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NaNoWriMo – But Not Only | November 2011, Day 3

Approach To Writing = Approach To Life?

Looking back at the past 15 years of my life, this certainly rings true for me.

I don’t think I ever was a control freak (although my family used to know me for making elaborate lists and creating complex organisation systems :confused: ), but I needed a certain minimum of stability and mental order to cope with existing chaos around me and within myself.

The past few years, that carefully constructed structure – and the illusion of safety which came with it – has become brittle and given way to a flexible balance.

Me, The Outliner

Most of my “serious” writing was non-fiction: material for classes and the occasional article. Almost always I worked from an outline.

Some years ago, when I had the sudden urge to write some fiction longer than a flash, I searched the internet and found Karen Wiesner’sFirst Draft in 30 Days“. I planned, plotted, tagged scene by scene, creating all the capsules = scene content and timelines “by the book”.

I gave the manuscript the required shelf time and revised – and was happy to discover that most of the threads worked out, or if not, corrections were easy to trace. As an outliner, I liked this 🙂

Then I started writing the full scenes. By page 50 I got bored (because I knew the story already; in my head it was finished), ten pages later I began to deviate from the draft (the characters developed their own lives) and just after page 70 I gave up – so much in my story had changed, and I had no idea how to go on or fix it. (I should add that at the time I dreaded revisions and editing, and my amateur mind had mistaken Karen Wiesner’s method for a fool-proof no-revision guarantee-to-finish-your-novel system – instead of recognizing it as the excellent blueprint it is.)

The Loose Outliner

Inspired by Randy Ingermanson’sHow to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method” and Holly Lisle’sNotecarding: Plotting Under Pressure“, I wrote “Magnifica” – the first time.

The loose notecard outline and the gradual development from idea to fully written scene left loads of space for imagination and surprises, changes were easy to integrate. The story didn’t quite work out, but I liked it – that was when I began to change my attitude towards revision: If I ever wanted to finish this novel, I better accepted the whole process.

I left the manuscript for a couple of years before I started a first read-through. After a few chapters I understood that this may have been the story I had wanted to write – but I had changed, and New Me didn’t fancy revising what she read.



Under influence of Lazette Gifford’s It’s Just a Phase – in an attempt to regain control over my story – I proceeded quickly, but I found it difficult to convert short statements into imaginative, inspired writing. Maybe through writing non-fiction from detailed outlines I was too much conditioned to sticking to my plan; in any case, the scenes were  more an account of what happend than storytelling.

Needless to say I soon gave up, although I outlined all the way.

Turning Pantser

A couple of weeks or so before NaNoWriMo 2010 I plotted a new story, did character interviews and a bit of world building. On 30th October (and motivated by all that buzz and excitement on the NaNoWriMo site)  I decided to use this opportunity for an experiment: Pure “Notecarding: Plotting Under Pressure”. Using the storytoolz Story Idea and Random Conflicts Generators and with Holly Lisle’s “Plot Outline Minicourse” for a guide (note: this course is not available any more, despite the link on the storytools page) I built another new story from scratch, just to get started.

I loved it – although way before the 50k I already knew I was going to scrap 20k, because 1) the story had developed in a different way and 2) I didn’t edit the least bit, that is the writing itself is “basic English” at the most. But I made it all the way to 50+k, have a good story to build on and, best of all, I thoroughly enjoyed the process.

What I also learned – and warmly recommend – is to keep a pre-revision story manual at hand right from the word “go”  (spiral bound notebook or loose leaf and a stack of tags or sticky notes, even if you write on the computer). It allows you to change your story any time you want without interrupting the flow of your writing, just take a note to check & align later (=  after November) whatever you’ve written previously. You can also collect in your manual any other notes on characters, story world, ideas for alternatives, research-to-do-later, inspiring photos for characters, worlds, items and so on without  switching back and forth between files.

Me, this year…?

My main aim is to get “Magnifica” written, revised and edited as fast as possible – before I change my mind again 😉 I’ll try to combine what I’ve learned up ’til now, finding a balance between having a direction and being open to surprises and fun, and “writing for revision”, that is plan for retracing my steps.

Obviously I got a lot of material to build on,  I know what my new Magnifica will lead up to and how I want the story to be – but I have absolutely no idea how to get there…

This is what I’ll try:

Last Sunday, I brainstormed a notecard each for the first 20 of 80 scenes (estimated at a 1,000 words per scene, which seems to be my scene average). On Tuesday, I wrote a bit more than one “nice” page of the first scene – letting it flow – and have already stumbled upon an interesting new plot thread (one that will contribute to rather than distract from the main story) and discovered a different side to my MC. (Took notes on this in my manual.)

The next few days, I’ll write the scenes – letting it flow where it flows and in form of summaries where inspiration fails me. I will tag  scenes (written one way or the other) immediately after I finish them.

Once I’m through with my notecards, I’ll do a quick review, see where the story is going and whether I like the direction it takes, and write the next batch of notecards accordingly.

Rinse and repeat. – Let’s see how it goes 🙂

How about you?

How do you write, how do you approach your life?

Are there parallels, or is it a case of balancing extreme opposites?

How has your approach to Life or writing changed over time?

Whatever and however…enjoy it as much as you can 🙂


My word count Day 2: blog: 742 – novel: zilch

TIP-TIP-TIP: If you have problems getting your story into gear, you’ll find an abundance of kickstarters (= generators) for characters, names, worldbuilding, and so forth on Seventh Sanctum™. Although the site tends towards Science Fiction/Fantasy/Anime, browsing the different categories will lead you to whatever you need for more “realistic” scenarios, too.

Btw: You can still join the Writing Buddies 🙂 – and it’s not too late to sign up for NaNoWriMo 2011, either 😉

Related Articles:

Easy access to all posts this month via a new menu category: Specials >> November 2011: NaNoWriMo – But Not Only.


7 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo – But Not Only | November 2011, Day 3”

  1. I define my writing process as organized chaos. I’m a planner in that I outline, but its in a haphazard way. I write everything in a giant notebook and past in notes, pictures, and sketches as they come to me. At the same time, I’m big on letting a story evolve organically as I’m writing it. I’m actually surprised I get anything written using this process!

    1. You surprise me with your answer – from your blog posts and your wreck-my-journal column I would have expected you outline much more. Maybe that’s your creative balance?
      Kudos for your “chaotic” approach – I still dare going that way only for small projects… Wait, that is exactly what I have been doing with The Enermazing Projects: bits and pieces collected over time, which eventually turned into clusters and organized themselves… *pondering mode*

  2. I am such a novice at novel writing, mine is “winging it” I kinda know where i am heading, but how I am getting there.. well I haven’t got to that part yet. I just “let it flow’ and I can’t wait to see where I end up.
    Hey, stop laughing.
    chaos is good.. sorta.

    1. I’m not laughing at all – that’s a big happy smile 🙂 🙂

      Going by my own experience (novel writing, but also teaching adults, some of whom insist they won’t be able to learn anything new – greatest fun for me is the moment they realise they’re wrong 😉 ) I think “winging it” is one of the best ways to get started: playfully. Chaos is considered the natural starting point (or at least one major phase) of anything, even if, to me at least, embracing chaos doesn’t always come easy (see my comment above) and I tend to look for simple structures to hold on to, for “security”.

      Independent of “shoulds”, you allow yourself to stay relaxed and enjoy the ride – you’ve got a big chance of finding out what YOU want, what is important to YOU, before you start learning how to improve by watching or listening to others. Consolidate what you’ve got already inside yourself – waiting to come out – before you expose yourself to external influences.

      Go for it! 🙂

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