Also, happy NaNoWriMo eve! In less than six hours, the month-long novel-writing extravaganza begins, and I’m going to join in again. Being on the cusp of this endeavor has me thinking about how to approach the challenge, so here are a few thoughts on writing styles.
Many discussions of writing style divide writers into “plotters” and “pantsers” (who write by the seat of their pants), though it seems to me that even the most meticulous plan begins with an idea that wasn’t planned, and the most seat-of-your-pants story – if it succeeds as a story rather than a stream-of-consciousness ramble – is informed by an understanding of plot. It’s just a question of how much of each element you need in order to engage the bits of your psyche that make writing the story possible. Some people engage their writing brains through planning, some through habits that approach ritual, some through gripping the plot threads tight, and some through letting go.
I’m still trying to find where my sweet spot is, in terms of novel writing.
Some of the approaches I’ve tried:
Simple outlining – saying “this happens, then that” and then writing out each item on the list. Did not work for me at all – I outlined out a fun story, but then couldn’t write it. The creative part of my mind refused to engage, and all I had was outline.
I tried to salvage it using the snowflake method, where you start with a very high-level outline and expand the detail at each level in iterations until eventually you have a novel. For me, though, I just got a more detailed outline, not prose. Writing brain would not engage.
I’ve also tried many of the approaches Holly Lisle details in her courses, both paid and free, with mixed success. One example is the notecard method, where you write out scene ideas on notecards and shuffle them around until you like the shape of the story, then start writing. While I could write scenes here and there, and could keep writing for a while, even a few months in the latest attempt, it just didn’t work. I was fooling myself for most of that time, but when I finally stopped forcing it, I also stopped writing – for months. Not good.
“The 90-day Novel” was interesting to work through. I wound up with something that resembled a novel, but that I didn’t like much. At the moment, I can’t even remember which story I wrote this way, just that I wasn’t happy with it. I kept thinking I would go back and try again, but couldn’t force myself to do it. Coming back a second time, I couldn’t even start. Not for me.
Starting with an idea and trying to figure out the story as I went was fun… but didn’t result in novel-length stories that I liked. In part, I would start thinking through what “should” happen next, and wound up with the same sense of forcing myself through that derailed the more explicitly planned attempts.
Short stories… aren’t novels.
So what’s next? What should my approach be, as I sit here looking at a fast-approaching November?
Short stories are so much easier, but I really want to write novels. Novels are what I read, for the most part, so why is it that short stories are what I write?
Part of it’s the time span. When I was doing the story a week challenge, I would usually sit down on Saturday morning, open up my mind to some image or sensation or phrase, and just write. Words on screen coaxed that first impression into a character, a problem, complications, a solution, all in the course of an hour or two. Then came the editing pass – adding or changing details, expanding explanatory sections, changing the order of events if it made more sense that way. A proofreading pass, and I was done – all in a weekend, and sometimes all in a single day.
A novel is harder, because after I disconnect from that first rush of inspiration, I don’t know how to pick it up again without introducing judgement, planning. What I think of as my writing mind just isn’t that into it, if it knows what happens next, or if it’s told what “should” happen next – and when I pick up where I left off, my everyday mind can’t help but evaluate what I wrote before and how it might fit into a larger story, into what could or should happen next. And the writing brain pikes off to daydream about rutabagas.
The Plan (I just can’t get away from planning…)
So how do I do it? How do I engage that freewheeling creativity in an ongoing narrative, over the course of days, weeks, etc.? No idea, but I’ve been reading up on meditation and trying to practice regularly. (not successfully, mind you) Meditation seems close to the feeling of writing, so why not combine the two? I really don’t think it’ll hurt, and I’ll never know if it works if I don’t try!
So… For the month of November, I’m planning (of course) to treat writing as a meditation practice. To write without judging what comes out – without even judging whether what I write counts as a story, or might be workable into a story, or leads perfectly into this outline I just planned out based on yesterday’s words…
We’ll see. It’s worth a try, right?