Writing by the seat of my pants: Nanowrimo update 2

Day: 10
Goal word count: 16,667
Current word count: 17,781
Mood: Circumspect
Prognosis: I did a lot of cleaning up today, which I hope will set me up better from here on out.

This year’s novel has, so far, been totally different from previous years. In a lot of ways.

I was writing without a map: I spent a lot of time this week struggling to figure out where I want the plot to go, exactly. When I chose to write something new (with several different story arcs I had worked out for shorter pieces stitched together), I knew that would be a challenge. I could have rewritten something I’ve had planned out for ages instead, and that’s what I would have done in a previous year. But I didn’t, and I don’t have a well-defined baddie at this point, and so I spent some time this week (and will spend some time tonight) figuring that out and storyboarding rather than bumping up my word count.

Tonight I spent a long time brainstorming, and storyboarding (with index cards and then a powerpoint presentation, no less). I think I am going to have to cut a character, and streamline the story significantly. On the plus side, I have a much better idea where I want one of the more crucial plot lines to go, and I know who my “bad guys” are going to be.

I’m embracing the unexpected: I had always found the kinds of writing exercises they suggest in the forums to be a bit silly. (for example — if you’re stuck, have someone burst through the door shooting a gun) Not because I didn’t like them as writing-jumpstarters or exercises in general. I was a big fan of the exercise in my creative writing class where you would take a “News of the Weird” story and build something off of that. Really, my problem was that I couldn’t see how something that just made it weird, and possibly switched genres, and might even require new characters, would help when you were trying to have continuity in your story arc.

But this week, those exercises really did help push my story forward, giving me something to write about when I felt hopelessly stuck, making a scene inherently more interesting and exciting on its own, and getting the story to a point where all the good guys are teamed up against the bad guys. I think those will even get to be something that I keep.

I’m finding my friends: I had hoped that having friends who were writing things, snowed in at work, would make up for the fact that I don’t have friends who are actively participating in Nanowrimo with me. That has been absolutely true. I had also hoped that having these updates to write would force me to keep myself on track, even if I didn’t have a writing buddy to hang out with while I met my daily quota. That has also been true. In previous years, I’ve had friends with the same amount of work as I had minus the novel — so they haven’t been too useful for me to hang out with. Now, since I am not in school, my friends who are in night school (and my journalist-boyfriend) are useful compatriots in that they have the quiet work to do, even if it isn’t a novel.

I work best with a structure: Always before, I had a list of scenes figured out, and I could move straight from one to the other and not worry about how long or short any of them were. And I could certainly do that here. But what I’m finding is that (1) coming up with the next place the plot needs to go is harder than writing more in the same scene, and (2) if I just blitz through a scene, it will be 50 words long and all dialog. Or something. The combination means that having about one scene per day, and aiming for between 1500 and 2000 words in the scene, has been really helpful for keeping me on track. It adds enough structure that I can wrap my head around it — if I get to the end of the scene and not the end of my word count, it’s probably because I don’t have enough description in the scene. And it makes it a lot easier to pick up where I left off the next day — since I’ll start every day figuring out what needs to happen next and then writing a single scene.

I rewrite as I write: This might be my pitfall for the coming weeks. I have a better idea where I want the story to go now that I have my storyboard, but I also had 15,000 words written before I even started it. And those 15,000 words included a character, and a plot line, that I’m not going to use. So a good number of those 15,000 words will end up being ones I cut. That will mean I need to put in more effort to get to my daily word counts, because my current tally is artificially inflated.

When I started brainstorming, and it became more clear that I would want to cut this character and plotline, I toyed with the idea of just dropping him unceremoniously, and writing the story from where I had it. To preserve those words. I may regret going from the beginning again. I think that’s a pretty common pitfall for writers: hearing the editorial voice, realizing a character or plotline has to go, and going back before they finish the story.

But on the other hand, I had enough I wanted to change in the characterizations I had made already, and the way the stories fit together, that it seemed worth it. Moving forward wouldn’t make any sense if the characters were being redesigned. And in previous years, when I have more of a plan, I have never been at a want for word count. If anything, tonight proved that I still have that ability to crank out words: I netted just over twice the daily quota.

Then again, I needed to, since I had fallen behind during the week.

I’ll be back next week with another update; if you have any reflections on your own novel-writing experiences, or any suggestions on who my anti-technology time traveler bad guys should be, leave me a comment!

Elizabeth Finn

Elizabeth is a geneticist working for a shady government agency and therefore obliged to inform you that all of the views presented in her posts are her own, and not official statements in any capacity. In her free time, she is an aerialist, a dancer, a clothing designer, and an author. You can find her on tumblr at, on twitter at @lysine_rich, and also on facebook or google+.

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