So it’s down to the last week or so in the annual writing extravaganza known as NaNoWiMo and things are not looking good here in the Fortress of Writing.
I had high hopes for this year; due in part to last year’s success, but sadly, that hope was misplaced. While there were some external circumstances that I couldn’t really have foreseen, my biggest stumbling block was inadequate preparation.
Last year I started November 1st with conflict boxes, clearly defined characters, and an outline for my story. I had a fairly good idea what needed to happen in the beginning, middle, and end, so I didn’t have to spend a lot of time wondering what should happen next. Even better, since I knew where I was heading, it was fairly easy to jump around and work on whatever scene had my attention at the time, rather than having to write sequentially in order to uncover the story. I wrote late at night, in the dark, and spent very little time looking back over what I had written.
Naturally, since that worked so well last year I did something completely different this year. (In hindsight, not my best decision.)
This year, since I was writing a different kind of story, I decided to take a different (read “pantster”) approach. While I kind of knew my characters, and had a basic idea about the beginning of the story, I had no idea about the rest, so I just planned to start writing and see where the story took me. That had me blazing along just great for the first 9 days, at which point the stream of words slowed to a trickle and then a dead stop. In the hope of getting back on track, I asked beta-readers to take a look at the first act and tell me what they thought would happen next. I received some great feedback, but was still no closer to figuring out the rest of the story.
The counter on the NaNoWriMo site went from “At this rate you will finish on November 30th” to a date closer to mid-December.
I was tempted to, as Chuck Wendig said in a recent post, “take a mulligan” and call it a day, but I wasn’t ready to give up completely. Plus, when I saw how much progress my writing buddies were making, I felt compelled to stay in the game. (It’s possible that I’m a little competitive.)
Fortunately, while sitting in the rain watching my college football team play (and lose) their annual rivalry game, I had plenty of time to brainstorm and play “what’s the worst that could happen” for my characters. By about the third quarter, when I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever be warm and dry again or if my team’s defensive line would ever get it together, I got an idea, and then another, and another. By the time I got home and thawed/dried out, I had a definite plan for what happened next in the story and, more importantly, how to get there.
Now the 50,000 word end-point is still a distant shadow (I should hit it around December 19th), but I’m continuing to move forward. The story probably won’t be done this month, but it will be done. In the meantime, I’m going to celebrate the fact that I’ve averaged 1,026 words a day for the past 22 days, and see if I can’t move that end-date counter a little closer to November. And next year, I think I’ll do a little more upfront planning.
So, how’s your writing going this month (whether you’re NaNo-ing or not)? Got any tried and true tricks to share when you get stuck in your story?