Towards the beginning of each NaNoWriMo campaign, I usually see plenty of digital traffic detailing how each participant is going to handle the task of creating their new first draft of a novel: are they going to plan ahead, or are they going to make it all up as they go?
|For the uninitiated…
Planners: The name gives their method away. These participants create some sort of outline for the story, and even work out the bios for their main characters, ahead of time. That way, when November 1 hits, they can start writing the actual story because (most of) the behind-the-scenes work already exists.
Pantsters: These are the participants who might have some idea of what they want to write about, but they don’t have much in the way of a solid or coherent game plan, leaving them to make up most of their story as they go. In other words…when November 1 hits, they are chugging their way through NaNoWriMo by the seat of their pants.
When I finally talked myself into participating in my very first NaNoWriMo campaign (November 2014), I already knew I wanted to bring one of my ‘in the queue’ story ideas to life. I also decided the best method in which to create my new story would be the Planner approach. I spent half of October working on basic character sketches, a fairly detailed order of events, and I even created a schedule of college football games that my main character’s team would play during the course of the story. My game plan was, once NaNoWriMo started, I would simply draw from all my notes and write until my wrist went numb. Every once in a while, I started making up scenes that had nothing to do with the original story line; but, with just a bit of extra brain wattage, I was able to fit those ideas into the established framework as if they were supposed to be there all along. Once November was over, I looked back at what I created and decided no writing method other than Planner could have yielded the results I held in my hands.
Two years later (November 2016), it took me until Halloween night to decide I was even going to participate. The only problem was I didn’t have a novel length story idea I was comfortable bringing to life at that time. However, earlier in the year, I was playing around with the idea of creating a story with at least a dozen POV characters and multiple story arcs; I never tried that before, so I decided this was the perfect time to experiment with it. I had only a vague idea of where the story would take place and what I wanted to accomplish, so I decided to make it all up as I went along. Of course, I knew I was following the Pantster approach. It was definitely unfamiliar territory for me, and my story showed it; leafing back through the notebook from that NaNoWriMo, I have to laugh at how many course changes the story made during those thirty days. Yet, while writing from the heart and/or soul instead of following a pre-defined pattern, I uncorked some of the most profound and personal material that has ever come from my mind. Some of that content, as I would find out during the passage of time, shaped how I do things within the realm of writing…and even, to a certain extent, outside that realm. Once November was over, I looked back at what I created and decided no writing method other than Pantster could have yielded such profound revelations. Oh…and the story, as disorganized as it was, has good potential for the future.
Last year (November 2017), I wrote a story based loosely on an event in my family’s history, so the primary character sketches and order of events were already created for me. Planner approach? Yep. Writing it, however was done by feel and emotion, as if the events were happening before me in real time, and I was thrust into the role of family chronicler. Pantster approach? I’d say so. This process more than once left me emotionally drained, and the scenes were almost always written out of order. The end result, though, turned out more coherent than any of my other NaNoWriMo attempts, which is why I’m leaning towards turning this one into a novel before any of my other NaNoWriMo exploits. Once November was over, I looked back at what I created and decided no writing method other than whatever I just pulled off—a hybrid of the two primary NaNoWriMo approaches—could have yielded such an intense story.
I have very few rules that govern how I tell my stories, but one of them states: ”The story will tell me which method I will use to bring it to life.” AS you can tell, I followed that rule over my past three NaNoWriMo attempts.
Now…as far as NaNoWriMo 2018 is concerned…I’m not even sure I will be participating this time around. I have some detailed ideas for novels that would definitely benefit from thirty consecutive days of writing (Planners). I even have a few rough ideas for other novels which have not yet been fleshed out (Pantsters). And, as it seems to be my tendency, I have a few life experiences that might be fun to bring to life (Hybrid). Or, I might invent an entirely new and different way of constructing my story. Whatever I decide, I already know it will be a rewarding experience for me, and will no doubt be decided on at the last possible second.