Rules are made to be broken

At least when it comes to writing. I was reminded of that again this morning when I went looking at different sites to find something to blog about this morning. It didn’t take long to come across an article that had me debating between laughing hysterically and tossing my laptop against the wall. I wound up doing neither, mainly because I can’t afford to replace the laptop and we have company and I didn’t want to wake her by doing my insane writer bit so early in the morning. 

So, what had me reacting so strongly? It was one of those articles where “real writers” are asked for advice for those of us who struggle to finish writing projects. At least that’s the way the promo for the article is framed. But it really comes down to asking why less than 17% of writers who sign up for NaNoWriMo actually finish the challenge and what those 83% who fail to finish should do.

The first piece of “advice” give is to create “a comprehensive outline before you start writing.” 

Look at that again. Not only are you supposed to outline your book but you are supposed to write a “comprehensive outline”. Forget the fact you might be a pantser. Forget the fact that you might do a one-five chapter general outline, staying ahead of where you currently are on the project. Oh no, you MUST write a comprehensive outline before you even start writing the book.

It isn’t until the end of the “you must outline” bit that a caveat is given. “If you can’t commit to an entire outline, consider mini-outlines to keep your momentum going forward.”

Wow, talk about a slap in the face. If you don’t or won’t do a comprehensive outline, it’s because you “can’t commit” and the only way to write and finish a piece is to keep your momentum going forward through an outline. 

The next bit of advice is a good one. Find the right tools for your writing. One of the so-called experts talks about how she writes in Scrivener but uses Google docs for outlining, etc. Now, that’s sort of backwards for me because Scrivener has an awesome corkboard and outlining function that is easy to master and can be compiled nd exported as an RTF, DOCX, PDF or even ebook formats. But this works for her and that’s what matters.

Find the program or app that works for what you need. I’ve started outlining–when I outline–in Scrivener. The fact they finally brought out the 3.0 version of the software on PC helps. I’m not ready to write in it. But for organizing, especially for series, you can’t beat it. 

I still write in Word, mainly because it is what I’m familiar with. I know the foibles built into it. I also prefer its review function. But that’s my personal choice. Do what works best for you. If you aren’t comfortable with a program or app, it makes it much more difficult to get words on paper.

The next rule the article lists is to make and stick to schedules and milestones. 

Again, I’m not too much against this, especially the schedule part. You need to know when your next book is going to be published. From there, you work backwards. When do you need to upload your final manuscript and cover? When do you need to have the draft cover (preferably the final cover, tbh) and blurb ready so you can start promotions? When are you going to run promotions and where? That is the business end of the profession you need to pay attention to and the one where I so often fall down.

But scheduling by the day or week this is when I’m going to do my research and this is when I am going to write and this is when I’m going to edit. Nope, that’s not happening. Research for me happens throughout the writing process because even if I do a comprehensive outline, something comes up in the actual writing of the novel that requires me to check something. It might be the best tactical holster for a 1911M in a certain situation or it might be how much it costs to ride to the observation deck of Reunion Tower. It might even be to research what capabilities a personal comm device might have 50 years in th future because suddenly, that device has become a plot device and I need to make sure I don’t break the rules of the world to make that plot device work.

The next “rule” is to be realistic. In this case, they talk about being realistic about how much work it takes to finish a project, how much time it takes to actually write the book. What caught my attention was how the say all too often, when we don’t achieve our goals, we tend to lower the bar instead of doubling-down and pushing through.

This is one of those comments I waggle my hand at. Sometimes, the right answer is to lower the daily or weekly goal because life has interfered. If you have a family emergency or work at the 9-5 job has gone toxic or your ceiling just collapsed, it’s next to impossible to just power through. There truly are times when you have to set priorities and writing, especially if it isn’t your main form of income, has to drop down the list of things to deal with–at least for a little bit.

So, again, this is one of those rules that are a “Yes, but. . . . “

The last so-called rule the article puts forth is to finish the project before editing. I’ll admit, I often tell other writers, especially new writers, to wait to edit until they put the last period in place on their manuscript. But, it isn’t and cannot be, a hard and fast rule. There are times when you need to go back and do at least a light edit on the piece. A prime example of that is when you realize you’ve somehow managed to paint yourself into a corner. You have to go back, look at what happened and, at least sometimes, edit and/or rewrite to find your way out of it.

