Embrace the Pants.

Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, last month
Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, last month

This is the first time I’ve done NaNoWriMo and been ahead of the required daily average, which in itself has been a huge motivating boost. When I feel like I’m doing good, I tend to keep doing good. But I think that’s part of human nature. The same goes for negative thoughts, moods, days. Either way can snowball.

I already had several chapters drafted for my novel this NaNo — cheating, I know — but it was perfect timing. So without reviewing the scenes already written, but glancing at the 3-act structure/timeline I drew out earlier in the year, I’ve managed to so far double what I had.

The big revelation for me, though, was something I’ve tried to deny for a long time:

I’m never going to be a devoted Plotter. 

Plotting has my respect. After reading so many fabulous, talented, hard-working writers describe their various methods for outlining, planning, getting every single duck in a row without a feather out of place, I was certain this was the way for me. I’m a bit type-A. I was a perfectionist at uni, which paid off. But I love doing research so much, I could get lost in it for a YEAR if I decided I needed to have everything figured out before I put a word on the page. I get way too carried away with lists and planning of lists and lists about planning my lists that I struggle often to just DO (like this brilliant article talks about, comparing life to The Sims).

But I kept pushing myself to be a plotter. Have it all figured out. To the point where I was forcing myself to hand-write a notebook page before each scene, describing what it would entail.

That is wonderfully thorough, if you can do it, and I completely agree with the value. In fact, if it works for a particular scene I’ve already got in my head, great! But for the most part, this ended in frustration, like I HAD to fill up a notebook page with a list of 10 questions answered before I could actually, you know, WRITE the thing (“What does the MC want? What’s in her way? What will happen if she doesn’t get it? What color is the sun’s hat on a Wednesday in December?”)

Those are (mostly) very important questions that need answers. But I’m learning that at the first draft stage, as the great Chuck Wendig tweeted,

“First draft is for you. Second and later drafts are for them.”

And in the first draft, I’m finally comfortable in knowing the minimum. Whose POV, where does the scene begin, and what’s one important thing that needs to happen. Everything else somehow seems to get figured out along the way. At least, it has so far this month!

The niftiest result of embracing the plotting/pantsing hybrid — apart from the relief of letting go of someone else’s awesome method that doesn’t work great for me — is IDEAS. Characters I hadn’t dreamt of, motivations I didn’t expect, secrets I didn’t know they held, it’s all just flowing. But if I sat down and told myself, “Right. I’ve got to write about what this scene will do for my story,” it puts heavy restrictions on me that I can’t seem to see past. I don’t know why. That’s just how my brain works.

It helps, like I said, that I’d planned the major characters and world-building and beginning and end and biggest secrets before I started writing. But the bottom line is I can admire what works great for someone else, but I can’t force it on myself. Most people already know that, but I’m a slow learner.

After all this time, I’m finally understanding how I work best. And that means embracing the pants. So if you’re reading this and feeling so inspired by others’ fabulous methods to the madness of writing but can’t seem to make them work for you? Take what you can and make it your own — and be happy when you know what works.

Happy NaNoing! 🙂


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