You may have noticed the layer of dust on my blog, my apologies but I’ve been neck-deep in my NaNoWriMo prep work. For those who have never heard of it (or who are tired of following my hyperlink rabbit holes), NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the span of 30 days. That’s an average of 1666.6 (repeating) words per day, every day for a month! It is definitely not for the faint of ink. This Saturday at midnight is the official beginning of the month’s challenge and I am stoked!
As you can imagine, in order to actually write such a word beast in such a short amount of time, a great deal of preparation goes into the endeavor–indeed, you are making ready for a literal (and perhaps literary) writing marathon. Make no mistake, for the unprepared it is grueling, daunting and very humbling. I participated last year, filled with hopes and dreams of writing the fabled Great American Novel, but crashed back down to reality when I stalled at 10,000 words. The wonderful thing about failure, howver, is the opportunity to learn from it. In the wake of my less-than-stellar performance last year, I have been deep in thought on why I didn’t succeed and how to ensure a different and more gratifying result this time.
As a Pantser (someone who writes a story by the “seat-of-your-pants,” and no, I’m not making that up), I loathe outlines because it takes the magic out of the writing process. And yes, I have actually tried to plot out stories and every one of them has caused me to lose interest in my stories. Although I love the suspense and wonder of discovering a story like a first-time reader, I must admit there are certain impediments to writing this way. One of the main drawbacks for writing on the fly is that you don’t realize how much you don’t know until you need to know just how chain-of-custody works in a crime procedural novel and it hadn’t occurred to you to find out beforehand. In a normal writing setting, I just Google it or hit up my local libraries for books on the subject of forensics and evidence handling. Unfortunately, that is a much less practical option when you’re only twenty words into the day’s writing and have to stop to figure out if what you wanted to write even makes sense or if you’re completely wrong about how it works. When the clock is tick-tocking away, having to stop mid-flow to fact check is a time eater, not to mention the time is consumes just trying to get back into the trance-like headspace of creator mode. Add in the problems of getting to know your characters as you go and you can see why Plotters (folks who love outlines) take the time to micromanage every aspect of the story before they even begin the novel proper.
I’m not writing up an outline. That is just not going to happen, but I have come up with a couple ideas that I’ll be testing out this year.
Character Arcs— This isn’t a new thing, but I’m using it for the first time to get a better handle on the motives and desires of the gang of fifteen(!) characters that I’ll be writing about. Like character sketches, I can figure out who my character is, but there is also the added bonus of knowing who or what that character will become and why. The upside to this is that the plot is still mysterious, but this just whets my appetite to find out what happens to all of the interesting people that I’ll be following as I chronicle their movements and motivations for the duration of the story. Not to mention that it gives me a glimpse of the plot without actually ruining it for myself.
Rules and Perks— The older I get, the harder it is for me to remember things. In the case of my yet to be written novel, I’m having a hard time remembering werewolf folklore, so I am using this little cheat-sheet method to remind me of the rules and fringe benefits of being this particular type of shapeshifter. It’s also a great place to remind me of the places where I got my rules and perks from, a citation list as it were, just in case I need to go back and make sure of a few things.
Music— I have loved music for a very long time. My appreciation began a long time ago when my uncle made me close my eyes and really listen to the different layers of a song. What I discovered later was the visceral nature of music, how even just a simple drum beat can seep into your bones, or how a singer’s voice can trigger an experience of transcendence. I could never write well in silence, I’ve always needed a soundtrack for my stories, even if I was the only one who would hear it. This year, as last year, I have compiled a playlist to keep me in the headspace of my plot and characters. As you can imagine, the playlist is different from last year because it is a very different story than the one I tried to write last year. Some songs are a duh to include, such as the ones that easily talk about a type of experience within the story. Other songs are listened to with a differently perceived meaning; for instance, the song Taking Over Me by Evanescence is one on my list that I listen to but with a changed meaning other than the obvious love story intent. As I listen to it, I keep the love story aspect, but change it to the idea of a werewolf’s human side singing a love song to their wolf side.
It’s weird, I know, but then so am I.
Anyway, these are just a few of the things I’m doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo. In the coming month, I will do my best to check in with y’all on my progress and I hope those of you who are also participating will leave a comment, note or even advice to me and others about the craft of writing.