Today we start a new series of guest posts by NaNoWriMo veterans Thea Gregory and Courtney Worth Young. They were both winners of the NaNo-Virtuosos Contest and will be sharing their words of wisdom every Friday throughout NaNoWriMo.
The only types of preparation you’re “allowed” for participating in NaNoWriMo are outlines and character sketches. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a huge undertaking, and being prepared is important. You’re going to be in for late nights, needy spouses, lunchtime word cramming at the day job and the rigors of simply being alive. But don’t let that discourage you. NaNoWriMo is an exciting time! The opportunity to creatively think and plan for this amazing competition is upon us. Plotting can be evil and overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be that way…Thea Gregory and Courtney Worth Young will tell you why.
Q: Both of you were NaNoWriMo 2011 winners and even went on to win the NaNo-Virtuosos competition held by Curiosity Quills. The big question is, how did you do it? To plot or not to plot?
When I set out last year to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time, I didn’t make an outline. I was armed with only a title, a few character profiles and a great deal of tea. My logic was such:
“Okay, I know what I want my story to have, plot-wise. Let’s just have fun with the rest.”
I’ve tried writing outlines: detailed, beautiful outlines.
But, when I sit down at my word processor of choice, the magic just happens. I could start with the same outline ten times, and have ten completely different (but still awesome) stories. I love my character sheets; having a list of my character’s background, important memories and appearance is just way more useful than an outline I won’t use. It’s much harder to deviate from a character sheet, but that’s next week’s post.
… I am a NaNoWriMo hybrid-panster.
Incase you don’t know, a panster is a live-by-the-moment-writer who does not plot.
I limit my ideas to ONE blank sheet of paper. Why? Because if I start plotting scenes and chapters, I would finish the novel before NaNo even started. Real plotting takes too much of my writer mojo and limits my imagination.
I plan the beginning, middle, and ending of the story on a blank sheet of paper. But I don’t go crazy, I just write a few sentences to get my ideas flowing. I’ve learned that if I write too much detail, my robotic mind tells me I MUST kill all humansfollow my plot points exactly. The bulk of the content is written whenever I am lost in that magical writing moment during nano!
Q: Seems like you both “Write on a whim.” How do you keep up with everything?
That’s very true, but there is a structure and overall evil plan involved. I do keep track of the overall plot progression, and important scenes. I’ll make five or six notes of “really important stuff” and the order they happen in. The rest I let progress organically. I’ll base some parts off of things that happen during the day, a dream I had or even just the chaos inside my head. The result is something that feels natural, and keeps the story from feeling formulaic. As well, it’s a good way to develop characters and focus on world building.
Once nano begins, I tend to use the back of my non-plotting piece of paper to write important points that I’ve added to the manuscript. It isn’t technical and I am not sure if it is really “literary world legit” but it works for me. Throughout November, when an idea hits me I will randomly scribble them on my wonderful sheet of paper. Those things may or may not make it into the MS and it is fun to look back at my thought process while in the midst of the nano fun.
Q: What is the plus side to being a panster? Hopefully we can label you both as that!
This allows me a great deal of freedom. If, for instance, I decide that a character is obsessed with chocolate, cats, or particle physics, then I’m free to do so. I don’t need to re-write my outline to support that. It just happens.
I believe Thea hit the nail on the head! I don’t feel smothered by bullet points and can think clearer without the plotting chains holding me down! Since nothing is “officially” planned, I have the freedom to bring my characters through hell and back.
Q: You two make NOT-plotting sound easy. Are there any negative aspects to your evil panster methods?
One downside is that sometimes, writer’s block can strike when it’s time to progress the plot. To combat that, I try to elaborate on backstory, make up a neat side-conversation or inject some more life into it. The rest will flow soon after.
I agree with Thea, again! Without having every point planned, the evil writers block is allowed to creep in. My characters sat in a jail cell for 7 days during nano 2011 but they managed to escape. I would like to interject that even the most experiencedplotter suffers from the same issue. I think my biggest issue was editing after NaNo. Random ideas can be a blessing and a nightmare. Reading my draft after nano was a nice surprise but fixing and rewriting plot holes afterwards was time consuming…but well worth it!
Q: Any advice to all the 2012 NaNoWriMo winner hopefuls?
If an outline helps you (and you can stick to it!) by all means, use one. We’re all different; the only person who can tell you how to write your story is you. Not me. You.
My suggestion is, find what works best for you and run with it! Being a neo-panster isn’t so bad, we can have half our cake and eat it too without the guilt of over-plotting! Do not limit yourself. Also, do not edit while writing … that is what December and January is for!
On November 30, 2011 there were many writers who did not hit the 50k mark by midnight. But guess what, there were thousands who did and became “official” winners. 30 days and nights of pure literary confinement can make writers a little crazy…but just a little! Conquering 50,000 words in 30 days is liberating, and Thea and Courtney believe you can walk away from NaNoWriMo 2012 as a winner. Make sure to visit every Friday throughout the month of November for more NaNoWriMo survival tips and tricks.
There are hundreds of different methods for preparing for NaNo available on the internet. Don’t let the plot bunnies overwhelm you and remember to write bravely, whether you are a plotter or a panster! Good luck planning these next few weeks!
The countdown to NANO 2012 begins now! See you on the 50k word finish line.