Now, I am not against any of the “suggestions” above. But to call them rules or to say this is what you must do rankles me. The only rules you should worry about are very simple:

  • Write
  • Do it in a way that works for you, including what software you use, what schedule you set, etc.

Now, a bit of promotion for me.

Don’t forget that Jaguar Bound is out on Amazon and will be out on the other major outlets this week.

Twenty years ago, the world first learned of the existence of shapeshifters and other paranormals. It hasn’t always been easy but now Normals and Paras live in relative peace. Mackenzie Santos played a large role in making that happen. Mac has spent most of her adult life enforcing the law. Once she started turning furry, that law included Shifter law. Because of her and those like her, the world is a safer place.

Or is it?

A new threat appears on the horizon, one that puts both Paras and Normals in danger. Will Mac be able to meet and defeat this new challenge or will it turn into her greatest fear: war between Paras and Normals?

Coming next month is Destiny from Ashes.

spaceship and navigation interfaceColonel Ashlyn Shaw is on a collision course with an enemy determined to destroy her and all she holds dear. Honor demands she not turn away from the upcoming battle. Duty requires her to do whatever is necessary to protect her command and her home system. The Corps and her family stand with her, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to finally bring this war to an end.

But when the enemy turns out to be closer than she thinks, how will Ashlyn react? Will this finally be what breaks her or will it see the might of the Fuerconese Marine Corps raining death and destruction down on all who would stand against Fuercon and her enemies?

Honor and duty. Corps and family. These are the hills upon which Ash and every Marine in her command will live and possibly die as they fight to protect Fuercon and her allies.

Featured Image by Yerson Retamal from Pixabay

43 thoughts on “Rules are made to be broken

  1. Interesting points. I’d like to suggest finding a month that doesn’t have a major holiday in it to write your novel, and ignoring the Woke organization that scheduled it for such a month, also seem like good ideas.

    1. Oh yeah. One of my biggest challenges with NaNo has always been Thanksgiving. Might as well mark off a week or more because writing isn’t going to happen.

  2. I took up outlining because my stories kept petering out. If it’s for some other reason, well, outlining might help for some.

    Also, comprehensive?

    I have to include every necessary scene or the story may not be complete, but what level of detail is necessary may also vary. C.J. Cherryh writes outlines of steadily increasing detail. The first one to contain dialog is the first draft.

    1. The increasingly detailed outlines are how I was taught to write in high school. I may have also seen an article by Cherryh around that time. I think OSC’s book came out shortly after as well. And for some it can be a definite help. Unfortunately for me, when it comes to stories I’m a pantser and have absolutely no idea where a story is leading me most of the time. It’s a mystery! 😉

      1. Increasingly detailed outlines are good for training young barbarians how to think, and to organize their thoughts. Having seen papers written without outlines, it’s a critical learning tool where the process is the goal, but the outcome is treated as the goal because it can be measured and graded.

        My mother was very, very annoyed at me the time I spent weeks “thinking” on a paper with no visible output, then writing the paper the night before it was due, and the next morning in the car on the way to school, frantically writing down the outline for the paper I’d already written, and then the note cards that were supposed to contain the blocks of ideas and facts to be organized into an outline. She wouldn’t have been half as annoyed if I hadn’t gotten a very high grade on the paper and the whole project, with the teacher noting this was one of the best examples of using an outline to clearly lay out a good paper…

        I’d forgotten about this until she came to visit, and found me frowning into space, working on the book. I told her that coming up with the exact right wording and sequence was like reaching into a blackberry thicket and carefully testing each word, before plucking the ripe words out. She was unsurprised I pants. In fact, she laughed and told me about the aforementioned long-forgotten incident, and said I’d gotten bigger but I hadn’t changed.

        1. Interestingly enough, for me it was the opposite. When I was learning to write, teachers were all about the “free writing” method: you sit with your paper and pencil (yes, it was that long ago) and write continuously for 10 minutes, even if you have to sit there and write “I don’t know what to write” over and over again. By the end, the idea is that you’ll have a bunch of crap, but also “some of the best writing you’ve ever done,” and it’s just a matter of writing a second draft with the crap cut out and the beautiful, perfect, creativity shining through. How this beautiful perfect creativity turns into something with a single coherent through-line is never explained, but that is the Only Way to Write to Make True Art.

