Unsticking Myself

This week has not been going well on the NaNo planning front! The more I think about my story, the more plot holes I’m confronted with, and the more I want to abandon everything I’ve planned and start from scratch. It’s a major crisis!

Well, maybe it’s not a major crisis, even if I’m mostly unhappy with my current story plan. There’s still quite a bit about my story and my characters that I like and am excited about, but I’ve been having trouble getting into some of my characters’ heads. A lot of them just aren’t feeling real for me, and I’m having a hard time figuring out what the stakes are for them and what’s really motivating them.

This is especially true about my villain. My villain has a purpose and a goal, and I’ve 90% figured out what she’s trying to do. But I haven’t been able to grasp why she’s doing it now, and why she needs it to happen. What will happen if she doesn’t accomplish this nefarious goal of hers? What is her plan to foil my MC? This is but a small sampling of the questions I’ve been wracking my brain over for the past week. I feel like I can’t continue trying to plan out my story without knowing these things, and the clock is ticking; November is fast approaching!

I’ve read advice before that suggests writing a scene from a first-person POV to help understand a character better, but, for whatever reason, I didn’t think to do it until it just sort of happened last night by accident. I never write in first-person anyway, and it came out in my head in third-person, but I imagined a scene with my villain getting her evil on, and it was awesome.

I had never considered writing any scenes from the POV of my villain. I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing it sooner! Not only was it so much fun, but it inspired a whole other breakthrough, which is this: I am going to write from as many characters’ POVs as I want, as many as it takes to understand them and understand what they’re doing and what they want. Will these scenes end up in the final novel? Who knows. I only planned to use my MC as the POV character. But this is a first draft–an experiment, an exercise. I need to write it whichever way makes my characters real for me and gets me to the end.

I have to keep reminding myself that whatever I have planned is changeable. It will continue to change, and if you read my last entry, you know that I’ve changed it so much already. My notes from a week ago don’t even make sense anymore! I feel like I have a pretty good foundation for my first act, and many ideas for what happens after that, but nothing really concrete, nothing that really feels right.

It’s kind of scary, and kind of exciting, to not know where this story is going. The logical, planning side of me (the biggest–or at least the noisiest–side of me, to be honest) is freaking out, thinking that if I don’t have a super-well-thought-out, fail-proof plan, I won’t get those 50,000 words. But the flexible side of me (who doesn’t get out much) is trying to tell me to just go with it, and to have fun, because I need to stop taking things way too seriously. And the logical side knows the flexible side is probably right, but it’s so hard when I have this obsession with Always Being Prepared. I don’t know where that obsession comes from (anxiety issue maybe?), but it’s a pain my ass sometimes.

All this planning has helped me get a sense of where I want to go with the story, but it has not let me truly visualize the story or really get in touch with the characters, despite knowing their backstories. I’m still trying to determine my ideal writing process, but, at least in this case, it seems that planning can only take me so far, and I think that I can’t move forward any more until I’ve put some words down. So maybe my process needs to be Plan-Write-Plan-Write, instead of my current attempted method of Plan-Plan-Plan-Write-Write-Write.

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Planning Is A Black Hole

I have been completely consumed by planning my NaNoWriMo novel, and as October ticks away, I’m freaking out about not having enough time to sort through and organize all of my ideas. Planning a novel is HARD! Well, it is if you’re like me and want to know EVERYTHING before you sit down to write.

Why do I need to know everything? I know I don’t actually need to, I just feel like I need to. I’m sure that when I start banging this thing out, lots of things will change. But I do need to know where things are headed. I want to solve as many of the problems as I can ahead of time, even if the solution I come up with now ends up being different than the solution I come up with when I actually write it. How can this not be the case, when every day I have a different plan.

My novel has changed so much since I first began to plan it. The concept, the characters, and pretty much everything else has changed. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that there is magic. I have trouble sticking with ideas, but if I don’t like something, I’m not going to want to write it, so I have to keep thinking about it until I land on something I like. This makes planning so hard, because when the puzzle changes, all of the pieces have to change too. So I’m a bit frustrated with myself for not sticking with my ideas, but I can’t help it if they aren’t working for me! I have to find the solutions that work.

