I’ve discovered over the last few years that I’m more of a pantser than a planner. Or at least, I prefer the concept of it. For my first NaNoWriMo, I started on a novel that I had been planning for about 4 years. I had a notebook with about 200 pages of notes dedicated to it. I’d meticulously planned out each chapter and knew the entire life history of all my characters. It got to the point that I was simply procrastinating with any more notes I made.
The problem was, when I came to actually write the thing, instead of being so informed that it was a fluid process, it felt processional. Each chapter felt like I was just trying to get from A to B. Oh, well I know what the next chapter is going to be so I need to spend this chapter getting there. I was looking ahead too much instead of enjoying the moment. I won NaNo that year but I never progressed beyond 50,000 words and I’d barely gotten a third of the way through my plot.
One thing did happen during the writing of that novel, though. I had a revelation about one of the characters part way through a chapter that completely changed part of the narrative. And it was exciting. It was exciting that something I’d planned so meticulously could still throw surprises at me. It made me wonder if a novel could be like that constantly if I didn’t plan it.
The answer was…kinda.
When I started working on my current novel The Remnant Keepers, I went into it a bit gung-ho. I had a vague idea of a plot, a handful of characters and with a wing and a prayer just started getting the words down. And it was refreshing and fun and exciting.
It was also a mess.
It didn’t really have a direction which lead to long chapters of rambling and mixed motivations. I reached 96,000 words and had barely scraped the surface of what my actual plot was. Mostly because I didn’t really know what my plot was. While it was fun to explore this world, it didn’t make for good, cohesive reading. I needed some kind of plan. I needed to find that middle ground.
So I decided to explore free-writing.
I use a website called 4thewords which is a fun subscription based service to encourage people to write. It acts as an RPG where you fight monsters that represent different word counts and you can complete quests and such with each one you defeat. As such, I find it the perfect resource for when I just want to ramble about things which is what I’ve been doing lately with this novel.
Instead of planning things step by step like I did with that first novel, I’ve found it much more useful to just…rant. There’s no system to it, there’s no ‘OK now I’ll figure out this’, it’s literally just a stream of conscious. Sometimes I even interrupt myself mid-sentence if I suddenly think of something. I might go back and find that a lot of it is unimportant and throw away thoughts, but there is always something that has come out of it. Even if it is just a better understanding of a character or a place or how a certain scene is going to go down.
The trick for me is not to get bogged down in having things be perfect. Things can change constantly and probably should at such an early stage. It’s about experimenting and trying to understand your novel. It’s about not being scared to talk about stupid things, or questioning everything as you write it. Every time I write a new thought, I question it and then try and answer those questions. One thing tends to lead to another and another until I suddenly have 10,000 words of notes to work with. But instead of stepping stones, they’re more like guidelines. Nudges in the right direction.
I know I could plan my way into oblivion with this novel since there are so many people, places, plot points and world building but for a first draft, I want to discover most of it as I write. But I’ve realised it’s necessary to have these kind of notes in order to progress and keep things moving as fluidly as possible.
If you are like me and want to let your story tell itself but at the same time find yourself getting lost in the writing, I strongly recommend trying free-writing. Just let your fingers spew out words, set yourself a word count or a time limit and just don’t stop typing until you hit that. I guarantee that something will come to light in that session as you fight to meet the target.