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NaNoWriMo Success Even When Planning Falls Short

November 25, 2011

by Steve Black

My name is Steven, and in 2010, I completed my first NaNoWriMo novel. I did this with a full time job, a wife and a toddler. Now, I have the official “winner” badge, and 50k towards a young adult fantasy novel. I have to say, I loved the experience.Looking back on it, the big thing that got in my way was my incomplete planning.

I am not a “pantser.” I figure that a first draft has enough that needs amending, removing and expanding even when you do have a plan. In fact, I see my plan as just that, a place to have the crazy meta-draft that is so thinly written that I can sketch out dozens of chapters and drop them all for a single, better idea. I like to think big and change fast. I also wanted to be sure I’d settle on an idea I’d like enough to spend months writing and rewriting and editing. I was successful, too, in that I liked the story just as much after I wrote it as I did before I started. Oh, the draft I wrote during NaNoWriMo is a lot of crap, but the core story in it is a good one.

When I was preparing for NaNoWriMo, I spent months deciding on the story idea and expanding it from a single idea in to something resembling a plot with main characters who I enjoyed. (In my case, my initial idea was, “What if magic was a consumable resource?”) Truthfully, though, something resembling a plot with likable main characters should be easy. Even a pantser should get that by the first few chapters. (If not, there may be precious few usable results when the month is over.)

Although I did succeed at NaNoWriMo, I didn’t manage to complete my notes before the month started. I thought I had enough. It turned out, I didn’t really. Toward the end I was trying to flesh out the story in the middle, as I had a rough sketch of the story, but I could already tell it had holes. This is important, though; regardless of whether you’re a pantser or a planner, you may find your story is complete before the month is up. It is important that you’re flexible enough to write additional or alternate scenes.

This gets much easier if you use software that supports drag-and-drop scene rearrangement. (Scrivener and yWriter support this.) While you won’t be editing during the month, after the month is over, it is nice to be able to quickly and easily drag the scenes to the correct location. Such software also makes it easy to write the story out-of-order, as it takes less than a second to jump to Chapter 3, and after the “Kill Them All” scene, add a new scene, “One Survivor.” In fact, as I was trying to fill out my 50,000 words, I wrote whole subplots as chapters after the end of my novel with the plan to drag the individual scenes into the correct locations later.

Along with poor planning for the novel, I also suffered from some poor planning when it came to the time I would have available. There were times when I thought I’d be able to write later than I could. There were times when family commitments came in to play and I did no writing that day. I managed by always trying to write more words than required and squeezing writing time in to places it would not have easily been possible. I actually wrote a full day’s worth of words on my phone while on a flight. (This was made easier by my writing it as an e-mail to myself on my phone — something that works while in “Airplane” mode — and then on my laptop, I could just do a copy and paste from the e-mail to my writing software.) Leverage the tools you have and what would otherwise be idle time, and it can happen.

Even with poor planning, it is possible to do NaNoWriMo with a full-time job and a family. I did it. You can do it too.

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