(And how long it took me to get here.) I love the IDEA of NaNo, y’all, but I’ve never even gotten close to NaNo-type word counts. I have huge admiration for those who have, and someday, I’m going to do it. But now, let’s talk about why it appeals to me: FAST DRAFTING.
Fast drafting is glorious. It forces me to plan, to get my brain out of the way, and trust my characters. It took me almost a year to write the first draft of THE DIMINISHED, and nearly that long again to wrestle it into presentable shape before it found a shape my agent was comfortable taking on submission.
But I didn’t plan THE DIMINISHED. I didn’t think about story arc or structure. I just wrote. My second POV character, and everyone’s favorite cinnamon roll, Bo, didn’t come into the book until the second draft. The two books I’ve written since have gone far, far more smoothly. And that’s because I had a plan and a goal, two things you need going into NaNo.
How to succeed (from someone who’s never tried):
- Make a plan. Susan Dennard has written a great deal about planning and synopses on her website, and I’m going to direct you her way, as everything I know came from her. The last book I wrote took about 4 months, the fastest any project has ever taken me, and it’s all because I had a synopsis I trusted.
- Tell your brain to shut up. At about the 1/3 point of every book I’ve ever written, I’ve thought, “THIS IS TERRIBLE. THROW IT IN THE TRASH. SET IT ON FIRE.” And every time, I’m forced to tell my brain to shut the hell up, and I keep going. And every time, I find something to love by the end of the draft. That’s not to say that some ideas AREN’T bad ideas, but if you took your time to plan a GREAT story, you should trust yourself to, at the very least, finish it.
- Trust your characters. A good story follows the emotional paths of its characters. If you have a scene that’s struggling, take a look at the emotional arc of the characters in that scene. If something’s not right, the root is very likely in the fact that you forced a character to behave in a way that doesn’t make sense for that character’s arc.
So that’s my advice. Trust falls and planning. To all those folks who’re out there doing your NaNo, I commend you. And for all those, like me, who’re saying, “maybe next year.” Let’s aim for the stars, together!
Kaitlyn Sage Patterson
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