I often see posts on some of my favorite authors’ websites on their “writing process.” It’s fascinating how very differently each and everyone one of them does it. Every author follows their own road, but in the end, they all lead to the same goal. A finished manuscript.
Some writers just sit down, spew crap onto their page, be it computer screen or good old fashioned paper, until somehow there is a story in somewhat complete form. Some create complete enough outlines that anal retentive just doesn’t come close to describing it.
So, how does one find the right mix of flying by the seat of ones pants and obsessing over each detail of an outline until one goes mad? Trial and error. Not to mention reading every article and book on how to write a novel available.
I’m still working on finding my happy medium.
My first novel was an interesting experience, and no, it’s not “done.” I pansted it, almost in entirety. I discovered the hard way that characters do not make a novel. I had no plot, I had no goals, I had only the most basic idea of what story I was telling. It wasn’t a waste though. Far from it. I learned a lot that I will use to rewrite the epic crap that it is now.
For NaNoWriMo, I used a different approach. I spent some time reading about writing. I picked a few techniques I thought would work for me. I started making notes in a notebook I had to work hard to keep out of grubby little hands. Characters, setting, plot. I figured it all out ahead of time. I didn’t obsess over details, I didn’t make an outline. I still don’t like old fashioned outlines with their roman numerals and As and Bs. Just thinking about them makes me want to curl into a ball of soggy writer.
In the end, I picked a method somewhere between pantsing and outlining. I wrote out my plot arch. I have detailed notes on each of my characters to refer to, some even including pictures. I decided on where my story was going and how I was going to get there.
I considered making each major point of my story a note card in Scrivener, then November first hit with me only having the first section all marked out. So I abandoned my attempt to note out everything, instead writing what I’d worked out already. As I came to the end of the pre-planned, I experienced a moment of panic. Then I realized, all I had to do was take an hour, or so, and mark out the next section, the same way I did the first. It was a magical moment, that realization.
I was able to plan WHILE I was writing. My plot was able to twist and turn as the winds of fate decreed without me ever running out of steam, because I knew where it was going still.
NaNo has gone surprisingly smooth for me, writing wise. I’ve never once approached a moment of not knowing what comes next, because it’s already there for me, it just needs filling in.
Would I write my next novel like this? I don’t know. I liked having my first section all written out for me. I didn’t feel constrained to following my planning without adding in extras. I think, next time, I will be sure to plan out the entirety like I did the first section, perhaps actually having it marked by chapter, rather than simply scene.
My advice to all you aspiring writers out there is to try things. If they don’t work, don’t use them, if they do, great, you are one step closer to knowing your own writing style.