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A lot of plan Bs: The search for the perfect NaNoWriMo story

May 29, 2011

There are five months left before NaNoWriMo takes off, and that is still a lot of time for planning, but which idea to pick? It’s not that I don’t have any ideas. Maybe I have too many. Or maybe I don’t have the one idea yet.

When I joined the November mayhem in 2009, I had a story. I had known the protagonist for a few years, had written short fiction about him, and knew that I had material enough for a trilogy of novels. Before November I had a plan. I had a timeline to work with and folders on my harddrive with reference photos, lists of things I needed to research, and so on. Although I was surprised by some of the turns the story took on the way, I had a clear idea where I was going. At the end of November, I had the first draft of the first book of the trilogy.

Last year I wanted to try a different approach. I knew what characters were going to be in my story, I knew how it was going to end, and I had a rough idea for a number of scenes that I wanted to be in the story. I only wrote a few notes and then wrote a couple of testruns of the style I wanted to write in (I rarely do present tense for longer stories, but I thought it would work best for this particular one). I did some research, but nothing as extensive was needed as the year before. This approach worked fine as well, because I finished the story.

Okay, so far so good. But what now? I have lot of plan Bs.
There’s a story I’ve been semi-working on for a while and there is a second part of it which I haven’t started writing yet, but I have the outline of it, so it would be easy to jump into.
One of the characters in the (second part of) my first NaNoWriMo novel has his own story, and it would be fun to explore his past and see exactly how he fits into my other narratives.
I could also write the third part of the trilogy mentioned above (I am well into the second part). And there is a couple of people I’ve written short fiction about already that would be great as main characters.
But none of these ideas make me (figuratively) jump up and down in anticipation and excitement. It may be because I haven’t explored them fully yet, but although I am confident that I could pick any one of them, I am looking for something else. I think I want to try something new. Just like my second NaNoWriMo was very different from the first one (the narrative style as well as the way I worked and the genre), I am looking for something that will make my third year experimental as well. I am considering a different genre (fantasy? Post-apocalysm?), a different narrator (omniscient? Or several characters’ point of view?), and a tale that focusses less on a few individuals and more on a whole group. There is one story that springs to mind, one that has been around for nearly a decade, but I am still not sure if it is the one.
– I think I am waiting for my muses to give me a small story epiphany. They are usually kind like that.

What about you? Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? Have you already decided on a project if you plan on doing it this year? How did you pick it? Or will you start from scratch on November 1st?

PS: I changed the layout of my blog to include a moose (in the role of a muse). I hope you like it!

25 Comments leave one →
  1. Catana permalink
    May 29, 2011 9:46 pm

    I’ve already put three months of work into this year’s NaNo. Yeah, I found out several NaNos ago that only the plotter headspace will see me through to a finished novel. So I now have two novels behind me, still waiting for revision. I have this year’s novel pretty well nailed down, so I’ve been able to back off quite a bit, letting it stew, adding bits here and there. I’m not ready for November yet, but it’s beginning to look good.

    I’d suggest working on several of your plan Bs. Sooner or later, one of them might begin to stick out and look attractive. You might find yourself combining plot elements, or moving characters around in unexpected ways. I love the preplanning period because I never know what’s going to pop up. When it’s something completely unexpected, it’s a real thrill.


    • May 30, 2011 10:15 am

      It’s so interesting to hear what planning techniques that others use! I like the “letting it stew” phrase – that’s exactly how I feel about my stories. They get some time to themselves and I check in on them later.
      A couple of my plan Bs are pretty much planned out already (which, I think, is partly the reason why I’m reluctant to use them – they’re not full of surprises). But I think you are right about paying attention to them. I’ll go through my notes and have a look outside the box to see if I’ve missed something really great.
      Thank you for sharing and for the suggestions!


  2. May 30, 2011 3:40 am

    I tried NaNo last year and used it to work on my memoir. I probably won’t have time to do it this year, but I think it’s such a great idea. Best of luck on your NaNo project 🙂


    • May 30, 2011 10:17 am

      Thank you for visiting and commenting! 🙂
      Maybe with the new Camp NaNoWriMo you can find a solution that will fit you if you don’t have time in November?


  3. May 30, 2011 5:23 am

    I just blogged about fiction story ideas (seeds). I thought it would be great to have a fiction seed swap. Feel free to drop any of the ideas you’ve had but don’t love off at my blog.

    And good luck finding your NaNo story!


