On the face of it, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) seems easy – all you have to do is write just 1666 words a day and you’ll have a 50,000 word ‘first draft’ by the end of the month. How hard can it be?
Of course the answer is ‘very hard, even for experienced writers’. It’s easy to sit there for hours and get just a few hundred words out. And the onus is particularly on when writing’s not your main task of the day.
There are a lot of things that have to be borne in mind besides raw word output. One of the ways to get there is by planning. It makes writing efficient, because you don’t always have to back-track or re-write; and it makes writing faster, because you’ve already worked out broadly where things are going.
But wait, I can hear the cries now. Wait – writing is all about creativity, isn’t it? It’s about being able to let those ideas flow freely. It’s about sitting down and experiencing the joy of creating something from nothing. Isn’t it better to sit down and enjoy that sense of creative flow – just sit down and write, and see what happens? To which I have one answer. Sure – if you’re writing for self-entertainment. That’s what ‘seat-of-the-pants’ writing actually devolves to if it isn’t framed in some sort of shape. The results, usually, meander like thought processes. Stories lose shape, lose the essential structure that makes them work as stories – the essence of what makes them readable.
But that’s not to say ‘pantsing’ is unimportant. Sometimes it’s worth ‘pantsing’ a few pages to get the feel of the flow, to explore ideas and thoughts. But then the author needs to sit back and figure out how that fits in to the plan.
‘Pantsing’ can also work if it’s used to fill a broader framework set out by the writing plan. The author begins from a known point and also knows where the end point happens to be – and their imagination can soar between those points.
I’ve seen arguments pointing to leading authors who, reputedly, ‘pants’ their way through their novels and come out with wonderful stuff. But there’s a difference between these people and most writers. Leading novellists are experienced – they’ve done the 10,000 hour/million word apprenticeship needed to gain unconscious competence in the field, and writing is part of their soul. They can do stuff on the fly and make it work in ways that others cannot.
A plan doesn’t have to be totally prescriptive, either – on the contrary, it needs to be able to adapt as new ideas arrive. But it IS essential, especially when writing to tight time-and-word constraints.
The cost of not planning is extensive re-writing, just to give the story the shape it needs to work as a story. And maybe that’s fine too. But not when it comes to getting out 50,000 words in 30 days.
So – the first step to success is coming up with a plan, even a short one that offers a broad skeleton around which to hang the story. More soon.
Meanwhile, if you want to know more about ways to write – methods and techniques for getting up to speed and writing that book fast, including those planning techniques – check out my short quick-start manual How to get writing… fast. Available on Kindle.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016