As I mentioned earlier this week, I have decided to do National Novel Writing Month for the first time ever this year in an attempt to break out of my writer’s block funk and hopefully finish a *very* rough working first draft of my novel. I am still worried, however, that the end result come December will be 50,000 words of unsalvageable word vomit rather than something that I can edit and fine tune into a manageable first draft. In order to avoid this, I’ve come up with a preparation strategy that I’m implementing this month in order to make sure I make the most out of NaNoWriMo and accomplish the goal I’m setting out to accomplish.
This is the easiest, albeit most time consuming, part of my prep plan for NaNoWriMo. The very first thing I did when I decided that I was actually going to do NaNoWriMo and take it seriously was to put together a reading list for myself for the month of October, because I needed to get back into the mindset of my psychopathic characters. I am not a psychopath (shocker, I know), so writing very close third person narratives from the perspective of psychopaths isn’t exactly second nature for me. In the past, the easiest way for me to put on this “second skin,” if you will, has been to read books that deal with psychopath or borderline psychopath characters, because it allows me to step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes. Granted, these characters and their stories are always very different from my own, but just getting a general gist of how these characters think, feel, and act helps put me mentally in the psychopath end of the personality spectrum. This gives me a better sense of how my own characters would respond if faced with similar situations, which in turn gives me more insight into my characters overall.
Here is the list I am going to tackle this October:
No Country for Old Me~Cormac McCarthy
In Cold Blood~Truman Capote
The Talented Mr. Ripley~Patricia Highsmith
The Dinner~Herman Koch
I will also be watching the movie versions of all the novels that’ve been adapted. If you know of other novels featuring psychopath, borderline psychopath, or potentially psychopathic characters, *please* let me know because I would love to add them to my list and read them during my writing breaks next month.
Writing Out Plot and Chapter Outlines
I go back and forth on whether or not I think writing from outlines is better than writing free form. There are pros and cons to both strategies, and I think at the end of the day it all depends on what strategy works best for you as a writer. In the past I have written free form, and been very pleased with the results; in fact, most of my novel’s draft thus far was written in free form with little to no outlining done.
So why am I switching it up and writing plot and individual chapter outlines? Because right now free form isn’t working for me. At all. Not having even a general idea of what I want to have happen next is causing me anxiety as opposed to liberating me creatively, and has been a major contribution to my writer’s block this entire summer. In fact, the last few chapters of my thesis (i.e. the novel’s first draft) were actually written using outlines, because even then writing free form hadn’t been working for me. So, since I’m trying something new already with the whole quantity over quality approach that NaNoWriMo’s all about and I’ve had good experiences with outlining in the past, I figured I’d bring it back to help me prep for November.
That said, I am in essence marrying the concept of outlining with free form because the outlines I’m making are very loose and only give me general ideas of what I want to have happen in what chapter and in what part of the story. I am also including several possible alternatives for different key plot points in the overall plot. This gives me a lot of wiggle room to play around with the content and doesn’t make me feel like I’m tied down to any one particular idea in case the story starts deviating in a different direction than the one I’ve originally intended for it.
This is something that I personally think is *very* important. Stories tend to take a life of their own when they’re first being written out (or at least they do for me), and oftentimes they end up going places and doing things that you didn’t expect them to. In my experience, if you don’t let them go in the direction they want to go in, they tend to not be as good as they could be. So, if you do end up outlining, never feel like just because you’ve written something down in that outline it absolutely has to happen, even if your instincts are telling you that that might not work anymore, because chances are your instincts are right.
Writing a Character Diary
This is a writing exercise that I’ve done in the past with other pieces and found to be very beneficial. If you are unfamiliar with this exercise, it’s very simple: write a diary from the perspective of each of your primary characters.
There are a number of ways you can keep a character diary. One is that after writing in your own journal or diary for the day (which, if you remember, I’ve said is a very good habit for writers to get into), open up a separate notebook and write about what would’ve happened happened in your character’s day that day, using his or her voice and perspective in the fictional reflections. You can also write about real events in your life but analyze them from the perspective of your character rather than your own.Another alternative that I’m a big fan of is just doing a stream of consciousness style entry from your character’s point of view; this one in my experience tends to give the most insight into your character’s deeper, subconscious layers, and helps ensure that you’re crafting a round character as opposed to a flat one.
I’m personally playing around with all these different strategies with my main character’s diary, as well as jotting down notes about her different personality quirks and preferences, because my thesis adviser once told me that a writer should know everything about her character, down to what type of shampoo she prefers using. For instance, I’ve written down that my character Rebekka prefers floral scents to musk, her favorite animal is the hummingbird, and she picks her nail polish off when she’s nervous or stressed out. Many of these details likely won’t make it into my novel, but it gives me a better picture of who she is as a person and how she’ll react in whatever situation I throw her into.
Reviewing What I’ve Already Written
This is my least favorite part about prepping for NaNoWriMo, which’s why it’s at the end. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve already written and somewhat edited the first third of my novel, which I turned in as my Masters thesis this past May. The problem, however, is that I haven’t been able to make myself go back and re-read what I’ve worked on, mostly because re-reading my drafts *always* makes me cringe, even the polished drafts, because I always come across some part that is just absolutely atrocious and I’m left wondering why I ever thought that that would be a good thing to write down. But, unfortunately, much of the unfinished portions of the story are dependent on this first part, and so I have no choice but to go back and review what I’ve already written, even though I know my reaction is going to be the same as Mr. Bean’s.
How are you preparing for NaNoWriMo, dear readers? Is there anything you’d recommend I do that I haven’t included here?