Another day in the life of a NaNo-Nut: Plotting

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The creative perspective

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As I embark on this fourth NaNo journey, I’ve found myself dwelling on how, as a writer, my craft and the experience of writing have changed since those early days.  I still find it fun, but over the years I’ve become more introspective about the way I work. You’ll find that too. 

That first journey saw me throw myself into a lifelong dream. The desire to simply write that novel motivating me to just write, and write, and write. Which is just what NaNo is about. But along the journey, I’ve realised that to complete my manuscripts, I need to have a direction. Some signposts along the way. Of course that won’t be the same for everybody.  

As a result, you find yourself considering what type of writer you are.

Plotter or pantser?

For anyone new to writing, you’ll find there appear to be three general kinds of writer. 

1) The Plotter – somebody who meticulously plans their entire project, so that when NaNo starts they have an outline, their structure, know their plot, their characters and what their end goal is.

2) The Pantser – somebody who quite literally writes by the seat of their pants. No real direction, just the ability to follow the plot and characters wherever they may lead. 

3) The Hybrid – somebody who combines both plotting and panting to their novel-writing journey. 

When embarking on  NaNo, it’s worth considering what kind of writer you are.

As I mentioned before, I’ve always been a pantser. Literally writing by the seat of my pants. Letting the characters develop the stories as I go. To the extent that I’d find my characters talking to me (I know, you think I’m mad). Driving in the car, carrying out my own interviews with them to learn who they were, how they’d react to things, who they’d vote for the next American president! All things that gave me an insight into the people I was creating, and the direction my story was taking.

However, this year, I’ve decided to embark on the NaNo journey with a plan. A result of which has seen me methodically planned my book from beginning to end. I’ve researched my backstory, and all of the key points throughout the novel and have reams of notes as a result. I’ve filled out character worksheets, setting worksheets, created picture boards, and even organised a road trip to Mackenzie which is the setting for the vast part of my story.

This is not because I’ve decided that pantsing is wrong, but because I’m open to new ways of doing this. 

What type are you? It’s well worth considering before you embark on your NaNo journey. If you’re new to NaNo. Chris Baty’s No Plot, No Problem is an awesome read, giving some insight into what the National Novel Writing Month is. As well as giving you some insights into how to go about it (from well-learned experience). 

If you’re not a NaNo, but want to look at ways of plotting and planning, then I thoroughly recommend the following books for helping with writing craft in so far as structuring and planning your novel: 

1) Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need – a comprehensive, easy to read guide to structuring your story. 

2) Michael Hauge’s

Writing Screenplays That Sell, New Twentieth Anniversary Edition: The Complete Guide to Tur

ning Story Concepts into Movie and Television Deals 

3) Jack M Bickman’sScene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)

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I’ve found these three books invaluable in helping me plan for NaNo, and perhaps because I want to take my writing to the next level, I’ve enjoyed investing in craft books that have opened my eyes to the whole concept of plotting and planning for my writing journey. 

Another aspect of the planning that I’ve come to think of as vital for writing development is surrounding yourself with likeminded people. 

Use the Writing Community

Writing is a solitary activity, and can be really lonely. Particularly when you hit the wall often called writers block, or self-doubt.  During NaNo, the goal is to hit that 50,000 word target. A goal that is completely achievable. However, it is inevitable that during NaNo, you’ll have peaks and troughs. Some days, you’ll fly. Others you’ll wonder just what on earth you are doing. By surrounding yourself with people with that same objective, you give yourself not only a sounding board, but also a support network. It can become competitive. I love a challenge, and going to our Tuesday ‘Night Owls’ write in, I find myself challenging myself to keep up with some of the more prolific writers (some of whom have achieved 160,000 words during NaNo in the past – yikes!). 

So here’s some suggestions. 

Visit the NaNoWriMo website: 

Find out who your Municipal Liaison is ( http://nanowrimo.org/regions)

Find out where write-ins are planned with other writers in your local community – these can offer invaluable support, and potentially create lifelong friendships.

Join NaNo to make the most of the webinar’s and support it offers during November. 

Visit your Local Library:

Is there any information on local groups?

Do they have activities or workshops for writers?

Local writing organisations: 

In our case, we’re lucky to have a vibrant community of writers locally. The Christchurch Writers Guild ( https://chchwriters.org ), New Zealand Society of Authors ( http://authors.org.nz/about/branches/canterbury/ ), and the Romance Writers of New Zealand ( http://www.romancewriters.co.nz/about/regional-meetings/ ). The latter of which have local chapters who organise workshops, monthly meetings, and local write ins. Investigate if there is anything like that near you.

This may all seem a little much for the writer who’s new to this, but these lessons have been learned over four years. And if I’m completely honest, I’ll undoubtedly learn more lessons this year. 

Furthermore, there are two more things to remember during NaNo:

The first: Switch off that inner-critic. That little niggle of self-doubt is the worst thing for creativity. He/ she will whisper in your ear as you write, telling you you’re taking the wrong direction, that your writing is crap, that this is a waste of time. He’s a pain in the ass, and needs to be told that. My first year I let him really get at me. Kept re-reading what I’d written, questioning whether I was made for the whole writing thing. So the second year, I made a poster. “Inner-critic you’re banned from my study for a month.”

Childish perhaps, but psychologically, I refused to listen to anything the rotten demon. He had no part in my NaNo journey, or any writing journey from that day on. 

The second: is to enjoy. Have fun. Creativity and writing are a truly exciting opportunity to explore something that few of us ever do. People will poo-poo you, “Gah, why would you write? There’s no money in it? Why waste the time?”

If it’s something you truly want to do – then do it. Enjoy it. Lose yourself in your own fantasy world. Whether it be crime, mystery, fantasy, a children’s story or a romance, NaNo is the one time of the year you can say “Okay, I’m gonna do this.”

Whether you have a PC, or a rudimentary paper and pen. Let your imagination run wild for the month. You never know where it might take you. 

I hope this helps, and that you enjoy your NaNo journey. 

Emma jottermonster


emlowe2Emma Lowe moved to North Canterbury from Dunedin three years ago. She promptly joined the CWG and was overwhelmed to discover not only a network of writers, but a group of people who have become close personal friends. She has been focusing on her writing ever since (at least when she’s not juggling kids and the family business). She predominantly writes romance, and is also a member of Romance Writers of New Zealand, amongst other writing organisations.

One thought on “Another day in the life of a NaNo-Nut: Plotting

    Nicola Thomson said:
    October 28, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    I’m trying to be good about plotting this year as well. I’ve thought about getting some books to help, but historically I find that I just don’t read them.
    I’m curious to see how aiming for a word count for each chapter goes! I’ve thought of doing that, but I don’t know my Novel well enough yet to know how long it needs to be 🙂
    I started researching my novels background, like you mentioned, but I started sensing myself getting burned out, which I wanted to avoid so as still be excited come the first!
    Good luck with it all!!

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