Camp NaNoWriMo starts in two days.
Am I ready?
Not exactly. Not as prepared as I’d like to be, anyway.
See, I used to be a pantser, a writer that has a small spark of an idea and then dives into writing the story by the seat of their pants. The creativity and flow of that style is wonderful and right up my alley. However, when I used the pantser method, I inevitably ended up with slumpy middles and struggled to finish out the final chapter or two of my stories. This was a huge problem.
Therefore, I decided to read articles (and I mean dozens of articles) about plotting. There are charts and graphs and tips and many, many outline types out there. It can be overwhelming. Even as I felt myself sinking in the vast ocean of plotting advice and forms and such, I knew that I had to figure out a way to pull some details together prior to writing the first draft. I needed the guidance of a plot or outline. It would be helpful to know my characters at least a little bit before trying to tell their story (otherwise, I end up exploring and discovering who they are in draft one and then having to do heavy edits in rounds two, three, and four).
I found several different character forms to work through. Some helped a lot, others not enough. For my current project, I’m using a super long form that I found online for my leads and a heavily abbreviated one that I made up a few years ago for the supporting cast members. For future use, I’ll be going through the long form and tweaking it. There were some questions that weren’t helpful at all, while others were key to cracking the code of what makes these leads tick. So I’ll be streamlining the form to make it my own and to have—hopefully—only the essential questions to not get so bogged down in the details that I lose the excitement for the story as well as waste a lot of time on unnecessary questions.
Plot charts and outlines are tricky for me. There has not been one yet that I’ve settled on as the best one for my personal preparation and writing style. Of course, I’m still figuring out my preparation style, because it was only about four projects ago that I decided to switch from a pantser to a plotter. But back to that in a minute. Plotting or outlining (or both, as they can be considered their own entities) can be as detailed or loose as you want them. The trick is figuring out what works for your personal style for any given project (and, believe me, each project can bring its own style and needs when it comes to plotting and/or outlining).
For my current work in progress (WIP), I’m using a looser outline in which I’m only nailing down one specific thread. I have a plethora of tidbits and ideas for many of the threads throughout the story (and Post-Its*, as usual, are my favorite writing weapon for keeping track of all these things), but there’s only one overarching thing that feels like it needs to be nailed down and written out on paper (or in my computer, but likely both) so that I can make sure to hit the right points at the right time for this particular thread. (You’ll notice I’m not sharing details about it right now as it’s top secret and I’m not at liberty to say. Details will be disclosed at a future date that’s yet to be determined.) This loose outline will be a guide of sorts so that I won’t get lost on bunny trails or wander into the Deep Woods of No Return (a.k.a. going completely off-script and losing focus on the goal of the story; it’s been known to happen on occasion).
While I don’t yet have that overarching thread fully outlined yet, I’m working hard on it today and tomorrow to pull the pieces into place before I write at least part of the first chapter on Wednesday (and maybe even the entire chapter, if I hit a good rhythm early enough in the day). I don’t like waiting till the last minute like this, even though I work great on deadlines and sometimes make them by the skin of my teeth. I like having a better idea of how the pieces all click together to make up the big picture, but the lack of a fully-thought-out plan is very reminiscent of my pantser days.
Over the weekend, after struggling with the plot and feeling a bit stifled, then chatting and brainstorming with a writing buddy (thanks, Hannah!), some ideas for key moments in the story started trickling in again. With them came a renewed excitement bubbling beneath the surface, ready to burst onto the page come April 1. Having the senses of urgency and anticipation and eagerness sift back into me as I furiously jotted notes lifted a veil for me.
Once I’d gotten the last of the ideas onto Post-Its or in my notebook or computer (yes, I’m using multiple formats, here. It might sound crazy, but hey. I’m a writer. That’s the way I roll.), I thought about the preparation process I’d been playing around with for the last couple of months as well as what’s worked (or not) for me in the past. I considered how each of the processes and forms and outline styles that I’ve tried over the years have helped or hurt my writing style and the emotions and brick walls I experienced and encountered through the variety of methods.
With all of that information, I decided that I’m most comfortable being a plantser, which is a combination of pantsing and plotting. (I told you we’d come back to my writing-method decision.) What I’ve discovered that has helped me is developing the characters and figuring out their backstories as well as exploring at least one thread of the plot while making notes for the various other threads as they occur to me. Sometimes I plug those notes directly into the outline I’ve made, while other times they remain on the sticky notes. I research a little or a lot on the themes and topics the story will touch on and make notes on further research that needs to be done as I go along or even after the first draft is complete.
Maybe I’m not as prepared as full-blown plotters are. I might be significantly more prepared than most pansters. Perhaps I’m not yet completely satisfied with what I do and don’t know about the story I’m about to embark on discovering. As Monk (from the hit TV show my parents and I are binge-watching these days) would say…
Here’s the thing.
I absolutely, one hundred-percent love the discovery of the first-draft phase of writing.
Fellow writers, please don’t hunt me down and strap me to a chair to interrogate me. (Yes, I did just watch the episode where Mr. Monk goes to the dentist; if you’ve seen it, you’ll get the reference in the previous sentence.) I know I’m in the minority—at least, from what I’ve heard from many authors who speak about despising the first draft—with adoring the first draft, but I do. You have your method, and I have mine.
The reason I love this phase is because it’s the initial discovery of the story for me. (That’s still valid even if I have some prep work done ahead of time, I’ve found out with recent projects.) I think that’s why I consider outlines and prepared plots as guidelines to steer the ship rather than rigid rules that are mandatory to follow to the nth degree. There has to be that creativity and free-flowing spirit that made me fall in love with writing in the first place, or the process becomes stifling and a waste of my time because the magic is gone for me and I simply don’t care about the project anymore.
The discovery and the freedom to play with ideas to see whether or not they’ll fit perfectly into the story I see in my head—it’s like a movie, y’all, truly—are a couple of the reasons I completely love this job. They’re what make the work feel like play. (Except when my characters stop talking to me or I hit a brick wall in the plot, but those things can be overcome by washing dishes or exercising or doing anything but sitting in the chair and staring at the uncooperative screen. But that’s a discussion for another time. Remind me if I forget!)
That’s why I’m settling in for the long haul as a plantser. It really is the best of both worlds for a writer like me. It’s got the creativity and freedom from the pantsing method with some of the security of developing characters and an outline from the plotting method. It allows me to research, plan, and outline and explore, play, and discover, which, I’m finding out, is the process that helps me the most when it comes to the creative craft known as writing a book.
What does your writing process look like?
Do you identify most with a pantser, plotter, or the hybrid plantser?
Are you joining Camp NaNoWriMo this April?
(I am not affiliated with or paid by NaNoWriMo, though I wouldn’t mind if they wanted to send me a check or two for name-dropping. *wink, wink*)
*I also am not a spokesperson for Post-It sticky notes. However, I would gladly take a lifetime supply of them in a variety of colors, if the owners of the company were in a giving mood. (This year, I’m partial to gentle purples, oceanic blues, and happy yellows. You know, just in case.)
(Link to the sign-up article.)
How is your memory verse coming along this week?
Next week, we’ll choose a new verse to work on learning, so be on the lookout during your personal Bible study for a verse that fits where you’re at in life these days.
Make sure to come back to Writing to Inspire next Monday, because we’ll have another Focus on Jesus Scripture Memory check-in.
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