          Even now, I feel vaguely guilty about my outlines and hear my sixth grade teacher saying, “But you’re muffling the voices that would make you truly creative.”

          1. My mother would write that way. Basically just start writing everything in your head and don’t stop until it’s all on paper. Then organize is into something readable by actual humans.

            She called it spew. It works a lot better when you’ve got word processors.

            I’ve found it really useful for technical papers, but not as good for stories. What I seem to end up doing is writing the dialog, then going back and writing what they were doing while they were talking.

            I’ve also discovered I find the spell and grammar check squiggles to be extremely distracting for me. I’ve ended up using a weird little program called Jarte for my notes and first drafts, because it only spell checks when I tell it to, and has pretty much no visible UI. Think NotePad, with rich text formatting and a spell checker, and nothing else.

            Word is still better for editing and sending out for review. (Track changes for the win… )

      2. I have no idea where the story is leading me either. That’s why I outline. Until it gets me to the end, I don’t know if there is one.

        1. And sometimes, not always, I do a plot skeleton first. That’s for when I have issues sorting out some sharp turning points so that it’s not bumbling along until the climax hits.

    2. My favorite author, Lois McMaster Bujold said once that she outlines down to the paragraph level. The very idea fills me with horror. I’m a pantser. I’ve tried outlining. And when I get to the end, my Muse is satisfied. “Ah! Nice HEA!” and won’t actually write the story, it’s done.

      About the only thing I outline is battles, to try and keep track of what’s happening and who is doing what.

      Basically, whatever works for you is the way for you to write.

      1. Outlines are one of those things about what we do that drive me crazy. Some books I totally pants. I don’t have a choice because the damned main character wakes me up and starts gabbering in my head and keeps up until the book is finished. Other books are part pantser and part plotter. Then there are the few that have been me putting butt in chair, writing out a 50k word outline and then going in and basically just adding dialog. So I break the outline rule much more often than not.

    3. When I outline, it is usually only major plot points. Sometimes, it gets more detailed. But if I went into a scene by scene or–gag–paragraph by paragraph as some writers do–I’d not write the book because my brain would be telling me it had already been written and it was time to move on to the next project.

      1. Some times I do that, to keep it in memory. But if I don’t do scene by scene, I may discover that vital scenes are missing and so the story doesn’t work.

  3. …I see one major flaw in the source of the advice: many of the tips in the article are from people who Accomplish Novels routinely, and are now in the mode of regularly accomplishing them, while the 10X rule is aimed at businesses who, again, need to regularly accomplish the task.

    Doing something regularly, to a predictable schedule, is a completely different challenge with different problems than accomplishing something for the first time. It starts off secure in the knowledge that the thing can be done, and trying to fine-tune it to a predictable schedule.

    So, asking people their advice for how to get the production schedule books done on time and on budget is like asking an Olympic athlete how to perform triathlons on demand, then telling the readers that this advice is for how to complete your first half-marathon.

    For example, having The Right Tools. When you’re doing it for the first time, you don’t know what your workflow is, or what tools will be better or worse for that. You already have a massive learning curve called The Unfinished Novel; you don’t need to stop and distract yourself with learning dictation, or spending money on some fancy new system and stopping to learn to use it in the middle. Stopping the writing momentum tends to lead to never getting it back, when you haven’t done it enough to understand how to generate it. (See: this advice is aimed at folks who didn’t finish their novel.)

    Outlines? Telling someone who didn’t finish their novel that they need an outline before they start is rather giving the prescription too late, innit? Granted, I understand the jaundiced eye of experience looking at a hot mess of a ramble that wandered far off from it’s original idea and petering out. It’s true when they say “an outline would have prevented you from writing this ill-organized hot mess.” Outlines are useful things for seeing if you have enough of an idea to carry a story, or just a scene, and if that story is a novel or a piece of flash fiction. But to see that requires… experience the first timer doesn’t have. Good tool, wrong application. The advice on mini-outlining and Dean Wesley smith’s cycling is far better here.

