This month, twice a week, we’ll be offering advice from NaNoLand (read more in our initial blog post!). Our inaugural session includes questions about the benefits of planning, and writing while grieving… Require some wisdom of your own? Ask us here!
Dear NaNoWriMo, I am conflicted. Do I meticulously plot my novel? Do I fly by the seat of my pants? I hate planning, but I have a suspicion that my novel may come out more coherent if I do. What do you seasoned NaNo veterans think?
Yours in Writing, Overly Worried Novelist (OWN), Toronto, 0 words.
Dear Overly Worried Novelist,
NaNoWriMo is all about challenging yourself to try new things, isn’t it? The age-old battle between plotters and pantsers is one that has raged quietly since 1999.
The thing about NaNoWriMo is that there is no “should.” Seriously! I always encourage people to venture outside of their comfort zones. If you’re a planner? Drop your safety net, put on those pants, and try just pantsing!
Pantser? Grit your teeth, and make an outline. What do you have to lose? Challenge yourself to try something new. The worst that could happen is it doesn’t quite work. You drop the outline and start planning. Or you scramble and plan a quick outline before you start.
You don’t have to have a super-meticulous plan, either. A sketchy outline can work wonders for keeping you on track, without eliminating that discovery factor that pantsers love so much! Make a battle plan, with the understanding that plans rarely survive the first engagement. Even your most hardcore plotters will tell you that their plans often change as the writing continues. Use your plan as a guide, not a restriction; it’s a road map… not a train track that only allows motion in one direction.
Basically: plan. But only plan a little; not so much that you’re tearing your nails out of your fingers in agony, but just enough to keep your novel on track. And if you’re hating it… throw it out! No one says you have to stick to it!
Dear NaNoWriMo, I have just lost my best friend and writing companion Spazz. He was fifteen years old and was with me since I was five. Spazz would always cuddle me while I wrote and kept me on track through all three of my previous attempts. My question to you is this: Should I go on to do NaNo this year without him? I don’t think I want to write without first having grieved properly.
Yours in writing, “Missing Her Kitty”
Dear Missing Her Kitty,
Oh, my friend. I am so sorry about Spazz. I’ve been where you are. I was absolutely destroyed when my kitty Lucy died back in 2006. I used to go out to the living room at night so I wouldn’t wake up my husband with how hard I was crying.
The thing about losing a pet is that it’s so constant. Your friend was around all the time and now they aren’t and it’s awful. And it used to be that when I cried I would cry into Lucy’s fur and she’d lick my nose and it wouldn’t be so bad; so when I was crying and there was no fluffy friend there to lick my nose it just made it so, so much worse. But it will get better, a little at a time.
Moving on to your actual question, let me heartily endorse the idea that you can grieve through your writing. It is, in fact, my preferred way of working through my emotions. My grandfather died in the middle of November in 2007, and it was pretty hard to get back into my novel when I was so distracted by everything that was going on, and so sad about my grandpa.
But I poured my heart into that novel, and I wrote a lot about all the great memories I had of my grandfather, and it was incredibly cathartic to have that safe space to work through everything. And now I have this great tribute to him, in the form of my novel that year, and even though the novel is pretty mediocre, the sentiment means a lot to me.
So I vote heartily in favor of participating, and using the opportunity to work through your grief. Maybe that takes the form of a particularly great and Spazz-like cat in your story, where you can write about all the wonderful things you did with your kitty and have this record of how much you loved him. Or maybe it means your character just lost a pet, and you write about how horrible you feel. So you can wallow in your pain for a while, and somehow your soul gets a cleansing while you’re wallowing.
It’s going to be hard to write every day without your kitty there next to you, and there are going to be days when your keyboard is soggy and your writing is filled with typos because the screen was blurry. But there are also going to be days when your story fills you with joy. Think of what this opportunity is. It’s a chance to spend an entire month remembering, mourning, and celebrating your best friend by doing this amazing thing that the two of you shared for so long.
Spazz wouldn’t want you to miss out on NaNoWriMo. Neither do we. I know you can do it, even though it’ll be hard.
Got any advice of your own for our friends? Do you plot or fly by your pants?