I have a ton of handwritten notes for this book, and I’ve been going through trying to digitize them for organizational purposes. I’ve been using the iPad app Index Card. I’ve been trying to get scenes onto cards in the app that I can then reorganize into chapters. I’ve also been compiling all of my worldbuilding and backstory stuff in there. It’s taking forever! And of course I write down more things that need to be typed up every day, so it’s just never ending. But I know if I don’t organize my thoughts somehow, they’ll get lost. I’ve already forgotten a lot of things I jotted down, so typing the notes is a good reminder of what I’ve developed (and of what’s still working and what needs to be re-worked). Still, it’s so much effort. And so many of the notes I’ve written are no longer applicable, since I’ve changed things around so much. It’s hard to keep track. If only I could take and re-take snapshots of the whole thing straight out of my brain without having to keep re-doing everything!

I also have an obsession with details, and I need to learn to let them go. I want to know everything about my world – the governments, the faith systems, how everything works. It’s fun to think about, and the realer my world feels, the better I can write it, but in the end, it doesn’t affect the story that much, and I need to stop thinking about all those little details! I can fill things in later. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

At this point, I need to be focusing on my character arcs and story arcs. They’re obviously the most important. Unfortunately, those are the things I have the most trouble developing! I think it comes down to not being in touch with my characters enough. That’s really what I need to work on at this point.

I do feel like the solutions I’ve got now are better than the ones I had yesterday, and the ones I had yesterday are better than the ones I had the day before that. I only hope that by the time November comes, I have something developed that I can stick with for a whole month! And that I can put it in some kind of navigable format so I have kind of a roadmap to follow.

I may complain about it, but I’m really loving all of this, and I wonder why I haven’t always been doing this. I want to shout from the rooftops, “I’M WRITING A BOOK!” I don’t really want to talk about what the book is about, because (as this whole whiny post is about) I’m still working on that, but I’m writing a book, and how cool is that?!

So You Want To Write A Novel

If someone had told me two months ago that I would be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I would have accused them of being insane. Back in college, when I had friends who participated, I thought they were insane. But here I am, planning my novel.

I don’t remember what sparked it exactly. While watching a TV character start to write her memoir, did I think, “Hey, I want to write a book”? After reading an amazing series of books and LOVING them, did I think, “I want to write something this awesome”? Possibly it’s a combination of both, and other things as well.

Writing has been part of my life for as far back as I can remember. When I was a kid, I made up stories. When I was a teenager, I wrote bad poetry. When I went to college, I wrote slightly better (but still bad) poetry, as well as some cringe-worthy self-insert stories to entertain myself and my friends. I even started out as an English major, with hopes to either become an editor or a teacher. Unfortunately, after a miserable year of depressingly uninspiring classes and too many books that I genuinely hated, I switched to Graphic Design (and I don’t even do that for a living). The switch put an end to any desire I had to work with books and publishing, because I actually hated reading for a while, until I rediscovered how amazing it is when it’s not forced upon me. But throughout it all, I kept diaries, journals, and a personal blog. Despite occasional periods of time in which I felt like I had nothing to say, I’ve always written about something, for some purpose.

So I guess wanting to write a book makes sense. And it also doesn’t. Honestly, the concept is terrifying. What if I fail? What if don’t finish? What if I burn out? I’ve honestly never finished a story in my life, so that could totally happen. What if I’m no good? *insert every negative thought here*

I’ve tried to argue myself into not being afraid of trying this, but what can I say? I’m still freaked out.

My writing process doesn’t help. It currently goes a little something like this:

“I have NO ideas! I’m crap! I should just stop now!”

*awesome idea comes along*

“I am on top of the world!!!!”

*lots of crappy ideas that won’t work with what I’ve already come up with*

“See? I’m totally awful at writing. I should give up.”

*some time elapses*

“I wonder how x works? Or why x happened in history?”

*googles*

*awesome idea comes along*

“I’m the best ever!!!”

…And so on.

But even so, I’ve got some really awesome ideas, and I’m excited to work on them! My next mission is to plan. PLAN PLAN PLAN!!! I need to work out a cohesive structure for my novel, because going in blind (as I did in many of my previous stories) has never worked out very well for me. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to make it to the end this time!