Friday, October 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo: To Plan or Not to Plan?

November is NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

This is the first year I’ll be taking part, although I have a friend who’s participated every year since 2005. If you’d like to be my writing buddy, I’m signed in as LynFaw. Just click here.

Earlier in the year I had decided to wing it and see where the words would take me, but working on my current WIP reminded me of the downfalls of this method. Writing can slow down when we don’t know where we want to go next. At one point I hit a wall that took two weeks to budge. If I want to finish a new novel for NaNo, then I can’t afford this kind of set back.

In the past I’ve tended to plot a little ahead as I go, but I’ve never tried a full outline before. I’ve always turned my nose up at this method and proclaimed it wasn’t for me. I expected it would dull my creativity. In truth I’ve discovered the opposite.

I’m more willing to try different plot tangents for the story because it’s less work to write a quick outline. I can see whether or not it works and throw it out if it doesn’t. When November hits and it’s time to write the novel, the outline won’t stifle my creativity, but instead give me freedom to concentrate on how I tell the story.

How much do you plan a new novel before you begin to write the words? How open are you to try new methods of writing?


  1. I took part in nanowrimo in 2007 and manages 55k words - I just sat and wrote with zero planning. The result was a mess, but I did manage to hack out four short stories from the main body, two of which sold.
    Just writing, not caring which way the story took me, was a wonderful experience.

  2. now as much as I don't understand what NANOWRIMO stands for, it's that monkey in it's banner that I really really don't understand :)))

    It's nice seeing you dear scribblers supporting each other :)

  3. I prefer a plan, I almost hyperventilate without one! But I'm happy winging some chapters. I must know my story's start and end, then come up with the big climax scene.
    Last year I plotted on index cards and just went crazy writing out everything that my characters could possibly face in the fantasy world they were entering. Then during writing, I'd whip out a card and just write. I think I'd spend too much time pondering without a plot plan - but I hear of many writers who just let themselves go and write whatever comes to mind!

    And yes, the monkey had me wondering too...

  4. I outline and list details about charactes, settings, and ideas. I'm all set for NaNo - my first as well. I'm under my name - AlexJCavanaugh. Yeah, so original!

  5. Gary, that's awesome you got something out of NaNo... and selling two of your short stories from it is brilliant.

    Dez, NaNoWriMo stands for National (even tho it's international) Novel Writing Month...and the monkey is because I think anyone who takes part probably goes a bit bananas half way through :P

  6. Charmaine, right now I don't have an end yet for my outline because I haven't finished it...but it is easier when I start a story with an end in mind. Hoping to finish it this week.

    Alex, awesome to hear. I think we are already NaNo buddies :)

  7. I usually start out winging it to see where I'm being led and if it looks like it might pan out then I stasrt outlining. Not doing NaNo because I'm trying to finish my current wip and I've only got 20,000 words to go!

  8. mshatch, yes, that's how I've previously started every story I've ever written.. I just haven't gone all the way with an outline. Good luck with your last 20k words!

  9. I usually have a short outline of where I see the book going, but not a detailed one. I might try that next time, though.

  10. I have already done a great deal of planning and I'm trying to work out some of the finer details now. Can't wait until Nov!


  11. When I'm writing novels I always plan. It's easier, much more efficient, and in no way stifles my creativity. And if I'm working on a time limit, such as Nano puts people under, an outline is the best hope for actually finishing the challenge.


  12. Last year NaNo started on a Sunday. That first morning I clipped 5 articles out of the newspaper to help shape my story and then used an inspiration and a bible verse from that morning's church sermon to put me in the direction I wanted to go. The story came pretty quickly after that. I got the basics in the first couple days and just started writing. I added ideas as I went and drew up a timeline as I wrote to keep me on track.

    This method worked pretty good for me last year and this year I will probably do something similar.

    Good Luck and my NaNo name is "wordleeness" and we are buddies.


  13. I've added you! I'm MelissaWideen

    Umm, I like to let my ideas marinate in my head without writing anything down for a while.

  14. I've been converted to a plotting outline kinda gal. I love it for the exact reasons you said; you can experiment with dicey, new stuff and not feel totally invested in it if you decide to change.

  15. Hi Lynda - finally just really getting into this "blogging thing" and I'm having fun stalking through the followers of followers of blogs I follow. :) And because I came across the term "WiP" today and it took me a minute to realize what it stood for. Duh. My whole life is still a WiP - as are many of my novels... well, novel starts is more accurate. Obviously, I'm not a pre-planner. Something hits me - an idea, a dream, a possible book title and I'll just start writing until I stop. And then it sometimes gets shelved (years, in fact...shameful) and then I'll get another idea and so on. But, I'm VERY open to trying new things. A new project did start out with a rough outline and I'm seriously considering this NanoWrimo. A novel in a month would be a HUGE challenge for me. We'll see... Good luck with yours!

