This November Embrace Your Writing Style

pantserIf you’re a guy you might not be shaving this month, but I hope your hipster beard isn’t blocking your keyboard because it’s National Novel Writing Month. That’s right, in between Halloween and the start of the holiday season that we should all be embracing (instead of the start of the holiday season that the stores want us to embrace) is an important month for all of us who have voices in your heads. If you don’t have voices in your head, you’re not listening close enough and need to turn down your iPod.

As you have probably guessed, I’m participating in Nanowrimo. I look forward to this event every year, but this year I decided to try something new. In case you don’t now how Nanowrimo works, you’re supposed to write 50,000 original words from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30. In theory, these 50,000 words should be the beginning, middle, and hopefully end of one story, but no one is policing you, so I say, write whatever you want. Even though you can’t start writing until November 1, you can prepare to write. In October, you can outline your story, design some characters, and do research. I have done this in the past with mixed results.

This year, mostly because I am working on several other writing projects, I decided to do no preparing for Nanowrimo. I wouldn’t even think about what I wanted to write. I would start typing on November 1 and see where it goes. Around October 22, I came up with a great fantasy story, complete with setting, characters, and plot. I thought for a moment that it was going to be my Nanowrimo story. But I remembered my plan and shelved it.

I call myself a pantser (a cute word for a discovery writer), but I usually think I should outline a little bit. I don’t know anyone who is 100% pantser. Apparently I am, so I’m embracing that side of me this year. When I’m not writing I’m not thinking about my book. In fact, I feel like the ideas are flowing from the creative part of my brain directly to my fingertips. They’re not going to any other part of my brain, which is why when I’m not typing I’m not thinking about my story. The thinking portion of my brain has not been informed by the creative part of my brain that there is anything to think about. (This is probably not neurologically accurate, but it makes sense to me.)

The big question is, how am I doing? Are the words flowing like chocolate syrup, or am I sitting in front of a blank screen wishing I’d never signed up for Nano, and wondering if there’s any Halloween candy left (nope, it’s all gone.) The answer is… this is my best Nano ever. Today is day nine and I have already written 28,000 words. I hope to reach 50,000 words by Friday. And I won’t stop there. My story may be almost done, but I  am going to keep writing and discover if these characters want a second book. My daily average is 3,138 words and I feel like I could do more.

I hope you are enjoying Nano this month. If you are struggling, ask yourself a question. Are you a pantser or a plotter and are you fighting your natural writing style? If you are a pantser, toss the outline you thought you had to make and let your creative side take over. If you are a plotter, don’t worry about the rules that say every word should be part of your story. Use some of your word count to create an outline.

Writers sometimes treat pantser vs. plotter like Coke vs. Pepsi. There is only one right choice and the other is just gross. However, that is not true. Pantsers should be pantsers, and plotters should be plotters. It’s not my way or the highway. I can now say I’m a pantser and if being a pantser enables me to write 100,000 words in November I’m a happy pantser. Whatever type of writer you are, I hope you’re happy, too.

“There is in writing a constant joy of sudden discovery, of happy accident.” H. L. Mencken


How to Outline Without Outlining

We all have our own style
We all have our own style

I do not outline. I have tried to outline my stories. I have taken classes on outlining my stories. I have read books on outlining my stories, but the fact is I am not an outliner. If I have an entire idea in my head I write and write until I have it out on the page. If I only have a partial idea I write it down and then see where it takes me. I may know how the story will end but I usually have no idea how I am going to get there.

There are lots of opinions on outlining. Some people say it is absolutely necessary. Others say it can be optional. I believe that even though I am incapable of outlining before the story is done it is handy to have an outline after I know what happens in my story.

One way to make an outline for revising purposes is to read the story after it is done and write down the major plot points. I used to do it that way but it felt a lot like the homework I avoided in Jr. High. (For some reason I had teachers who thought outlining the chapter I was reading was a good idea. I disagreed.)

I have now found a way to outline as I write the story which kills two birds with one stone (look, a cliché!) I use the table of contents feature in MS Word and once I am done with the story I have a neat outline that not only gives me notes about the plot but also how many pages each chapter has so I can tell where I need to expand and where I need to cut.

I was going to explain how to set up an table of contents in MS Word but any Dummies Guide can do it better. I will explain that when I start a new chapter I type the chapter number in a Heading 1 style and a short description of the chapter on the next line in Heading 2 style. If I have notes I want to add to the table of contents I type them in the Heading 3 style. As long as I do these three things I am guaranteed to have a complete outline when I am done.

There are lots of writing programs that will outline your story for you. I have considered trying some of them but the truth is MS Word does everything I need so I have decided to save my money and work with what I am familiar with. This applies to all aspects of my writing. I could outline because everyone says to, but I prefer to stick with what works for me. I hope you follow the same rules for your writing. The only rules you should be following are the ones that work for you.

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. ”   E.L. Doctorow