Process, NaNo, Prep

Is this thing on?
Is this thing on?
I get mail. And sometimes it’s really awesome mail! Reader MV (who I believe is Brazilian?) had a very interesting question.

Do to the approaching NaNoWriMo time, I’m searching about outlining process and how to better structure my story to face an entire writing time without failing. As a film and television production student I’ve learned to do really extended story bibles to my screenplays and that seems to work when sharing the writing process with other writers.

When writing prose I still didn’t find my way yet. I don’t feel myself a good pantster, but when I do expented outlines it somehow kills the story for my.

Looking throughout you blog I found post titled Some basic questions (http://www.lilithsaintcrow.com/2009/06/some-basic-questions/) in which you say you’re more a pantster and that you know your entire story from line one and that you only write down some important events in the narrative beforehand. Because it seems to be an old post I’m interested in knowing if your process remains the same. How would you prepare yourself to a writing marathon such as NaNoWriMo?

MV is right–NaNo is approaching. (I’m doing a side project this year; you can find me here.) I sometimes don’t sign up, since I’m finishing novels all the damn time, but it’s sometimes nice to take a side project during November and have outside pressure help my discipline. NaNo’s structure a good balance between my natural intransigence and my perfectionism and desire to please; normally, I hate any sort of bit or bridle that isn’t self-chosen. But it’s good to challenge oneself, which is how I view NaNo. It’s a game I play solely against myself, one other people are playing on adjacent fields at the same time. That’s the closest I get to team sports, I guess.

MV’s questions here are extremely interesting, because they assume the problem is a structural one–that if one can just find the right balance between plotting and pantsing, the rest will follow. Which is somewhat true, but as with all things involving creative production, it’s a wee bit more complex.

Digression: I should note here that in the intervening years since the post MV references, I have shifted to drafting in Scrivener and revising in MSWord, mostly with TrackChanges turned on and an editor’s comments in the margins. Scrivener is a relatively new change for me, but the big update they did in ?2013?, I think? really made the entire program easier to use, and I took the plunge. Most of the bells and whistles are still unnecessary, and I don’t use a lot of them, but a few features–project targets, character sheets, ease of footnoting for glossary terms, the ability to move whole scenes–make up for it.

With all that said and out of the way, let’s get to the meat–what’s my process now, and how do I recommend prepping for NaNo?

My process is basically the same. For some books I do a sort of halfass outline with major scene points [[written bold inside brackets]], so I can search for the brackets and see what the fuck I was thinking, or delete them once I have a zero draft. Most of the time, the novel veers away from what I think the scenes are going to be, at which point I delete bracketed scenes as I come to them. One never learns how to write novels per se, one only learns how to write the novel one’s writing now, but after one has finished a few, the relaxation into the process makes it marginally easier.

Marginally.

Now, as for prepping for NaNo…really, it’s a question of scheduling. Make it a priority to schedule time for writing in every damn day during November. This is the single most critical piece of prep I can think of. I know a lot of people will resist this, or call my advice cruel. That’s fine, they’re allowed their opinions. But making the commitment now to set aside some time will save so much heartache later, and sticking to it through November (come hell, holiday, or high water) will get you in the habit of prioritizing your writing. The commitment to writing every day breaks down the amount of text you’ll have to produce into manageable chunks, AND will help you get back up on the horse if you miss a day. (Which happens, since the world is an imperfect place.) Put it on your to-do list. Wake up a little earlier and use the extra time to write; schedule your lunch break so you can write longhand or on a laptop and then transcribe it when you get home, pitch your daily television-watching or Buzzfeed surfing out the window and write instead.