    Schedules and milestones are what NaNo is all about. Saying that people who fail to accomplish NaNo need schedules and milestones is overlooking the fact that they had them, already set up with handy tracking tools and little badges for the dopamine hit when they’re accomplished. That’s telling somebody who died in the ER that they needed to go to the hospital, you know?

    As far as being realistic…Realistic implies that the person has an understanding of the amount of work they’re facing, and isn’t acknowledging it. But when you’re first starting out on your first novel, you have no idea what you’re in for. Really. And when you hit problems that you don’t have the tools, the vocabulary, or the wisdom from experience, to fix, “redouble your efforts” is sometimes the exact wrong advice.

    I agree with you on the finish before fixing. So does NaNo – it quite explicitly states that your goal is words per day, and write those words. So, again, I tilt my head to the side and say “It’s good advice, but it’s being given to people who were already following this and still failed to complete.”

    And then I want to put tongue firmly in cheek, and tell the article writer that perhaps she should apply her own advice to herself, to be realistic, and to find the right tools for the audience.

    1. You hit a lot of my concerns with the “advice”. Using NaNo as the baseline for how to set your writing habit is, well, wrong on so many levels for most writers. Most of us don’t put out a novel in 30 days on a regular basis. Most of us don’t push down our normal writing habits to do so.

      You’re also so right about not knowing what tools you need as a newbie author. You might know what word processing program you want to write in, but you don’t necessarily know if that is best for what you want to accomplish. You won’t know what needs to be done to convert your mss into publication formats, etc. This is what so many software developers bet on when they market their “biggest and best” writing software for authors program or book or whatever.

      Love and totally agree with your last paragraph. 😉

      1. Yep. And for most writers, using your baseline writing habit for how to win NaNo is also wrong on so many levels.

        …Although, *if his muse could be corralled this way*, I would love to encourage NaNo writers to take the John Ringo approach, with cigars and whiskey and sitting in the dark and quiet and alone for days cogitating on the story, then pouring it out in a massive, glorious writing binge. It fits the nano time frame, you know?

        And doesn’t require an outline you can show teacher for a grade.

    2. A couple of comments on your comments:

      Schedules and milestones are what NaNo is all about. Saying that people who fail to accomplish NaNo need schedules and milestones is overlooking the fact that they had them, already set up with handy tracking tools and little badges for the dopamine hit when they’re accomplished.

      Actually, this is precisely what NaNo doesn’t do. It gives you the 50K goal and then a nice diagonal line that assumes you are a machine who will put out exactly 1667 words every day. Recognizing that you should probably try to do more on the weekends? Realizing that you’re a religious individual who doesn’t work on the Sabbath so needs to make up those words elsewhere? Knowing that you have 20 guests coming for Thanksgiving, and you’d better have at least 45K words done by the start of that week regardless of what the “goal tracker” says? NaNo won’t help you with any of that.

      And that isn’t even getting into the fact that “50,000 words” != “finished novel.” The goals I need are more along the lines of “By Week 3, Saoirse needs to realize that the Leader of the Wild Hunt is the witness testifying against her”; the specific words it takes to get me there are irrelevant.

      I agree with you on the finish before fixing. So does NaNo – it quite explicitly states that your goal is words per day, and write those words. So, again, I tilt my head to the side and say “It’s good advice, but it’s being given to people who were already following this and still failed to complete.”

      NaNo tells people to keep writing and not go back to edit, but it doesn’t mean that failed NaNoers “were already following” this advice; it just means that they’d GOTTEN this advice at least once before. Sometimes two or three or six dozen people have to tell you something before you finally decide that maybe there’s something to it.

  4. And I really hate the tendency of people to consider NaNoWriMo writers who don’t get to 50K to have “lost.”

    So you didn’t get the whole 50K? Look at what you did do! 20 or 30K is an excellent start on a book, and if it’s done, an entire novella. One year I was a complete flop, but a year later I sliced what I had written down into a really nice short story, and sold it. I can usually push to get that 50K, but it’s never been a complete story. There’s always been a lot more to write.

    NaNoWriMo is just an exterior kick-in-the-ass to get a lot of words on paper. I consider it my annual training in “just write.” You can’t fix or edit what hasn’t been written.

