Today is the 22nd of September. As well as being the anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq-Iran War and a whole host of world events that I don’t fully recall, it is (if my math is correct, which is never a certainty) forty days until November 1st and the beginning of the 2013 National Novel Writing Month.
This year, unlike my attempts in 2011 and 2012, I have resolved to make some kind of plan of attack, and maybe even an outline for what will be my eventual 2013 NaNoWriMo novel. Anyone who follows my twitter feed will have seen that I’ve been looking over different resources and writing guides.
Some of the books I’ve looked at are ones I’ve owned for years, such as Stephen King’s On Writing and the consistently hilarious How Not To Write A Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. Others are new to me this year, such as No Plot? No Problem! by the patron saint of NaNoWriMo, Chris Baty or Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy.
What do all of these have in common, other than being writing guides? Absolutely nothing. The thing about writing or any other creative endeavor is that there is no one set in stone process and method that works. If they were, everyone would use it. The ugly truth is that there as many different ways to approach a novel as there are people trying to write one. The trick is figuring out what works for you and tweaking and re-tweaking that so it works even better.
I have yet to figure out what works for the best for me when it comes to NaNoWriMo. In 2011, I was a pure “pantser” in the wonderfully irreverent parlance of NaNo. I was writing by the seat of my pants with no idea what blind alleys and random by ways the story or characters would take me. (Any author who says that they control the characters and not the other way round is a liar). This was exhilarating, but exhausting and the twenty-seven day journey between “Chapter One” and “The End” (I started late) kept me on my toes. I’m not claiming that first draft was any good (the internal timeline is horribly messed up for one thing) but the surprises it threw me, such as having a villainous character’s cover identity become much more sympathetic, or the desperate killing of a minor character to write myself out of a corner grafting on an unexpected police investigation or the character I created as a love interest deciding she was the protagonist and didn’t need a damned love interest, helped my creative juices flow and made me a better writer by the end of it. I felt like a blindfolded tightrope walker, aware that “the end” was somewhere over that-a-way but not how far.
In 2012, not wanting to re-experience that tight rope, I set about outlining the story in rough character beats, and little one or two line bullet points for scenes and what I considered my simple high concept logline (It’s a superhero conspiracy story, think X-Files meets Watchmen) all meticulously documented on a stack of index cards in my spidery chicken-scratch handwriting. I had this all worked out before even the onset of September. I placed these index cards neatly inside the desk drawer of my little writing nook and promptly forgot about them until Halloween. I go to check the drawer, figure out where to start and the index cards and entire outline are missing, and they have remained missing to this very day. I blame the neighbor’s cat, as it has the shifty eyes of a thief. I ended up a “pantser” once more trying as best as I could to recall how my ensemble had met, how they fit together and what exactly the nature of the driving conspiracy was. I never finished the story, and don’t know if I ever will (unless that damned cat returns my notes), there’s a murder mystery driving much of the first two acts of the book, and I still don’t know whodunit there’s two young female characters whose names I kept getting confused, and who have such a similar arc that I may have initially intended to be one character. And those are just the two easiest to fix problems. Getting past 50,000 words was a chore, and I don’t think I ever really wanted to look at the draft once I hit that mark.
Now, 2013’s NaNo season is sneaking up on me, and I’m determined not to be a “pantser” this time. I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to approach this year’s opus, but I’m leaning towards trying out the semi-outlining technique known as the “snowflake method,” and working from there. I also intedn to both keep better track of my index cards and use this blog to help me as I attempt to craft something worth reading. Now all I need to do is figure out what I want to write about, but that can wait until tomorrow…
How do my fellow writers and blog followers approach their novels and projects and what pitfalls and peaks do you find?