As for facing the entire writing time without “failing”, well, better to attempt than to do nothing, right? I’m going to recommend this: don’t worry about pantsing or plotting or failing once November starts. Just get in there and get your daily wordcount (the NaNo site has tools to help you with the brute count needed to get 50K in during the whole month) done with whatever happens next in the story. If you haven’t outlined what happens next, guess. Take the most logical path, or just send in aliens and death rays. Trust the story. This will get you a lot closer to the end than you think, AND you’ll have a chunk of text you can go back and shape and trim once December hits and you have that headache that tells you why writers drink. Outlining is fine, as far as it goes, but a lot of people mistake the work of outlining for actual production of the story, get sucked into building the elaborate bones, and run out of steam. The road to Hell is paved with pretty outlines and good intentions. Get your ass in the chair and your hands on the keyboard once November starts, and if the outline isn’t behaving, set it on fire and ignore its screams while you concentrate on your daily wordcount.

Other writers might give different advice, but I’m the one you’re asking, and that’s what I think. MV, you’re welcome to throw questions into the comments if you don’t mind outing yourself. Anyone else attempting NaNo this year can use the link above to buddy me, and feel free to throw questions into the comments here too if you want. I can’t promise to answer all of them, but I’ll try, and other prospective NaNo participants might have some good ideas too.

Over and out.

  • Wolf Lahti

    “Butt In Chair” is the mantra of many a writer. I expanded it to Butt In The Chair, Hands On Keyboard, Words That Fit, which happily acronyms to BITCH OK WTF.

    It works for me. πŸ™‚

  • SO STEALING THAT.

  • I’m so happy you managed to answer my question! I really am.

    I am indeed Brazilian, my typos and grammar errors makes clear I’m not a native English speaker β€” the only reason that would make me mind about being reveled, but I don’t care that much. I have to take some risks in the road to improve my English.

    I’ve got some more questions, or more like some points that insist popping up in my thoughts.

    I’ve been thinking I might be for some reason afraid of telling this story I am planning for NaNoWriMo. After reading Chuck Wendig’s post β€œGo Big, Go Weird, Go You, And Fuck Fear Right In The Ear” it became more clear to me that doesn’t matter if I go pantster or outliner the fear that insists telling me I’m no enough prepared β€” or good enough β€” will remain. The feeling that is not the moment for this story.

    Have you already felt the same when trying to work some idea out?

    Sometimes feels like I should do more research or background building for the characters, but as I keep revolving around those topics in the end of the day I’ve written nothing.

    Should I just focus on the wordcount and let the story flows through the keyboard? Would it be a better approach?

    I apologize if I sounded redundant.

    Novamente, muito obrigado por responder! (Portuguese for: Again, thank you very much for answering!)

  • Your English is very good, sir. Better than some native speakers, that’s for sure. Thank you for a very good question!

    The fear, I am sorry to say, is a constant. I always feel like I’m not prepared enough, not good enough, that it’s not the moment. The only way through is to do it anyway. As one of Stephen King’s characters said, “It may be a terrible novel, but it will no longer be a terrible unfinished novel.” The fear is always going to be there, whether you write or not. Focusing on the simple act of just getting the words outran help you ignore the fear, or at least put it on the back burner.

    Lots of writers mistake the energy spent researching or background building for energy spent actually writing. Get the story down first. If there’s something you have to research, do it outside of wordcount/writing time. Put in brackets [[need to research Antarctic Spanking Beetles]] and move on. I recommend getting wordcount done FIRST, then setting a kitchen timer (or your phone timer) and going through to do research or add bells and whistles like character background. Separating the two will help you make sure you’re not spending precious writing energy on stuff that isn’t writing. The place to really worry about research and making all the little details is in revision, but it’s hard to do the surgery of revision if you don’t have a whole body/corpse/novel to perform upon. Does that make sense?

  • Yes, you’ve made totally sense. I think now I got what I need for stopping to suffer in anticipation and actually do the writing instead β€” when NaNoWriMo comes. Sometimes I need to be told directly even the obvious things to manage this anxiety of mine, so you was a big help. I’ll keep the body/corpse metaphor on my mind forever now, too. My multidimensional contemporary toned YA may end up a rotten corpse in zero draft stage, but it’s gonna be an written body thing at least, so I hope.

  • There’s nothing that says you can’t start writing now, too. That may even help you get into the habit before NaNo starts.

    The anxiety may not ever go away (mine hasn’t) but it’s just a feeling, and it doesn’t have to rule you. Or stop you.

    Good luck!