    1. This! When I was still heading up the critique group, every one of the newbies hesitated to do NaNo because they just “knew” they’d never be able to write 50k words in a month, and especially not one where there was major holiday, their kids would be out of school for at least a week, etc. So every year, we’d have the discussion that 50k was just what NaNo’s organizers said to do. They could set their own goals. The key was getting into the habit of writing regularly and trying to meet a goal. Not everyone starts off as a novelist. Some are more naturally short fiction writers. So decide to write three short stories during the month or set a 10k word goal, etc.

      And, just as important, don’t try to have a publication ready manuscript at the end of NaNo.

    2. Yeah, last year I didn’t “win” but I made progress on a difficult sequel, tried my hand at the “threequel” in the same series, and figured out that there wasn’t enough plot for three books in the series, so I needed to go back to the drawing board on the difficult sequel. Still not quite done with the rough draft for that one, but the 18K or so I wrote last NaNo certainly helped me figure out where I was at.

      As far as outlining, it depends on what you mean by that. The projects I “finished” were always things I had a vague idea of the ending and the major setpieces for, but there was a time when I could hold that much in my head (maybe assisted by a few scribbled notes) for 3-5 weeks while I frantically typed the story up tying the setpieces together with spit and bailing wire. Nowadays, I need to commit all my brainstorming to notebook or Scrivener or risk forgetting it, and I try to have some general idea of where I’m going.

      On the subject of not underestimating the amount of effort a given project will take, I like this essay:

    3. Every time I’ve signed up for NaNo, I “lost”– because getting on line to update the word count Was Not Happening.

      It ate up most of my writing time. 😀

        1. I find that’s a lot more effective, but the stats on “losing” come from site reporting.

          Heck, my most successful NaNos were before I had ever heard that there was a website!

          Which, honestly, is why I was able to recognize “huh. This website is actually diverting my attention and/or efforts from writing.”

  5. The sort of outlining thing that’s helped me was a thing call the nutshell method.

    Basically, you have what the character’s flaw is, and decide whether they beat it or become it.

    From there you need only about five or so more things:
    1) a reason why they got themselves into the mess,

    2) a spot where they get stuck-in and can’t back out anymore,

    3) a crisis that tests their flaw and they either embrace their flaw or overcome it.

    4) A test of the flaw that shows that it stuck (either they’ve overcome it and show they’ve overcome it, or they’ve become it and this shows that they’ve become it)

    5) An end cap that shows the final ramifications of their choice.

    I found this one helpful because, rather that spending writing energy sketching out scenes and descriptions that will be discarded, instead I’m focusing more on what drives the characters and looking for situations that arise that could be tests of their core flaws.

  6. I’ll admit that my thoughts are pretty much 100% opposite from Amanda’s and most people here. I think almost, if not all, of the suggestions in the article are right for particular problems. Remember, this is not “The One Right Way to Write a Novel,” but “Getting to Done,” i.e. if you can’t finish a novel, here are some possible solutions.

    Can’t finish because you get stuck and don’t know what happens next? Use an outline. Yes, I know that many writers are pantsers. I know that many people here cannot imagine writing any other way. But if you keep trying to pants your way through novels and keep failing at it, it may be time to consider that you AREN’T a pantser and give the detailed outline a try. And yes, it should probably be detailed and comprehensive to start. As long as you’re giving yourself a map, it should probably be the best map you can make; later, you can figure out just how much detail you need or if you can do the outline equivalent of drawing one line for the highway and calling it good.

    Can’t finish because you can’t seem to organize your thoughts or because you keep losing your notes? Maybe you need a different tool. Although this is the advice I’m most skeptical about; “I need the right software” seems not only like a distraction but an excuse: “I can’t possibly make progress because my current word processor just isn’t me.”

    Can’t finish because you keep getting distracted by other tasks related to the novel? Set a schedule. It’s great that Amanda can write, pause to research the right holster for a 1911M, then go back to it, but I could easily imagine a newby looking up the 1911M, spending 20 minutes reading the wikipedia page, clicking on the link to the hostage rescue team, and coming out of the research coma five hours later, only to realize it’s dinner time. Under those circumstances, just making a note and going back to research on Tuesday makes sense.

    Can’t finish because “write a novel” seems like too big a goal? Break it down into bite-sized chunks that you can handle.

