Every time I get ready for a writing push, NaNoWriMo or otherwise, I prepare differently. Each story is in a different place in my head and on paper, so I’m coming at it each time from a different angle. Nonetheless, I have some writing routines that work for me.
If I’m going to write something brand new, I spend the weeks before the writing push thinking about all my ideas and choosing one. Then I think about the characters and write down whatever comes to mind about them. Perhaps I’ll fill out parts of a character sketch or write some journal entries from their point of view. I’ll write down any plot points that are in my mind (usually as brief notes or bullet points). Backstory can stop me cold if I haven’t considered what happened in the past to make these characters behave this way, or if I don’t know how the situation got to this point, so I’ll brainstorm as much backstory as I can.
I had to come up with the beginning of a story “with magic in it” for a class assignment last week. I spent an hour or so sitting on the couch shuffling cards and thinking. I’ve found that doing something mindless with my hands frees up my brain to get creative. So I shuffle cards or crochet (only rows back and forth, not patterns that have to be counted). After a few minutes, I had an interesting thought. I wrote it down and continued shuffling. Another interesting thought. Wrote it down, shuffled cards. Then after a couple of those tangents, my brain started tying the thoughts together. I put down the cards and wrote all the pieces of backstory and reasoning on my paper. Then I turned to a clean sheet and started writing the story. (It was due, no time to waste!)
CONTINUING A NEWER IDEA
Often, I take time out to go on a writer’s retreat to work hard to finish something I’ve started. If I already know bits and pieces and/or have written bits of the actual story, I need to decide on one of two approaches that usually work best for me. Either I spend a lot of time brainstorming and making notes so I know the general path the book is going to take (a “plotter” technique) or I spend some time brainstorming how to get from the beginning to the first turning point, or about a quarter of the way through the story (a hybrid plotter/pantster technique).
I have to email at least 1000 words of my new “magic” story to my class by Friday night, and turn in 5000 words on that story in two weeks for a grade. I have enough of the backstory to understand the concept a little bit. I found out by writing the first scene that a girl who’s been involved in dark magic has to save her little brother and the only person who can help her is a scary guy involved in white magic. Now I have to take some of Shonna’s Wonder Wheel ideas and/or Stephanie’s Mind Mapping ideas and decide when and where the world is, who my characters are, what they want and what’s stopping them from getting it, and then figure out what the first few things are that will happen. (That’s the approach I’m taking to this story, the hybrid approach. Sounds more fun to me!) If you read Davis Bunn’s post from yesterday, the fact that I don’t have much time to do this might actually help me come up with some great ideas!
EDITING A COMPLETE DRAFT
Sometimes I come up on a big writing push with a complete or nearly complete first draft, and what I really need to spend my time on is editing it into as polished a second draft as I can make it. I have two books competing for this kind of time right now. I’ll work on one during my writer’s retreat at the end of the month, and the other during my summer break when school ends November 15. This is when my biggest strengths and weaknesses glow like a match in a dark room. I’ve been writing long enough to know what my main strengths and weaknesses are, so I’ll make a list and go through the manuscript looking for these areas.
For instance, I tend to not get all of the emotion on the page in the first draft. More of it is in my head than I realize, so one of the first things I’ll look for is emotion on the page. Description is often sparse in the first draft as well. I go through my list and, one by one, rework my known weaknesses until they aren’t noticeably lacking anymore.
One of my strengths is character humor. Someone (Donald Maass? Jim Bell?) said in a workshop that you want to spend your time polishing your strengths until you can’t make them shine any brighter. Readers will forgive your weaknesses if they like what you’re good at. Spend time trying to shore up or strengthen your weaknesses, but make your strengths really stand out.
HAVE FUN AND BE CREATIVE
Whichever method I use, if I look at the work as fun, I am far more creative. If I can’t think of what to do next in the plot, or what to change to make a character more interesting, I make lists of 10 and try to come up with crazy or silly or exciting or scary ideas. I try to act like I’m 10 when I’m brainstorming. I have to say, I really like the ideas that 10-year-old Kitty comes up with! She’s much more fun than adult Kitty. 🙂