After a few years off, I spontaneously decided – on 1 November no less – to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I last did it in 2017, and before that in 2014. In both of those years I was working on the same project, which I eventually finished earlier this year and published as The Wake Knot. I’ve already documented the six-year struggle to get that finished. I was happy with the result, but—it was hard.
My project before that, the one from 2013, was much easier, and was published as French Blood in 2014.
Being of an analytical frame of mind, I’ve tried to work out the difference between those two projects. I’m disappointed to realise that I am (in NaNoWriMo terms) a pantser and not a planner. This means I’m happier writing a first draft without a plan and then redrafting it, adding and refining ideas in the drafting process. A planner, on the other hand, is someone who blocks out an outline, using an index card system or something similar, and then fills it all in. The difference between 2013 and then 2014/17 is that in the latter case, I tried to plan. And what happened was that I became overburdened with nitty gritty and lost the thread.
(On the other hand, when I did gather all the threads and eventually finish, I thought it was better than my previous, so who knows?)
But when I opened up Scrivener for this year’s project, I did no planning. In fact, I wrote the first four or five scenes in the third person and then switched to the first. I’ll fix it in the redraft. I’ve got no idea where it’s going, and I’m happily writing approximately 1667 words per day, with ideas occurring as they go.
I don’t know whether I’ll finish, but I haven’t hit a wall yet, and I’m 24,542 words in.
So having admitted I’m a pantser (as in, seat of pants), I’ll also admit that I’m better aiming for the daily target rather than writing in bursts with days off between. If I were to offer a tip, it would be this: 1667 words is do-able in a couple of hours or less. Some people sit down at weekends and try to get ahead, by writing, say 5000 words a day, but I think this is actually harder than just making time to write the 1667. There have been days when I’ve been dog tired, heavy eyed, desperate, but I think if you can find the discipline on those days, it’s better in the long run than taking the night off and having to catch up. And conversely, even on days when you feel like you’ve got loads of energy, stick to the 1667. Leave yourself in a place where you know what comes next, but stop, do something else. Today, I was properly on a roll, but I made myself stop after 1926 words, which was a little over target, but got me to the end of a scene.
Other details: my previous two were set in France. This time, I’ve gone for the Dunstable of my youth, and I’ve composited a load of characters and fictional events out of a broader set. As I said, I don’t know where it’s going, but it’s going well.