People who know me will point and laugh at the title of this blog post. Planning is not a word that features strongly in my vocabulary and I’m certainly not known for it. In life I tend to be quite spontaneous, often impulsive, and my writing frequently follows that ethos. This is not a problem for the most part (we all work differently, after all) but throw into the mix a time constraint, and that’s when my natural way of working becomes an issue.
The first time I participated in NaNoWriMo I used it to write the last instalment in my young adult Sky Song trilogy. The first two books, Sky Song and The Young Moon, had already been written, and the overall story had progressed to a point at which the final book could only follow a certain path. In lieu of a plan, I had the denouement the previous two instalments had driven me towards and the last book, Not of Our Sky, almost wrote itself. Page after page flashed by, the words tumbling out. How easy, I thought, is this NaNoWriMo lark? How satisfying it is to watch the word count rise in the form of a cute little graph, I mused with a smug grin. What a fun way to write a novel.
So when I came to do NaNoWriMo again the following year, I approached it with a certain amount of arrogance. Not because I’m arrogant about my writing, but because it had flowed so easily the first time, I assumed that it would do again. NaNoWriMo is a wonderfully motivating tool, but it doesn’t write the book (obvious to anyone else, I’m sure). I overestimated just how much it could do for me and underestimated how much work I needed to put in to prepare. I signed up, input the title for my newest book idea (a brand new standalone), messed around with a cover and the vaguest of blurbs, and sat down to start.
Before you ask, there wasn’t so much as a hint of a plot. I often start with a germ of an idea, something as scant as a first scene, and the story grows organically. The trouble with my preferred method is that it takes longer to construct the book once the actual nitty-gritty of writing begins. Pivotal points are reached and the next step has to be plotted out as I go along. The working out takes time. The characters tell me what they want to do next but they don’t rush and they like to keep me guessing.
Fifty thousand words in a month with no initial plot. It was like trying to run a marathon with no course stewards and no signposts to guide me. I would have to stop, read a map, ask for directions, even get lost once in a while. It would take me longer to run than if I had known where I was going.
I started to write. I stalled almost immediately. I sat staring at the screen wondering what to say next. The days rolled by and I fell short of my target on every single one of them. As the end of the month drew near I realised that no amount of feverish typing would pull back what I had lost. The knowledge was demoralising and I blamed my failure on everything except myself.
Looking back, of course, I realise that to write a novel that quickly (or even the bulk of one) you need to have the bones on which to mould the flesh. If anything, my failure has been a valuable lesson for me as a writer. It’s taught me that to make this hobby a career, I have to treat each book as I would do any task I undertake in my daytime desk job. Unfortunately for me and my spontaneity, that means planning. A year on and I’m ready for the challenge again. Only this time, I’m also ready with a meticulously plotted out story. This time I’ll have the map and I might just finish that marathon.
Sharon Sant currently juggles work as a part-time fiction editor, a rather less glamorous day job, her family commitments, and writing her own stories. She writes YA, NA, and recently struck out into the world of women’s fiction, releasing her debut romantic comedy Hopelessly Devoted to Holden Finn under the pen name of Tilly Tennant. Sharon is both self-published and traditionally published and happily mixes the two. In 2013 she was signed by Lucas Alexander Whitley literary agency. She is currently working on a second Tilly Tennant novel and a New Adult paranormal thriller for release under her own name.