The Writer's Den

UCLA's creative writing student group

The countdown to NaNoWriMo begins!

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November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. In a few days, thousands of writers around the world will be joining together with the same goal: to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. 

The first of November is almost here, but we are too excited to wait until then to start thinking about NaNoWriMo. This year, the Writer’s Den will be hosting a number of write-ins and other writing-related events, starting with a kickoff event this Thursday, October 31st, at 11pm: stay tuned or come to this week’s meeting for more details!

Until then, here’s a pep talk our friend Allison, a seasoned NaNoWriMo participant, was kind enough to share with us: 

Hi fellow writers!

My name is Allison and I am a 2010 National Novel Writing Month winner as well as a three-time participant in July Novel Writing Month, which is a slightly more flexible version of NaNoWriMo at a more convenient time of year (yes, I met the 50K goal for all three July ones).  

Some of you may have done a NaNo before; some of you may have not.  Hopefully, what I say here will be applicable to both groups.  One of the things that you will soon discover about doing a Writing Month is that the challenge of meeting a specific word count will inevitably force you to choose between quantity and quality, especially if you are a first-timer.  When you factor in all the stresses and busy-ness of real life, it’s a miracle to find even half an hour to write something.  I’m sure many of you already know this.  

Now, since this meeting is being held as a workshop on plotting for NaNo, I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of outlining vs. pantsing as I’ve experienced them.  Pantsing, aka. writing by the seat of your pants, is exactly what it sounds like—writing your novel with little to no outline and probably no defined goal or ending.  Pantsing is the epitome of spontaneity; it is writing purely on impulse, writing what first comes to mind.  This can be quite efficient for raising your word count if you’re the type of thinker who can spit out ideas quickly.  But it also means that your story is much less likely to be coherent.  

The other option is outlining—and there are various degrees to which you can choose to outline, obviously, whether it’s a general backcover-style summary, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, etc.  The biggest benefit of outlining is that since everything’s preplanned, it is much easier to get your scenes out onto the keyboard in shorter amounts of time.  You already know what’s going to happen next; you waste no time struggling to think of ideas.  However, this structured approach can stifle your ability to let ideas develop organically and think outside of the box; if you come up with a brilliant new twist or character, it will completely disrupt your outline should you choose to incorporate it.

The first time I tried a WriMo was a JulNoWriMo in which I made a simple listing of events that I knew I wanted to happen in the story, but my outlining went no further than that.  And every subsequent WriMo that I have done since then has been outlined in greater detail; my last JulNoWriMo’s plot outline went scene by scene.  As someone without a spontaneous bone in my body, I found outlining much more comfortable for my writing process and much more efficient for increasing word count.  I felt extremely unproductive during my first WriMo, the one where I outlined the least, because I sat around a lot just thinking about what should happen next.  That being said, only experimentation will help you figure out what level of outlining or pantsing is the best method for you—some of you may be better at thinking of new ideas on the fly, while some of you may be more like me in needing a plan ahead of time.

Since we’re already close to the start of NaNoWriMo, I would suggest choosing a method based on how much of your idea has already been conceived and developed.  If you have a good idea of what story you want to write, then outline as much as you feel you need to during this upcoming week.  (And don’t be afraid to adapt your outline to your draft as you go along—I did.)  If you have no idea whatsoever about your story, then you’re already poised to write whatever you feel like writing on a given day.  And if you’ve done a WriMo before, then you likely already know which approach works for you.

One last thing: Don’t be afraid of writing crap, deciding on the spot to change something, or letting your weaknesses as a writer show in the work.  It will happen.  But this is only a first draft, so don’t worry.  You have to turn that inner editor off.

Thanks for listening!  

Allison

 
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