    • May 30, 2011 10:20 am

      That’s an interesting idea! Last year, a friend of mine actually came up with her NaNoWriMo idea after I’d told her about a story dream I’d had, so I think it’s definitely possible to plant story seeds.
      Thank you for commenting! I’ll head over to your blog and have a look. 🙂


  4. May 30, 2011 12:59 pm

    I did Nanowrimo in 2009, wrote a novel which has turned out to influence the one with my dark boy as I’m taking bits from it and merging them, though I do also plan to one day edit this Nanowrimo novel.

    I’m happy to have taken part in Nanowrimo, but it is not something I will attempt again, at least not until the day I am done with the novel with my boy 🙂


    • May 30, 2011 7:52 pm

      Thank you for commenting! 🙂
      I think lots of writers want to stick to one long project at the time, and although I don’t, I can definitely see the point. It gives you more … focus, I think.


  5. May 30, 2011 1:13 pm

    I chose your blog for an award. Come check it out =)


    • May 30, 2011 7:57 pm

      Wow … Thank you so much! 😀 That is so nice of you! My next post will display it, link back to you and pass it on. Thank you again! 🙂


  6. May 30, 2011 1:18 pm

    As you know, I did my first NaNo last year and completed it with 50002 words. On day one, I had a vague idea of the premise of my story. By the end of the month, I had a rough story arc.

    I’ll probably do NaNo this year, and I don’t plan on having an outline. I’m not even concerned about having an idea ahead of time. 2 reasons- Not ruminating on an idea ahead of time, for me, is more in the spirit of NaNo. And with no outline ahead of time last year, I was pleased with the outlandish scenes my frenzied mind produced. The fast pace and spontaneity were 100% appropriate for that particular novel.

    Of course, different methods work for different people at different times. I have 3 non-NaNo novels (a trilogy) which are in various stages of completion. These novels have been years in the making, and have been written and re-written, plotted, planned, etc. So a seat-of-the-pants NaNo is a good break for me. 🙂


    • May 30, 2011 8:04 pm

      I don’t think I’d have the guts not to have anything planned at all at the beginning of November. I would kind of like to, but I think that approach only works for me for short fiction and stories that I don’t feel that I am committing to in the way that I feel I commit to a NaNo novel. “Different methods for different people at different times” – I like that!
      Thank you for commenting! 🙂


  7. May 30, 2011 1:24 pm

    BTW the moose muse is cute. 🙂 You blog- and in turn, your persona- have gone through some interesting changes. 🙂


    • May 30, 2011 8:06 pm

      Thank you! I decided to draw it in a simple style to keep it, well, cute.
      Yes, I see what you mean. I’m still me, though, don’t worry. 😉


  8. May 30, 2011 6:20 pm

    Must admit that, other than the obvious fun of being involved with something lots of other people are doing simultaneously, I very much miss the point of all this.

    I regard it in the same way I see “new years’ resolutions” .

    If something’s important enough to do – be it giving up smoking, starting a new exercise regime, reading a book every week or whatever – then it’s worth doing now, not on Januray 1st.

    In the same way, if you’ve got something worth writing, write it!

    There’s enough prevarication in most writers’ lives already.

    November is half a year away. Think how much you could have written by then if you put in even half as much energy…


    • Catana permalink
      May 30, 2011 7:41 pm

      Mark, you’re making some unjustified assumptions. One is that someone has just the one novel to work on and they should be doing it NOW instead of waiting until November. That isn’t the way I work, and I know it isn’t the way a lot of other people work. For example, I’ve spent about three months so far, planning my next NaNo novel. Why don’t I just go ahead and write it now? Because I don’t have it all worked out, and I’d waste a lot of time thrashing around, trying to pull it together — when I could have been working more productively on something else. By November, I should be ready to tackle it. In the meantime, I finished revising and editing another novel, and have it almost ready to upload on Smashwords. I’ve also written about 33,000 words of another novel, have made notes and started character sketches for a couple more, and added a couple of thousand words to yet one more novel that’s not a high priority. Not exactly what I would call wasted time.

      And then there are the people who don’t even think much about NaNo and just jump into it with whatever idea they think will amount to a novel. Some of them are writers who, like me are working on other projects throughout the year, and some write that one novel just for fun.

      I can’t imagine any serious writer spending months preparing for NaNo just as a way of procrastinating, which is what I think you meant when you wrote “prevarication.”


      • May 31, 2011 10:18 pm

        OMG! I did write prevarication! Sorry! It had been a long day.

        Yes, my comments were of course aimed at those who do just put all the efforts into writing for that one time.

        And my negativity was no doubt spurred on by an agents’ blog I’d read a day or so ago saying how they dreaded December, when they were suddenly flooded with submissions many of which appeared to be, to put it politely, “rushed”.


