I've taken the NaNoWriMo challenge annually since 2007. I have "won" in every attempt, but only once did I ever actually continue the novel to the end after crossing the 50k word mark. Even that novel has had to undergo significant restructuring and rewriting, and remains stuck on the operating table, its organs splayed out and shriveling while I figure out what needs transplanting and how to go about it.
Usually, even if I put a fair amount of planning into a concept, I end up completing the challenge as a "pantser," one who writes by the seat of his/her pants. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. In the past, it has allowed me to take a relatively thin concept and flesh it out as I go along, sometimes with remarkable transformation. I might have thought I was setting out to make a cookie, but ended up with some kind of souffle. That is a good thing, but usually leads to significant rewrites to make the whole piece consistent from beginning to end.
The last few attempts at "pantsing" have been less fruitful for me. I got a few characters and concepts I can tease out and use, but more importantly, I never found myself "on fire" for the projects. There wasn't enough backbone to engage me, or to center me when I would drift off the path. I ended up getting in all 50k words each time, but even in all that prose, I never got a clear path to where I was going, or even if I knew how I wanted things to end, how in the world I was supposed to get there.
This year, I don't want to spend a month wandering in the woods. I don't want to get lost. I need a novel GPS to keep me on course. I need to...
It's not that I don't like outlines. I think outlines are fabulous. I just think I'm slightly allergic to them.
Most of my outline attempts end up being just enough catalyst to send me off writing page after page of narrative idea building that never actually turns into the road map an outline is supposed to be. I get ideas for who a character is, what might have happened in the past to bring them to this point, the history of the town, the neighbor's goldfish's name, how much money is in the main character's first cousin's savings account, and what "might" happen. I even write it like that: "...then she might end up going to his house and checking to see if he has properly insulated his water pipes for winter, as that would let her know he was responsible and ripe for picking from the husband-tree."
All of that writing can be useful--it actually is quite useful in determining motivation, making characters three-dimensional, and helping me get unstuck when I am not sure what a character would do in a situation. What it doesn't do is keep me tight to a plot or tell me how to navigate transitions.
Transitions are the worst. (Any writer who tells you otherwise is not to be trusted. Unless they're willing to tell you how to breeze easily through perfect, tight transitions, in which case you listen to them and come right back here to tell ME.)
This year, I will probably do some of my usual narrative outlining, but I'm trying to be more disciplined with it. I am going to do an actual plot outline first, from beginning to end, before I let myself wander off the trail to find shiny objects in the weeds.
Every year I start a brand new notebook for my NaNoWriMo idea, and I'm about to crack open my birthday Moleskine to see what I can come up with. Right now, I don't have the first idea which idea I want to tackle, but between now and November 1, I intend to know where to start, where to end, and every twist and turn in between.
Unless the effort of outlining actually kills me.
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