Starting NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) begins today, and this is the first year I’m participating. Shortly after posting this, I’m kicking off a 30-day challenge to write at least 50,000 words of a novel this month, which works out to 1667 words per day.

Here’s how I’m framing it: I’ve never written a novel before, and I’ve always wanted to. It’s something I want to add to my life resumé. While I could do this entirely on my own, it’s more fun and engaging to ride along with the energy of NaNoWriMo. I’ve thought about doing this for many past Novembers, and the year of COVID seems like the perfect year to start.

I’ve never written a novel before, so I don’t actually know how to do it. I haven’t written short stories either. Great! It will be a learning and growth experience then. That’s reason enough to do it.

I can also share what I learn along the way since I’m still going to be blogging every day this year anyway.

Here’s something I just learned last month.

There are three basic approaches for writing a novel:

Plotter/Planner – Map out as much of your story as you can before you begin. At least know the key beats of your story, the main characters, and how you’re going to end the story. Some plotters will have every scene planned out ahead of time. J.K. Rowling is a famous plotter.

Pantser – Write by the seat of your pants, making up the story as you go along. You may have no clue what the plot turns and scenes will be or where you’ll end up. Start with a basic idea, just start writing, and see what happens.

A famous pantser is Stephen King. I recently listened to the audiobook version of On Writing (read by him personally) where he talks about his writing style. He likes to begin with a situation and one or more characters, and then he see what happens as he writes. Getting into the minds of his characters helps him figure out what they’ll do in each situation, and his characters often surprise him.

Plantser – This is a mix of plotter and pantser. Do some advance planning, and also take advantage of pantsing mode. Of course there’s a whole spectrum here, so a plantser may lean closer to plotter or to pantser.

My intention for this novel-writing experience is to use plantsing. I figure that plotting and pantsing are tools, so I might as well give myself access to both.

A couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know what type of book I’d write. Since then I’ve loosely mapped out a sci-fi story, a few characters, a theme, some of the world, and some plot turns. I’ve set up a Scrivener project to keep everything organized nicely, much like I would for creating a new course.

Last weekend I wrote a 3000-word summary of my story from start to finish. That summary is very loose though with multiple options for what could happen along the way. I have a sense of how I’ll end the story, but I’m also giving myself a lot of flexibility to make things up as I go.

One the nonfiction side I’ve used all of these approaches. Almost every blog post I’ve written pantsing style. I don’t outline. I just begin with a loose idea, and then I write off the cuff from start to finish and see what flows out. Immediately afterwards I do an editing pass to tighten things up and potentially add more structure or clarification.

For my book Personal Development for Smart People, I used plotting. I mapped out all of the key ideas chapter by chapter with dozens of sticky notes before I started writing. I must say that I didn’t enjoy the writing process as much though. With everything mapped out so tightly, there wasn’t much room for enjoying the flow of inspiration, so the writing felt very mental.

For the courses (Deep Abundance Integration, Submersion, and Stature), I used a form of co-creative plantsing. Each individual lesson was mapped out before recording, but the overall structure and topics were based on going with the flow of inspiration and feedback along the way. This was my favorite approach – a great mix of structure and flow. And people who’ve gone through the courses seem to like the results as well.

Co-creatively plantsing a fiction novel could be a lot of fun, but it also adds complexity, not to mention more time for all the feedback. So I’m not using that approach for NaNoWriMo. I want to dive into the solo novel-writing experience first to see what that’s like.

One tip I found helpful is to remember that the first draft is just for the writer. No one else has to see it. So the first draft could turn out very ugly. You’re just writing the story for yourself, figuring out where the story and characters want to go. Afterwards you can use what you learn from this draft and do a round of plotting, such as by mapping out all of your scenes, before writing a second draft.

I’m approaching this NaNoWriMo experience like an exploration. I’m not attached to how the story turns out, and the basic planning I’ve done thus far is just to serve as a loose guide, like picking a topic for a blog post. So each day I’m just going to dive in and write to see what flows through. I may not even write scenes in linear order.

Many people participate in NaNoWriMo and write stories only for themselves, never publishing what they write. That isn’t my intention though. I’d like to create a story to share, not just write one for myself. This month is just to get a first draft done though, so don’t expect a completed novel to read until sometime in 2021 at the earliest.

Okay… time for some breakfast and then some writing. 🙂