Sunday, December 13, 2015

What I Learned this NaNoWriMo: Death of a Pantser

I participated in NaNoWriMo last month, for the fourth time; as you can see from the widget in my sidebar, I ‘won’—I hit 50,000 words on November 16th. I purposefully tried to finish ahead of schedule because I had my own personal goal of 75,000 words for the month, and I knew the second half of November was going to be a bear; I made it to 75,002 words on the evening of November 30th. Huzzah!

Since then I’ve worked on it in between coughing fits and bursts of unconsciousness (I promptly got sick shortly after NaNo ended); I have two scenes left to write, and then my first draft of Accidental Revelation, the second book in my tarot mystery series, will be done. Huzzah again!

So NaNoWriMo was a success for me in terms of output, for sure. But, I’ve come to look forward to NaNoWriMo as a conduit for learning about my writing process as well. And this year I learned that I’m not quite the pantser I thought I was. Or maybe, at all.

I’ve never been 100% pantser—I’ve always had some basic structure in mind with every novel I’ve written, even if it was just knowing the premise, the conflict, and how the book would end. Last year during NaNo I took a completely new idea and self-scaffolded it as I went along; I used a blend of discovery writing mixed with pauses to reconceptualize and insert blank scenes into Scrivener where I knew I would need them (I’ve previously described this process as ‘Pl-antsing’, here). 

This year, I went into NaNoWriMo as an accidental plotter. I came up with the idea for the book back in June, and put it into my queue of goals as the manuscript I’d write during NaNo. I went on an overnight trip to the location that inspired my setting, partly as research for the first book, and partly to gather ideas for the second. As time passed, I continued to be excited about the book and so did a few brainstorming sessions to come up with ideas about how the plot would unfold; I created a Scrivener project so I could write down research information and create blank scenes for the plot points I would need. There were only a few at first, and they had only basic titles with nothing written—I’m talking stuff like ’Murder occurs’, ‘Semarra investigates clue’, and ‘Murderer comes after X’. As ideas percolated out of my brain, I added to the scenes, and by the time NaNoWriMo rolled around, I had four major divisions in the book with several important plot points in each one. 

Without realizing it, I’d created a basic outline for my novel. Before I’d ever written a word. Whaaa??

During each of my three previous NaNos, I had difficult days where I hated what I was writing, or was at a loss for what to write next. I was ready for that to happen again this time when I started on November 1st. I started at the beginning (I hear that’s a very good place to start), and it felt good to sink my teeth in. Then I switched to the end, and wrote out the scene where my protagonist explains who the murderer is and why the murder occurred; that helped me work out the remaining questions I had in my head about everything. And then I wrote the rest of the novel, jumping around where inspiration took me, adding scenes as needed. And those days where I hated what I was writing and had no idea what to write next never came.

Yes, there were days where I knew what I was writing wasn’t my best work, and would need to be heavily revised. But I knew where it was going, and I knew what section I was excited to work on next. And the next thing I knew, I had 75,000 words in the bag.

I was surprised to find that the magic of discovery writing still showed up, in spades. While writing a scene for my intended purpose, an additional possibility would rear its head, and poof, I had a deeper, richer story. I never knew what I’d stumble onto with each new writing session; every bit of the fun was still there, with the security of having an overall plan.  

So, it’s official. I’ve been pulled over to the plotting side. Who knows, for my next novel, I might even write out a full, complete outline…


Happy Writing,