  16. I guess this would make me one of those stubborn people. I've got a writing method that works (a decent amount of planning but not too much) well enough and for now I'm sticking to it. Maybe if I just had more time...

    Interesting your saying that Nano's helped your creativity. I guess it's just because you're forced to write no matter what in order to get done on time?

  17. An outline always helps, though you can take liberties with the story as you write. But knowing where exactly its heading will help you reach there faster. All the best for the NaNo, Lynda.

  18. This will be my first year, so I'm trying to get a few plot details down before I start. Unfortunately, I am one of those writers who doesn't like to plot!

    I've added you as a buddie (I'm shatnerstupee)

  19. Helen, there are segments where I haven't gone into much detail but I think the more detail, the easier it will be when it comes to write

    Clarissa, that's awesome news! I can't wait either!

    Jai, I totally agree :) But of course each person is different. It's just a matter of what works best for each writer.

  20. Arlee, wow, that's awesome how your novel for last year worked out. I always wonder what happens to the books that people wrote for previous NaNos...but that's a topic for another post ;)

    Melissa, yay! I've added you also. Yep, I used to do that, but my head is so filled with other things that all my great ideas start to spill out and I lose them ;)

  21. Lydia, yes, yes and yes! :) Wish I'd tried it earlier in my career ;)

    Donea, welcome to the blogging world. It sounds like you are having a lot of fun :) I have many unfinished projects going as well. Best of luck for your NaNo :)

  22. Amanda, aah...more time. That would be good *insert wistful sigh*. NaNo certainly helps to focus a writer :)

    Rachna, definitely knowing where the writing is going helps. Thanks :)

    Ellie, all the very best for NaNo. Making you a buddie now :)

  23. I write by the seat of my pants. Sorry I haven't been by for awhile. I have strep throat.

    Don't forget about the Halloween Party on my blog.

    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  24. I write my shorter pieces without a written plan. I started my novel without a plan, and quickly got lost! So I think that as much as I dislike outlines - they seemed too rigid for me - I need one for my novel. And if the outline really isn't working, I can always change it. (As long as I don't change it too often...)

  25. Hi Lynda! Thanks for finding and following my blog. I look forward to reading more from you, too!

    I did NaNo for the first time last year. I winged it, with a solid plot idea and no outline. I ended up with 50,310 word NaNo vomit. LOL. After just two months of revisions, it was clear I needed an outline. I went back and outlined (most of) the story, and realized I had to go back to square one and rewrite from the beginning.

    It's all good, though, and the project is full steam ahead. Best of luck to you in November. My advice (obviously) is plan ahead :))

  26. Every novel seems to dictate something different for me!

    I usually try to plan out the major turning points, so I have something to drive towards. I don't like aimless writing.

    Good luck!

  27. I didn't plan and outline with my NaNo novels. I made the decision to skip NaNo last year and write a novel at a slower pace and do more planning. I think that I ended up with something that is revisable. I'm not sure if I can revise the NaNo novels.

  28. I used to just pants it when it came to a new book, but now I outline and plan what will be in each chapter, so when I get stuck, I can move to a different part of the book.

  29. I get ideas and then expand upon them. Sometimes I make an outline or write the synopsis first. It helps to have an outline to follow--one that you can change as you go.

    Am considering NaNo but am uncertain how it works. Since so many folks are enthusiastic, it must be a good thing!


  30. I sort of plot, sometimes. I have lots of ideas in my head, and I know basically what order they come in, but I haven't officially plotted anything out. I guess I normally write like that.

    Really looking forward to NaNo. I'm Rosie-C over, and I just added you as my buddy. This should be fun :)

  31. I started planning but I lost the impetus. I really need to get more clear in my head or it's going to be a very hard November!

  32. I must know what the end goal is before I start - where the action is culminating towards. I plan key points to hit.

    I find I am more creative if I then let it just roll. I can not plan so detailed ahead of time. I try to tell my characters who they are, but they always end up telling me.

    I decided I need to change my style - write the first draft quicker and letting perfection go. Then doing the planning and prep work and spending more time at the revision phase. After the first draft, I can then focus the characters, the plots, the gmc's and the subplots.

    This whole writing a novel thing is a learning processs. Isn't it? A fun one.

  33. Yes, I am Nano-ing (you can buddy me at: the-sharp-pen)...and I am not a plotter/planner at all. (well, to be honest, during revisions I DO make notes about plot pouts I'd like to clean up and where I want them to be/intersect,, to clarify, I do a little planning during revisions.)