    Can’t finish because you can’t make even your subgoals? This one admittedly is one where the articles advice isn’t perfect. The “always double down and force yourself to make it” could be wrong because a novice writer can set their subgoals too high, in which case, “reduce the size of your goals” is exactly the right solution. On the other hand, a writer could be failing to meet the subgoals just because it’s hard, man, I didn’t think it would be that hard. In which case, the writer needs to give his lazy butt a kick and force himself through the tough parts. Only the writer can say which is the right solution.

    Can’t finish because you keep trying to make what you’ve already written perfect? Stop with the editing. Again, Amanda does light editing to get herself out of a corner, and more power to her, but someone still struggling to write the first one needs to “Make a note and then write… your current scene as if [what you wrote before] was already fixed” if they’re spending any significant time not making progress.

    TL;DR version of this comment: I feel like there’s no reason for us to get rankled by this advice. It’s for those who can’t finish a novel, and it’s got a lot of good suggestions for them. Will there be some newbies who read this article and, rather than realizing that these are suggestions for specific problems, instead take them as The Absolute Rules You Must Follow to Write a Novel? Of course, but someone always does that with every bit of advice. I don’t blame the advisor for that.

    1. No where did I say not to outline if you get stuck. In fact, I believe I said I have been known to outline a few chapters ahead on some projects. I know in other posts, I (as well as Sarah and others here) have written about how important it is sometimes to do that sort of mini-outline. My issue, as I noted in the OP is the comprehensive outline before you start writing. Not everyone needs to do that and, honestly, I’ve worked with too many new writers who have tried this and never actually do any “writing” on the project because they get overwhelmed by getting the outline just right. Hence the “do what works for you”.

      Re: tools. This is a personal thing. That tool can be your word processing program all the way to what sort of machine you write on to whether you write your draft out longhand or not. From experience, I can tell you that having the right word processing program that works best for you is very important. Some people are too overwhelmed by the ribbons and options on Word and need a zero-distraction program. Others like having all the bells and whistles of Scrivener because they can have all their research, idea boards, etc., in the same open window that their working mss is in. Part of it is working with something you’re familiar with. Part of it is how difficult is it to learn that piece of software. Look at it this way: I am more comfortable when writing out a scene in long hand using blank copy paper and a black felt tip pen than I am using lined paper and a pencil. Why? Because I am not tempted to go back and erase and rewrite something. I just write. That’s not saying there’s anything wrong using pencil and eraser on lined paper. It’s just what works best for me. (Ask Sarah about how much trouble she had adapting to using Word after her old version of WP no longer worked.)

      Research scheduling: Nothing wrong with this advice except that’s not exactly what the article was suggesting. It was more along the lines of “I have two weeks to do this project. So I’m spending Monday and Tuesday of week 1 researching. I’m going to write on these days. Edit on these days.” To clarify what I was trying to get at–I have no issue with researching ahead of time. I do it for every project. But the way the author sets it up, there seems to be the assumption that that is the only time research is done. I know writers, mainly new ones, who spend weeks and months trying to research a project and go down the rabbit hole by trying to cover everything that might come up in the story and then adapting the plot (and often unsuccessfully) to meet the new, “neat” facts they’ve uncovered. Yes, do the basic research ahead of time but stop and take a few minutes to check the additional questions during the writing process because you will NOT anticipate everything. Whether you do that by doing the research right then or insert a note to do it and come back during the editing process, it doesn’t matter. I just don’t like it when someone says you do something all at one time because I don’t know anyone who has always stayed 100% with their outline and who hasn’t come across something in their writing they didn’t anticipate.

      I wish I could agree with you on the pushing through when you’ve written yourself into a corner, but I can’t. I used to. But then I worked with a couple of newbies who were going great guns but took a left turn in their plots (two different writers, two different genres and two different times) and couldn’t go forward because they’d broken the plot/world and couldn’t figure out what happened. One of them wasn’t even sure why he suddenly couldn’t go forward. He just knew he hit a wall and that was it. The other, a romance writer about 10 years ago, knew she had screwed the plot up somehow but couldn’t figure out how well enough to keep writing. In both instances, their subconsciousnesses recognized a problem but didn’t show the solution easily. The only way they could finish was to go back and find where they went wrong and fix it. I know established authors who have had to do the same thing. Again, it comes back to not every writer works in the same way and they have to find out what works for them.

