Camp Nano is OVER! *wipes sweat from brow*
The past four weeks have been a whirlwind of discovery for me as a writer (and creative person as a whole,) and over the next month, I intend to share with you some nuggets I’ve unearthed along the way. If you read my last post, you’ll know I recently discovered my ideal creative mindset to write a first draft as quickly as possible; while I’m still in the spirit of messy first drafts, I thought I’d make a kind of Part II to that post and let you in on another major epiphany: learning how to power through to my 25k word goal even while my plot kept changing!
Quick side note: I recently learned about Kinesiology Tape to treat my Carpal Tunnel symptoms and so far, couldn’t be happier with the results! (There might be a full review in the future after I’ve tested its effectiveness for a little longer.)
What Is a Plot, Anyway?
Some say plotting is everything behind a strong story. Others say it dampens your creative muse. One thing is for sure: plotting your novel is as effective as making a blueprint for your life; try as you might to plan your career, love life, and retirement… we never really know what’s gonna happen. Life is full of job loss and promotions, and we fall in love without meaning to (and often with someone we would never have imagined ourselves with,) and most of us (like Wolverine) unfortunately never get to realize our dreams to sell everything and go live on a boat. Ho-hum.
Is Plotting Right for You?
Your creative process is yours, and it should be as organized or as messy as the artist—do what works for YOU!
If you love to work in a messy, splashy environment with bits of paper and multi-colored erasers everywhere then do it. If the only way to tame your crazy mind is to write down bullet points (or intricate plot worksheets) then do it. There is indeed such an animal as an organized Panster (yours truly) or a chaotic Plotter. The most important step of your process is to enjoy it, and the most important element of great writing is to relentlessly be yourself! This begins with your process and ends with your content, but you can’t have the latter without the former, so toss the “Team Plotter vs Team Panster” mindset out the window and find your own comfort zone.
Eat Dessert First
My mom was a campaigner for making work as fun as possible. She taught me to find my passions and to pursue them through life so it will never feel like I had to strain for happiness. She didn’t realize she was teaching me how to have a healthy, productive mindset as a writer.
No matter what project you’re working on, be it a short story or an epic battle sprawling space and time, it is so important to enjoy the journey. So listen to this: you don’t have to write every scene in order. You don’t even have to write any of the scenes in order. All you have to do is eventually get everything down on paper until you have enough material to rework into a coherent story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I absolutely advocate getting your butt in a chair to write every day, at least a page a day, but that doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to write a particular scene, chapter, or character when you don’t feel like it. If you’re itching to write that gruesome fight scene, or the harrowing race down a mountain, or a character’s death… write it when the mood strikes!
Your readers’ pleasure isn’t the only fun that counts as success. Your enjoyment comes FIRST.
My Best Tips for Writing (Organized) Chaos:
Even the most devout Pansters are prone to burn-out when they lose sight of their spark, so it’s a good idea to have at least a loose model to guide you. This can be as simple as a bullet list of key scenes you’d like to happen, or a list of character motives that will drive the plot forward, or a Point A to Point B list of chapter titles. Whatever works to give you mile markers.
Scrivener is my favorite writing tool. I love the program and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes the concept of a binder and word processor all-in-one. Besides the convenience of storing all of my character and world-building information inside the same file as my manuscript, my favorite part about the application is its flexibility; you can rearrange chapters, acts, and even separate scenes if you want to keep your plotting options wide open.
BUT, I didn’t get to use my favorite writing tools for Camp NaNo. Because of a flare-up in Carpal Tunnel symptoms, I wrote all 25k+ words of my target wordcount on paper. But I can’t write a linear piece of work to save my life… so in order to keep my flexibility (and sanity,) I applied the same concept in analog as I would digitally in Scrivener—and I wound up with a LOT of out-of-sequence scenes inside of my notebooks.
(I tried to take pictures of my notes spread out, but I couldn’t fit all of the scraps of mismatched paper into just one shot! Just imagine a bomb going off in a Kinkos Print & Ship and you’ll get the flavor of what I was dealing with…)
When you like to write out of sequence, here are some ways you can quell the chaos:
- Give yourself an anchor.
Title your scraps (or pages) of paper with scene information like setting, time, season, and whatever else will be useful. Ex.: TAVERN AFTER FOREST ATTACK; NIGHT; WINTER; THEY JUST BURIED DOUGLAS; HAVING A WHISKEY TO REMEMBER HIM; JUDAS WILL REVEAL HIS SUBPLOT GOAL.
- Make a binder with notes.
It doesn’t have to look pretty or well-formed. It just has to function as a wealth of knowledge in (reasonable) order so that you can find info on your characters, settings, and world-building tid-bits when you want to double-check what your character’s hair color is or which hand got bitten off by an alligator.
- Group it together.
This is especially useful if you’re working with bits of paper or lots and lots of Scrivener files: as you compile your favorite scenes, sort them into folders as vague as Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 or a little more specific like Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and onward. This will save you A LOT of time when you stitch it all together later.
Loosening up When the Plot Is Dragging You Down
Nothing is written in stone. Remember you are not in control of your characters, the setting, or the plot; the best you can do is open your mind’s eye as wide as possible to see as much as possible, then your only job is to record what’s going on. That’s it! Let your characters speak freely and your plot move forward, backward, and diagonally if that’s what the story demands. Editing is when you get to call the shots; until then, take a breath and let your story do its thing.
Peace out, man.
Did you participate in Camp NaNo this July? The good, the frustrating, the imaginative—I want to hear about all of it! Comment below.