I thought that I would have my novel outlined before I started NaNoWriMo. That I would read through past failed draft attempts at it, and have a solid understanding of what I was trying to do. I thought I had all of the characters already named. I thought I knew what I was doing and that I would have a plan for it.
But as the weeks, then days, then hours slowly crept up to NaNoWriMo go time, all I had was intentions.
As I started I knew the opening scene, and I knew what I wanted the twist to be. I knew I wanted to write in third person, but I also knew I might end up getting my tenses mixed up between past and present. I knew that I hadn’t written in third person in a very long time, and that chances are it was going to feel very unnatural to me, a girl who loves first person. I also knew that I had way too many POVs to pull of first person, so it HAD to be third person. Too many angles to cover to tell the whole purview of the story, I couldn’t narrow it down to a single telescope.
So here I am a week in, and surprisingly ahead, if only by a breeze. I can regularly hit 3K day on a work day, and more on a non-work day, if I don’t get sidelined by everything else that is distracting in life. I feel my style as a writer has vastly improved since my first pallid attempts at NaNoWriMo. When they say you need to put in hundreds/thousands/millions of hours to hone your craft they are not lying. It’s daunting for sure, but every draft that is sunk at the bottom of the writing sea has taught me important lessons. Every new project, I push myself to learn even more.
I have a really good feeling that I am finally going to be able to tell this story that has been several years in the making.
I also know that I have taken several side tangents to word vomit ideas that have been performing a highly complicated Scottish jig in my head. They keep stamping their boots and brandishing their swords, and yelling to pay attention to them. So I did. I took everything I knew about them start to finish and vomited it onto a page. Any tidbits of dialogue, scene, plot, description, in a doc it went. 3K words later and it’s no longer screaming its battle cry in my skull. This I must say is a good practice. Distracted by a shiny new idea, don’t push it aside. Write it. Not like a novel, but give it the word vomit treatment. Let it exist outside of you. Once it’s out there you have a much better chance of exhuming your daemons (unwanted inspirations for projects you aren’t working on now), and it’s there waiting for later, if later ever comes for it.
I used to let these float about in my brain and pick at them in moments where I was bored, driving, walking, not really doing anything, but being transient, between. I would day dream, imagine worlds and possibilities. But when I’m doing that for not the story I’m telling right now, well it’s a distraction. Purge, and leave in a word document. It knows where it lives now. (As a side note, after NaNoWriMo, I’m going to create a Scrivener document called the word vomit, so every time I had an idea, I can place it there, to page through later if needed).
A lot of NaNoWriMo advice focuses on not looking back. To just pushing forward. To that I say Pushaw! Know yourself as a writer. Know yourself as a human being. I need my house to maintain a certain standard of clean. I have done that messy draft just push forward, and I can personally tell you it was hell to clean that up after the fact. Instead, I do allow myself that messy drafting, but I also allow myself time along the way to make changes as needed. I will write a note to get back to it, when I have scheduled that time. That time for me will be the Wednesdays’ I have booked off every day this month. That will be the day I go back and I cut and clean, and tidy, and sweep up the draft so it looks good. So it’s manageable.
I also, when stuck, will pick a character and write first person from them and just let them tell me all the things they want to. How did they grow up, how are there friends, what are those friends like. All of it. It’s messy as all get out. It’s info dumping in its purest form, but now I have that information. Now I can subtly insert it into my draft as needed later. I can use it to inform my character choices. Now, I’m not trying to hold all of the pieces to the puzzle in my head. Trying to hold it all in my head, made me think the ideas where more precious than they actually where, like I was creating diamonds by exerting enough pressure on them. Not all ideas are plot twists. It’s okay to get them on paper.
And voila, a weird outline of sorts to use later. Info dumping via characters POV is not a clean snowflake method outline that I would like, but it’s still something I can work with. It’s still technically following NaNo advice, while using it in a way that works for me.
That’s the thing with writing advice. It comes at you with the best intentions, but they don’t know you as a person, so it’s up to you to filter through and used the tools that work best for you. There is not harm in trying them out, and discarding them, or bending them for your own purposes.
What I do need you to know though, is that despite all my best efforts to have as clean a draft as possible, I will always have superfluous material. Always. This is normal and part of the craft. Kill your darlings is true in this case. Every word that comes out is not magic. Expect to have to purge, and stop bemoaning this when it happens. It’s not bad advice; it’s process.