      All that said, the advice will work for some. It will screw others up. My problem is the matter-of-fact way the article presents it all as “this is how to do it”. Only one (iirc) of the contributors note that their recommendation won’t work for everyone. Adding in the NaNoWriMo aspect into it as well, skews things because that is an anomaly when it comes to writing. The founders admit it was created mainly to set a goal of a certain number of words and writing a “novel” with that number of words within a 30 day period. It is a good way to kickstart the muse–if your muse works that way. But there are writers who are damned lucky to get 500 words a day before edits. That is how their process works. To paraphrase Pam, using NaNo completion as a means of showing success simply won’t work for a large number of writers. It’s not that they’re lazy or easily distracted. It is simply that their process is not keyed to work within the framework of NaNo.

      1. I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one, because I definitely didn’t get a “this is how you do it” suggestion from the article; I got more of a “if you’re not doing it this way, and it isn’t working, consider that these might be some useful suggestions” vibe.

        That said, though, I was in a mood this morning, and I apologize if I came off as a bitch.

        1. No need to apologize. I think we’re circling around to saying much the same thing–that there is no one way to do it. So no harm and no foul.

      2. Yeah, I’ve only been writing since September, and I’ve already done that twice.

        The first one I’ve talked about before; got to a point where the guy had downtime without things trying to eat him, and had the realization, I had no idea why he should go on, instead of just taking the off ramp and going home. Had to go back and significantly rework the two characters’ relationship for him to have any reasonable motivation to keep going.

        Second one, same characters, as I’ve been writing, I’ve realized her values and priorities are considerably different than I thought at the start. It still works, and still maps to their earlier actions, it’s just she had different reasons than I’d thought. Problem is, he has been in the background for a lot of this, so I’d never gone back and examined the assumptions I’d made about his character and how why they ticked. Now I’ve got a spot where he is the active instigator, and realized, again, I had no idea how he ticked. So I have to go back and work it out, so the that section can have motivation and be consistent.

        And doing that has added new events into the timeline, and changed another character’s actions down the steam too. Their motivations haven’t charged, and their macro actions haven’t changed, but their end goal has shifted, considerably, so once all the rest of that is done, I need to take a sweep through the entire arc and make sure their actions and tone is consistent with the overall arc.

        On the other hand, I’m also working on a section I think I am just going to have to power through. There’s this seduction attempt that’s been kicking my behind. But, it’s mostly because I’m having trouble figuring out how it works. I know why the characters are doing what they’re doing, and why it doesn’t work. I’m just having trouble with the how and the mechanics of it, not the why.

        I think that’s the difference. If I don’t know exactly how something happens, but I know why it happens, I can always fix that spot later without pulling the pins out of the story. But if I don’t know why the characters are doing what they are doing, I have to go back and fix that first.

      3. “I know writers, mainly new ones, who spend weeks and months trying to research a project and go down the rabbit hole by trying to cover everything that might come up in the story and then adapting the plot (and often unsuccessfully) to meet the new, “neat” facts they’ve uncovered.”

        Yeah, but…

        I’m presently alternating between “done enough research already” and “I’m never going to know enough to write this book.” In the last two days I’ve read two books I considered of only marginal interest, and guess what? Each book dropped the solution to a major plot problem into my lap.

        Of course this only works because I’m simultaneously developing an outline (not a pantser, here. Seriously not.) and noting the great glaring holes in the story; so they’re at the top of my mind while I read. Still, I take it as a sign that I’m not through researching yet.

        1. Oh yeah. Been there and done that. Heck, doing it right now on a project I’m working on. Which is why there is no hard and fast “must do this” rule when it comes to research, outlining, writing, etc.

        2. I’ve found that wallowing in history for fun and not writing in historical eras tends to severely limit the amount of research necessary.

          Does limit genre.

  7. There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
    And every single one of them is right.

    Or as some other fellow wrote when making his skull against an uncooperative project:

    All causes shall give way: I am in blood 1440
    Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
    Returning were as tedious as go o’er:
    Strange things I have in head, that will to hand;
    Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.

    (Those without wisdom to share, can quote others amusingly.)

    1. Good quotes often show the wisdom of those doing the quoting because it lets you get right to the heart of the matter. We would all do well to remember the first quote and apply that same reasoning to just about everything we do in our lives.