        • Catana permalink
          May 31, 2011 10:45 pm

          I’ve had “prevarication” days, Mark. Always wondered how many people saw my boo boo and thought I was an idiot. Anyway…

          NaNo does add to agents’ and publishers’ headaches, but the belief that your first draft is good enough to publish runs year-round. Or how about not even a first draft. Just an idea. Saw a post today, trying to give good advice to a new writer whose request for help was in caps, bolded, and red. My instant reply would have been “forget it.” The request? And I quote: Help. An editor is interested in my book idea. How do I write it?

          Would you bother to help someone who has nothing more than an idea and doesn’t even know what to do with it? And has had the nerve to waste an editor’s time? The clueless are ever with us.


    • May 30, 2011 8:30 pm

      Thank you for commenting! It’s really interesting to hear what someone who doesn’t do NaNoWriMo thinks about it. 🙂
      I can definitely see your point, and it would certainly be odd for me to let one event/specific month dictate when I work on a story. But I think there are several kinds of people who write NaNoWriMo. Yes, there are definitely some who don’t write at any other times, and I think there are again two “sub kinds” of those – those who could indeed just begin writing at an other point, those who would never get any kind of writing done if they didn’t commit to one month like that.
      If you compare writing to new year’s resolutions like the ones you mentioned, I agree – why not do it now? But if you compare it to for instance deciding to go on a journey the following year, then it’s something that takes planning. You have to save up for that journey, find a hotel, and so on.
      I think Catana has some very good points in her reply, but I can, of course, only explain how it works for me.
      I do put a lot of energy into writing on a weekly basis (I would say daily, but there are days when I don’t manage to get any writing done). I am working on several stories, short fiction as well as novels, and they are in various stages. For me, NaNoWriMo is a social thing as well since several of my friends participate and we have write-ins together. There is also a special atmosphere – a sort of feeling that in November we can justify spending a lot of time writing, possibly taking a week off the dayjob to do it, and being too busy to take care of certain social obligations.
      – Could I pick any other month of the year and say, “That’s it! I’ll give myself this month!” Yes, I probably could. But then I’d miss the social aspect, and seeing as writing is an all year process every year, November is as good as any month to kickstart a novel for me. That said, if I got an idea for a novel that I could actually write today, I probably would instead of waiting. But ideas usually take a bit of time to hone in my case.


    • May 30, 2011 8:41 pm

      Aside from agreeing with Catana and M, I will just put in my two cents as well.
      I am a third year Nanowrimer and I do more or less just that. And I honestly think that it is enough.
      You spend half a year planning a novel, then you use a month writing it. Following this, you start an editing process that for me, will take me about a half a year as well. One that can go from just writing in some missing scenes to rewriting the whole thing. I write 50,000 words in November, and the next 6 month I will spend writing 50 as well, if time allows for it perhaps more.
      While I admire the vigor of some people, one of which you must be Mr. Mark Williams, I must admit that I am no Stephen King, and before the day comes where someone might be willing to pay me money to do my writing, I regretfully have to tend to other, usually more pressing endeavors, to keep up my living standards; aside from writing.


      • May 30, 2011 8:58 pm

        Thank you for visiting and commenting! 🙂
        You seem to have a nice cyclic approach to the “writing year”. And if NaNoWriMo fits into the cycle, it is a powerful method.
        – I would say that one complete or semi-complete novel each year is quite a feat!


    • May 31, 2011 3:32 am

      “obvious fun of being involved with something lots of other people are doing simultaneously”

      Well, that’s why I did NaNo and why I plan to do it again! 🙂 And every other month of the year is packed full of non-NaNo writing.


  9. June 3, 2011 1:31 am

    One year I started NaNo totally blind. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to write about a group of friends. It went no where fast and turned into a 50,000 word rant about someone I was angry with. It wasn’t interesting, even to me, when I was finished.

    However, I can’t plot with much detail. I can see that I want to end there, so here are the general steps the story needs to take. I mean general. Like: I live in Chicago and want to visit Denmark, so I will need to cross an ocean at some point during the trip.

    I am envious of your first NaNo experience…to do test runs of your style! It sounds so organized! So writerly!


    • June 3, 2011 8:45 am

      Even though you didn’t have a plan that year, I think it must be somehow … liberating? To just go and see where you end up.
      Thank you, I sometimes do organised, but really I like your way too. Just having an A and a B and a C and then connecting the dots as you go along is a great way to discover a story.
      Thank you for commenting! 🙂



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