Don’t Panic.  Pre-Write.

This is a guest post by Laura Montgomery. Since this is now the middle of NaNoWriMo, many of us will probably see at least some of ourselves in what Laura has to say.–ASG

I would like to report that I am waltzing through NaNo.  I am not.

Many of you know about National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November across the country, across the world, and even maybe on the dark side of the Moon because why else would NOAA have tried to make you get a remote sensing license for taking pictures of the Moon unless there was someone there?  (And, these people have to be on the dark side because we’d see them if they were facing us.)

Originally, the rules required contestants to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.  They had to start it on day 1 and finish by month’s end.  The organizers have relaxed the rules on this, if I remember right, which means that since I only followed the rules to the T once, I am no longer a NaNo rebel.  I’m relaxed.

Or, I should be relaxed. I am using NaNo for a novel that had already reached somewhere in the 40,000 word range.  On day 10, I reached 57,000 words, and suddenly didn’t know what happened next.  How was I going to get to the exciting twist at the mid-point I had planned?  I didn’t know, and I was appalled.  I’m a pantser, but pantsers aren’t supposed to freeze, I told myself.  We’re supposed to be carefree.  What’s with this groping around in the dark?

I resorted to pre-writing.  I tried describing the mid-point and working backwards.  I realized the mid-point drama is a bit of an inchoate mass—or mess—in my mind.  Pre-writing helps.  You know how they tell you to tell someone what’s happening so you can see if it makes sense when you say it out loud?  Even if your friends get really busy when you try to carry through on this, you can tell someone, namely yourself.  Write it down.

You leave out all the scenery, the dialogue, the introspection, reflection, and conniving, and you say “They go here.  They argue about what happened earlier because Fred thinks it was great and Matilda wants it to never happen again.  By the time they reach the waterfall, Fred is ready to push Matilda in it.  And he does.  So much moisture.  So much anger.”

Or, you can employ a whinier approach:  “Oh, oh.  I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  I hate this.  I wish I were a plotter.  I want the scene where he reveals M’s secret and everyone gets mad at him.  But how do I get them all together?  How about a dance?  No, there was dancing after the fight.  How about a meeting?  No, I want an activity.  Ah, hah!  Peter needs to learn to shoot a rifle.  He’ll have plenty of teachers because people love to tell other people how to do stuff.  Remember the chopsticks.  Others will come just because they’re nosy and want to see if he’s good at that, too.  Then he can blow it in front of a lot of people.  Excellent.”

Now, maybe that makes sense to no one but me, but it’s useful.  I know what I’m working toward.  Then I can work backward.  “My man Peter needs to keep pursuing clues.  Who would he go see?  The Pittmans and Dean.  Obviously.  But he needs to ask someone where the Pittmans live and who better than Colin Mazur since he’s Rain Pittman’s teacher?  Good, that lets Peter snoop around some more.  Somewhere in there someone suggests a shooting lesson.  Not Colin.”

That all helped, and now I have too much going on, which brings us to Meditation 2:  It’s Too Long and I’m Approaching the Mid-Point Asymptotically.


Be sure to check out Laura’s work here.

16 comments

    1. Now, I’m wondering if I’m getting a 300, Directorate, Comet Fall, or Eldon book for Christmas. Embrace the power of “and” seems a bit pushy.

  1. Hoping to NaNo again next year – the past 2 years have been Too Much Stuff going on.

    Pre-writing is a good trick. I often refer to my equivalent as “scripting” – the bare bones of, Character X says this, Y says that, any action or setting details that strike my mental eye, etc. It still counts as NaNo words, and you can flesh it out later. 🙂

  2. Want to be really free of those pants, and go commando? Write whatever scenes come into your head and stitch them together later. When you hit a hard block, chances are you’re trying to write something that should be skipped anyway, or that that you can’t yet know because it will reveal itself once you have that scene from several days hence that shows you where we went. And then the bridge will write itself, or prove unneeded anyway.

    “Where are we going?”
    “Hell if I know. This map looks like a spiderweb.”
    “Maybe Topeka. Yeah, the Big Event is there.”
    “Okay, so we can take Route 66, and hang a left at Amarillo…”
    “Jayzus! Road construction!!”

    1. Don’t bother trying to turn left at Amarillo. Don’t bother trying to get around Amarillo on any major (larger than two lane) road right now. Trust me on this. Trussssssssst me. I’ve heard a rumor from a friend who heard from a cousin’s brother-in-law’s mechanic that there’s a trucker who got onto the loop around Amarillo by accident and can’t find an open off ramp and is still circling, circling, circling . . .

  3. I write ahead all the time. One story, I was working on chapter 5, and had chapters 9, 11 and 12 completed, as well as parts of 7, 8 and 10.

    Chapters can be like puzzle pieces. Just because you don’t have all the connecting pieces yet doesn’t mean you can’t place the ones you do have.

    If I get a scene in my head, or part of a scene, I write it. I figure out more or less where it will go eventually. More details of those scenes might come to me later, or they might need changes and revisions.

  4. Rubber ducking. Get a rubber duck and keep it near your writing area. When you get stuck on something, explain it to the duck. This is a technique used by a lot of computer programmers. The act of explaining a problem helps to clarify one’s mind about it, and often leads to a solution. Since it’s the act of explaining that unblocks the mind, and not who you’re explaining it to, you no longer need to find those suddenly-busy friends. Just tell the duck.

    1. The only problem there is that you have to take it seriously. The issue with the duck is that, because you know it’s not really listening, there’s a temptation to skip “obvious” steps. Usually, you need to really explain it to someone in sufficient detail that your goal is for that person to understand and maybe be able to help you.

    2. Instead of a rubber duck, I use Calmer Half. The advantage: he listens and asks questions, forcing me to clarify things.
      The disadvantage: “No, that’s not tactically sound. They would instead…”
      …that’s kind of an advantage, too, but an extremely aggravating one.

      1. The advantage of the rubber duck is that when you get half way through the explanation and say “Nevermind,” it never insists on you going on.

        Mind you, a lot of people won’t, either, but the duck is guaranteed. Also, it just chills between sessions, so you know you’re not interrupting anything.

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