsters, humour and romance. She is also a freelance editor, working on projects from writers around the world. Judy is currently the president of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild, but is also a member of SpecFic New Zealand and the Scribophile on-line writing community. Recently, she was appointed one of the NaNoWriMo Municipal Leaders for our region. You can visit her at http://judylmohr.com, or follow her on twitter (@JudyLMohr).