I spent the entire month of October crafting an outline for my NaNoWriMo challenge in November. I was positive—oh so positive—that outlining was the tactic I needed to end up with a fully completed novel.
You know what they say about the best laid plans…
On the second day of November, I abandoned my story and started a new one.
A new one I’d given no thought to other than knowing the beginning would involve a dream I’d had. No planning. No idea of who the characters were or what was happening or even what genre I was writing.
But I wrote.
And on the fourth day of November, I wrote four thousand words—more than I’ve ever written in one day. (The downside to writing posts in advance is that sometimes things change. On the 20th, I wrote 5K in a day. Of the same story.)
But in between abandoning my original story and my 4K day, I wanted to stop.
I said, “I’m never going to finish anything. I’m ready to give up.” I was convinced I wasn’t a fiction writer—and that I needed to just accept it and move on. And I piled on the doubts.
But I’d committed to it. I’d made writing 50,000 words my goal for November. So I gave myself a pep talk—not an uncommon occurrence—I was going to do it, whether it was the story I’d planned or not. I let myself dive into the story. I gave myself permission not to follow an outline or even brainstorm about what was coming next.
And then, rather than feeling like every word was like pulling teeth, I was knocking out blocks of 1,000 words.
You won’t know what works until you try it
If you’ve ever given credit to “the right story idea” or “having the muse strike,” you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’re in control. If you can own your failures, you’ve got to own your successes too.
This NaNoWriMo taught me I’m still discovering what my writing process is. Yeah. Even though I’ve been writing since I was 10. But it wasn’t always fiction. I didn’t always finish what I’d started.
If you think, “Well, I can sit down and hammer out a blog post without a problem*, so knocking out a story should be easy too,” you’d be wrong.
*I don’t know anyone who’s never struggled with writing before. I have bad blog post writing days. That’s when I go play on Twitter and tweet #writingtips. Recognize your bad writing days and know how best to deal with them. For me, it’s walking away. For you, it might be pushing through. No right answer exists.
Writing is an intensely individual activity. But it’s not just individual—it’s also contextual. How you write fiction isn’t how you write a blog post isn’t how you write non-fiction isn’t how you write poetry. Writing non-fiction books doesn’t make it easier for me to write a fiction book. Writing blog posts doesn’t guarantee I can write a full-length novel, even if the word count of my published posts qualifies.
You have a writing process and it’s up to you to find it
My problem with writing fiction is finishing the story. My solution was to write an outline. Right? If you can’t finish, plan it ahead of time. It’s logical. But it didn’t work for me.
Except… abandoning my story wasn’t a failure. Because outlines weren’t the answer. And there’s no shame to acknowledge that and let it be.
The outline did teach me a valuable lesson, though. The more time I spend plotting and writing in my head, the easier it is for me to give up. I can never get the words to match the scene I imagined.
By starting with a dream I had—which was sketchy at best—it allowed me the freedom and space to explore a topic without adhering to a perfected scene in my head. And suddenly, it all made sense: planning and plotting ahead of time engaged my inner perfectionist. That’s another step toward learning my writing process.
The next time you tell yourself, “I can’t do this,” stop. Just STAHP.
Change your self-talk to, “I can’t do it this way.” Then follow it up with “What’s not working?” and “What can I change to see if a different way works better?”
Want it enough to keep learning and discovering your writing process.
Have you learned your writing process yet?