One of the first things anyone will likely tell you about NaNoWriMo is the title of the book Chris Baty wrote specifically for the preparation time: No Plot, No Problem! It’s the core of what gets pushed about the National Novel Writing Month, that you can walk in with absolutely nothing and you can still win. You can get to that 50,000 mark.
But sometimes it’s not that easy. Sometimes you need something to work with. And that’s the first thing to look at, before you write a single word: are you a pantser…or a plotter?
There’s no right way to be. I want to start with this, so I’m going to say it again. There is no right way to be. Or rather, there’s no wrong way to be. Whatever you do, however you do it, that’s right for you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Yes, there’s a vocal portion of the NaNo community that will stand behind No Plot, No Problem like a Bible, and they will preach its glories until they run out of breath. I won’t say that I’m not a huge fan of the book and the concept–because I am. But I also know that it’s not for everyone. Sometimes you need an outline.
For me–and maybe for the other pantsers out there–the outline is a hinderance to the writing process. I once had the last 7 or so chapters of a novel all outlined out…and it took me months to actually write them. Because to me, the story was written. It was right there, on the piece of paper. Why should I have to write it again? (This is probably why I’m so bad at edits.) For the pantser, you don’t know why I’m writing this post in the first place. Why do we need to plan? Give me a notebook, my computer, and November 1st and I’M GOLDEN.
For the plotters, the concept of going into November without a plan is horrifying. How can anyone just walk into this kind of project without at least a basic outline? How do you just jump into things? HOW?! And the answer, for them, is you don’t. A plotter wandering in without an idea is a terrible idea. Let’s take my family for example. My father and I (though I’m a stronger one) are both pantsers. We don’t necessarily need an outline, though sometimes we’ve had an idea. My mother? She gave it a valiant effort last year, and without a full outline, it fell apart. She’s much more the plotter.
So what do you need to do? Well, take everything I say with a bit of a grain of salt. This is a pantser trying to help the plotters. But here’s the best I can tell you: take a notebook. Like, pen and paper notebook. (I know, I hate my handwriting. This is usually my least favorite thing to do.) And write down at the top of the paper “My Awesome NaNo Novel.” I don’t care if you have a title or not. You can put the title under that. But what you always need to start with is that you have an Awesome Novel, and nothing else can take that away from you.
Under that, write everything you know about the book. If that’s characters, fine. Write characters. Write names. Write places, if you have those. It doesn’t need to be complete sentences, complete thoughts, nothing. Just write whatever you have in your head.
Like you see there, I don’t have any names for these people, I don’t really have any plot…just some ideas. (I don’t really think what I have there constitutes a plot, really.) And at this point, that’s your baseline. Over the next few weeks, I’ll walk you through the details, but let’s just get the absolute basics down for now. By the end of October, maybe I’ll have been able to actually help you plotters. 😉
So do I think one is better? Yes–but it’s entirely subjective. Pantsing is better for me; plotting is better for my mother. It may be better for you, and if it is, it’s absolutely better. And in the end, that’s what I think everyone needs to take from NaNo. There’s no way to do it right, because there’s no way to do it wrong. This is a personal journey, one we all take on the same path toward the same goal but we’re not all walking the same way or at the same pace.
So for now, plotters, hang with me with your rough outline. We’ll get more into it as we go. (I hope. Let me know if you want me to cover something and you think I’ve missed it! I’ve got a comments section just for that!)
Next week: we talk character, and why I think it comes first, before plot.