    2. Although telling that first quote to someone who has never successfully made a tribal lay in his life is likely to get you smacked. It’s worse than useless to know that there are 69 ways of doing it right if you’ve been stumbling through what feels like 6900 ways of doing it wrong.

      1. No kidding.

        “You do not have to be ashamed of your process” is helpful when you have a working process, that does not fit someone’s sensibilities.

        When you don’t at all grasp /any/ process for doing the thing? Hahaha.

        With an entirely physical task, you can in theory find someone, and ask them to let you watch. Try that with, say, a violinist. There’s a reason you basically learn the violin with a) a competent instructor b) lots of tedious practice.

        Mental tasks, you have to let someone try to explain to you what they did. And, they won’t be very good at explaining the bits that they did without noticing.

        And, this sucks extra hard, because a lot of the projects that one will do over one’s career will have a complexity level that is tractable after one has learned to see the simplicity that can be at the heart of that type of complexity.

  8. Outlines do me a lot of good in other types of writing.

    I suspect that one of my creative writing issues is that I actually do need to get the comprehensive outline down first.

    It being presented as the /only/ option for someone? Yeah, I would disagree with that.

    One, story writing seems to be a very idiosyncratic process.

    Two, on paper, with someone who knows what they are doing, that should be the efficient way to do the work. Major story decisiosn, then do the outline and make the minor story decisions, thne write the story to the outline with the decisions made. Is this really true? In some cases, it seems to be true. Other cases? My feeling is that one may need to write a story to the outline, before gaining some of the judgement used in writing outlines. And that, for the first project, you can’t count on sorting out all the mistaken story decisions, and rework, during the outlining stage. Possibly you would probably still save on overall rework?

  9. Here’s how it goes with my own writing: it depends on the project. Some projects require an outline. It might be a simple “these are the major plot points that need to happen and the folks needed to make it so” al the way to a detailed 50k word outline. The latter often comes in the later books in a series and isn’t so much plot outline as a here are the major beats and a few less major ones, here are the threads from previous books that need to be picked up and run with, and here is how I need to make sure I torture the main character and how I plan to do it (and this can be physical, mental or emotional) as well as the impact this will have on those around the character. Then there are those books that I have no say in. Myrtle the Evil Muse simply struts in one morning, kicks me out of my own brain and takes over my hands and the keyboard.

    The first time my writing process changed for a book, it scared the crap out of me. I was used to writing in a certain way and that wasn’t working with whichever project that happened to be. Sarah sat me down and told me these things happen. Just ride with it and get the book written–and quit fighting against it. Just as sometimes we have to change where we sit when we write or have to switch to pen and paper to break through a hard part of the book, sometimes we have to do some form of outlining–or we don’t have to if we normally outline.

    In other words, listen to your muse, be flexible and don’t panic when something that has worked all along suddenly doesn’t seem to. Usually, that’s your subconscious telling you that you need a change of process (often only temporary) to finish what you’re working on.

  10. If I could write a “comprehensive outline”, I wouldn’t *need* an outline; I’d just write the story.

  11. “The first piece of “advice” give is to create “a comprehensive outline before you start writing.” ”

    I’m perversely proud to say that if the above is true, I do writing completely wrong.

    There is a beginning character who notices a problem, or has a problem happen to to him/her. Then I follow them around and write down the good parts. We meet other characters along the way. I try to make sure that I don’t impose my own idea on the characters, their responses flow from who they are and generally represent the best they could do at the time. Their solutions are much more interesting than mine. (Also they laugh and say “no way” when I want them to do something they wouldn’t do.)

    Quitters, a-holes, dirtbags, stupid people, and Tragic Victims are boring and frankly kinda gross. They exist, but I don’t follow them around.

    Occasionally one finds a Tragic Victim in a dumpster or some such, that being the problem of the day. Rescuing them and watching them seek bloody vengeance on their enemies is interesting, I do that quite a bit. >:D

    I recognize that using this insane ‘method’ of mine would be quite impossible for writing Hugo nominated fare. To do that, one would certainly require a comprehensive outline to be sure of including all the required themes and ticking all the little boxes on the SJW checklist. I miss -all- the checkboxes. sometimes by a mile or more. ~:D

    Anyway, that is my completely wrong method for writing a book.

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