    I start my first drafts with no clue, but a character will show itself, and take me on their journey, like a movie in my head and I type like mad while I watch.
    Of course during revisions I have plenty of plot holes to clean up and tension to add, and sentences to pretty up, research to fill in, etc.

    I have no idea what I'll be writing for Nano. I'm still working on revisions for my current WiP, so I'll cross the Nano-bridge on Nov. 1st.

    See you there! :)

  34. Good luck :D This is my first year of NaNoWriMo aswell, and it's a little daunting. Consider yourself added as a buddy :D

  35. I'm a total plotter - I'm afraid if I tried to write without a plot I'd get lost along the way and never find my way back. Good luck with NaNo!

  36. Oops - make that write without an outline, not a plot. :)

  37. I've tried outlining and planning before, but it never works for me. I don't think I'll have 50K left on my current WIP and I couldn't wait to start so the timings not good for me this year. I'll have to see where I am in November though. I guess that's pretty much around the corner ha ha.

  38. I added you as a buddy on NaNo.

    Here's what I do: I make character sketches, so I know my H/H well.

    I plot out several random scenes to use.

    I know the beginning and the end.

    From there on... I wing it. Because when you're writing that fast, strange things tend to happen. Your brain opens up and words you don't expect fall out.

    I love NaNo. Good luck!

  39. I started out writing my stories without any sort of outline and that worked for a time. Nowadays, I have less time, which forces me to take an organized approach to writing.

    I might not know how every last detail works out, but starting with a general idea of where I want to go prevents me from being stuck in the middle and panicking when that happens.

    Not sure I'll do NaNo this year, but I do have a story idea and the more I think about it, the more inclined I am to jump in.

  40. I used to be a pantser. Then I started outlining. Now I just do whatever it takes to get myself to the keyboard and start working on stuff.

  41. Outlines- I love them. I'm glad you found they can be useful to you. I will be doing NaNo as well- i have added you as my buddy. My nano name is :ladywriter1
    Have a great weekend!

  42. I used to think outlines would stifle the process, too. But then I discovered, like you said, that not having one can slow things down. I get writer's block infrequently if I've got an outline. Usually it's pretty loose... I start with the main events in the book, then fill in the smaller connecting pieces. And I'm totally open to abandoning the outline if inspiration strikes.

  43. I did NaNo last year. I had a draft started so I was able to move forward with little to no planning. Its good to start with something, even if its a bullet list of chapters you want to develop.

    Stephen Tremp

  44. For NaNo I have definitely prepared myself. This is different from the approach I normally go for but it's worked for me so far!

    My normal approach is marinating in my thoughts, chatting with my MC and then running with it. No outline. No notes. Just me and my writing.

  45. Good luck with it! I'm not doing it this year, but maybe another year. . . . Maybe.

  46. ok, I got a tad behind on comments on the weekend, so bear with me while I catch up and visit you all :)

    N R Williams, Thanks so much for holding a great halloween party, Nancy!! As I said, I'm still visiting everyone. I hope your throat is a whole lot better.

  47. Ishta, outlines are at least flexible :)

    Nicole, at least the NaNo got you started. It's great you stuck with it!

    Talli, planning those major turning points is definitely a benefit.

    Carrie, that's what I was most worried about with NaNo so I'm trying to hurry up and finish my outline before Nov.

    Carolyn, that's another good reason to preplan-- so you can jump to anywhere in the novel and keep writing.

    Monti, I hope you do give NaNo a go :)

    Rosie!!! So good to see you again! And it's great to hear you are taking part in NaNo. We are buddies now :)

    Fairyhedgehog, I love the name. that's what I was afraid of with NaNo. I hope you persevere :)

    KK Brees, hehe. I hope you do.

    M Pax, yep, it's finding how much you need to plan and how much you can just wing once you know who your characters are.

  48. Lola, yay we are buddies now :) I used to write like that but lately I have trouble keeping it all in my head. Old age? best of luck with NaNo!!

    Jamie, awesome! we can be NaNo Newbs together!

    Susan, yep, after this I probably won't go back to writing without an outline. I'm enjoying it too much.

    Melissa, yep, Novemeber is only a week away now. Eek! Best of luck with finishing your current WIP.

    Marianna, we are now buddies. Knowing a beginning and an end is definitely helpful...I still don't have an end yet. eek.

    Joy, oo I hope you do jump in for NaNo :)

    Jeffrey, yep, I hear that. Whatever it takes!

    Summer, yep, we are buddies now :)

    Alexia, yes, if when I start writing the book it decides to go off the outline course, I have no problems with following the new trail too. Sometimes stories just have a life of their own like that.

    Stephen, something is always better than nothing :)

    Jen, I think knowing the characters first is a huge advantage :)


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