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NaNo Prep – Beginnings, Ends, and Middles

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“Not all who wander are lost” – J.R.R. Tolkien

If you’re a plotter, you probably don’t need to read this entry. With ten days to go, you have either a complete outline for your book or you’re on the road to finishing one, the majority of your story neatly laid out so you know what’s going to go where. I officially hate you, because I have never been able to do that. May the Noveling Gods be good to you this November.

Everyone else, come gather round. Like many of you, I’ve been a pantser most of my writing life. Many’s the time I’ve leapt with nothing more than a brief idea of image, letting the story take shape with no knowledge of where I’m going, but trusting that everything will come together. It’s even worked. Sometimes.

Me when pantsing
Me when pantsing
You can guess from that statement there’s been plenty of times when the leap didn’t work and, instead of soaring, I more closely resembled Wile E. Coyote going off the the very tall cliff and landing below with a ridiculously small “poof.” That’s why I’ve nudged myself as close to plotting as I can, placing myself firmly in the “plantser” camp that most writers belong to, if we’re being honest.

If you’re convinced you need to dive in with just the barest minimum of information, I’m not going to try to dissuade you. There are many roads to Oz, and I don’t think you benefit trying to shove yourself into a writing process that feels forced or unnatural. I will offer a bit of advice, though. Know three things before you start: How you think your story ends, how you think it should end, and something major that happens in the middle. All of these are subject to change, but they’re anchor points to tether yourself to.

As an example, for my NaNo novel this year, I know the book starts with my hero coming home to deal with family issues. There’s stuff in his past which impacts this, including finding himself face to face with his old girlfriend. I know he doesn’t want to be there.

I know the end concerns him dealing with the past stuff that made him decide to shake the dust of the town from his heels, and committing to a relationship with her, but that involves compromises on both sides. And I know in the middle there is a Fourth of July Celebration and festival where a bunch of threads come together, settling some problems and causing others. There’s more detail in my notes, but those three things are enough to get me started because I have points to drive towards. What I like about this method is that if I get stuck, I can sit down and look at the milestone I’m heading toward and brainstorm a few things to help get me there, not worrying about what lies beyond that.

That’s my advice for the writing. But in doing NaNoWriMo, you have the beginning, ending and middles as well. We’re going to start a week from Tuesday with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, no matter what our personal writing process is. We have the end in our mind’s eyes as well, sailing across the finish line on November 30 with 50,000 or more, ready to receive the acclaim of our fellows.

What we don’t usually think about is the middle, that point where the work becomes a slog and we feel as if we’ve been writing forever, but the ending seems so far away. We need to consider that as well, think about the fact that around November 15, we’re going to need some kind of carrot to help keep us going.

That’s what I’d like you to do this weekend: think about how you’re going to reward yourself for getting to the halfway mark in NaNoWriMo. I’m not necessarily talking about your word count, but having made it through the first half of the month without throwing up your hands, declaring the whole idea is insane and headline to do something else. Just as in your story, have a point you’re driving toward, something that’s closer than thirty days away.

Doing that breaks this writing marathon into chunks and makes it more manageable. Yes, you still have the 1,667 marker to deal with, but you know you’re driving to something specific. You might consider something to reward yourself at the end of the first week, and and again with the end of the third. Write toward those moments and the month will fly by faster than you think it will — and, hopefully, with a better word count than you expected.

That’s it for this weekend. See you on Monday as we continue the countdown.

If you find these posts useful, check out my book, Surviving 30 Days of Literary Madness. I’ve posted the introduction and the essay for November 10 on my site as the Amazon preview is…less than robust.