For the last several years, Halloween has been the day before National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to me.
I am pretty excited about finishing the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on this year. It was an outgrowth of my 2020 NaNo project, and I didn’t spend a lot of regular time on it until September. Since then, I’ve had pretty regular writing sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. For November (NaNo month), I plan to put in some time every day of the month.
But I did want to pass on a few of the gems from the presenters at Write On Door County’s first mystery writing conference. The ideas weren’t new to me, but the reminders were just what I needed. Maybe you need them, too.
Everyone has a a different writing process
The first panel with the authors who led opening day workshops made that pretty clear. All were published authors, some of many novels, some of few. Some were plotters and some were pantsers. A couple admitted to being plantsers — those who start out with a vague idea, but make plans as they get into the story.
For the first few years I’ve done NaNo, I’ve been firmly in the panster camp, but I’m leaning toward plantser. I finished the first draft of my work in progress because I started figuring out which scenes I still needed to make the novel work. I didn’t write them from start to finish, but I made notes and wrote them whenever I got a fair idea of where each scene needed to go. I did write the first scene first and the last scene last, but that was about it.
Let the reader do some work
Years ago when I took a playwriting course in college, I learned a lesson from the professor. I wrote the last scene of my play with a happy ending — more or less. When he read the first draft, he told me, “You need to give the actors something to do. Why don’t you kill somebody?”
I realized then that acting is as crucial to a successful play as scriptwriting is. (And costuming, stage designing, directing and all the rest….) So, too, is leaving something for the reader to imagine. It’s possible to spell out too much in a story. Pete Hautman wasn’t asking us to be vague, but to leave a little to the reader’s imagination, too. It helps them get involved in — and keep reading — the story. The writer, he told us, must trust the reader to connect the dots.
Downtime counts, too
“Ruminating is also writing.” So said John DeDakis.
While nothing will ever get written without sitting in a chair pounding on a keyboard or writing in a notebook, storytelling begins in ideas, daydreams, imagination. It will take work for most of us to put those ideas into a form that will intrigue a reader. But never discount the time when you find yourself gazing out a window, mindlessly watching leaves fall from a tree or clouds scud across the sky.
We all need to give our creative minds a chance to run free so we can have words to put on pages (or screens).
There was much more packed into two short days, but right now I need to ruminate before I start this year’s NaNo novel.