Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Write What You NaNo guest blogger: Alicia Summers

I'd like to welcome my friend, fellow NaNoer and compulsive planner extraordinaire, Alicia Summers to the blog! Alicia just entered the blogging world a few weeks ago (you can access her blog through the link below) and I encourage you to check it out if only to get an idea of how planners do world building!

NaNoWriMo from a Planner’s Perspective: I’m Not Neurotic, I’m Organized.

A five-subject notebook lies open to a page covered in carefully written, bulleted notes.  Not a single word is scratched out.  In the margins, the bullets are numbered and, in precise strokes, highlighted in blue, green, or orange.  A discarded pen waits nearby as a cool afternoon breeze flirts with the pages through the open window.  On a couch nearby, a writer snores – but in a dainty, lady-like way.  This writer, unlike so many of her friends, is a planner.  This writer is also me.

What I have described above is a pretty common Saturday or Sunday afternoon for me in October, or as I call it: The Month Before NaNo.  I really do have a five subject notebook filled with carefully written notes – none of which are crossed out and all of which are highlighted and numbered so that I can relate them to each other.  I often nap on afternoons when I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly how I want something to unfold and, yes, I really do snore.

As a planner, most people expect that I have it all figured out.  I tell them about my thoughts and ideas and character descriptions and others marvel at how detailed I am.  That is, until I tell them about my notebook… the one filled with detailed notes – all highlighted and numbered.  That’s when I cross the line and enter neurotic land.  Even other planners think I’m a little neurotic – though I know there must be a few out there who are just as detail oriented as I am (if not more so!).

I am not neurotic; I’m organized.

For a pantser (or even a less organized planner), I can see how my detailed notes would seem neurotic.  But contrary to my organizational tendencies, I don’t think in a linear pattern. One moment I could be contemplating the physics of a spaceship and the next I’ll end up describing my character’s key flaw – because somehow it relates to the spaceship.  That somehow probably won’t be a straight path, either.  It’s a giant, obstacle-filled, pot-hole ridden road that twists and turns.  And it may be raining on that road, and there may be a military force standing in the middle.  And maybe a dragon, just for good measure.

You’d think that being a non-linear thinker with ideas that plop into my lap from Somewhere Magical, organization would not exactly be my forte.  But pantsing it makes me nervous. Even now, though I have a notebook filled with information and my Scrivener document all set up, because NaNoWriMo is just days away I feel nervous – I’m worried that I haven’t prepared enough.

I maintain that I am simply organized, though I admit, there is such a thing as too organized, and you can’t plan for everything.  However, there are a few things that you can and probably should do to plan, just to make your life easier during NaNo.

1: Have an Idea.
No, seriously.  Writing is a challenging enough task as it is, but if you don’t have a general idea about what you’re going to write, it’s just going to be that much more difficult.  I always start out my planning with an idea – it might not be fully formed, but it has the ability to do two things: create interesting characters and develop an interesting plot.

2: Write out an Outline.
It doesn’t even have to be detailed – just a simple point a, point b, point c will do.  At least you’ll have an idea of where you should be heading.  It can also help save you from tons of editing later.  That scene with the dragon that you threw into the middle to bolster your word count but has nothing to do with your plot? Yeah, that can go.

3: Describe your Main Characters.
Again, they don’t even have to be detailed descriptions.  Something simple like: red hair, blue eyes, likes chimichangas.  It does help if you explain their motivations and their internal and external conflicts.  I find this makes it easy to reference when I’m trying to figure out what their next move is.  If your character is motivated by their fear of another character and yet they mysteriously strike up a friendship with that person in chapter two, why would they do such a thing?  Knowing your characters motives & conflicts can help you decide on that so your readers aren’t confused – maybe they are still afraid of that person and the fear still drives them, but they had to strike up a friendship due to an external conflict.

4: Do your research.
It might seem boring and mundane, but research can make or break a book.  Writing about something that you don’t understand without researching it will only make you seem incompetent.  No offense.  I am not a surgeon, but if I were to write about a surgery I would be sure I knew at least the basic terminology so my story would seem convincing.  Sure, you can always research it and correct the facts after you’re done with Nano, but that’s just creating more work for yourself!  If you’re writing about something that you don’t have intimate knowledge of, I highly recommend learning the basics.

5: Figure out your first sentence.
This might seem silly, but it’s immensely helpful… at least for me.  One of my biggest challenges is actually starting the novel. Just what tone do I want to set?  How do I want to get people involved?  How do I want to make everyone love my lead characters just as much as I do?  Staring at a blank white page on a computer screen with a blinking cursor does not help my creative juices flow, either.  So I always take a few pieces of paper, think about my plot, characters and setting and write out as many simple, one-line sentences as I can fit on the pages.  After a week or two I go back and evaluate them and decide if I want to use any of them as my first sentence, or if I should write more.  It’s so much easier to write if I know where I’m starting.

To my fellow planners: loosen your grip.  Expand your horizons.  Try something out of your comfort zone.  NaNo is meant to be an exploration of your writing craft so you should do just that – explore.
To the pantsers:  Planning is not your enemy – it can be helpful and nonrestrictive if you let it.  Your realm is scary and dark and slippery to me, but somehow you find your way.  Planning – even just a little, tiny bit – could upgrade your writing shoes to non-slip.

Regardless of the method, we are all writers determined to accomplish a goal: to write 50,000 words in one month – or less!  I applaud you, fellow ‘Wrimo’s, regardless of your means, and I raise my glass to you!  Stay shiny, one and all!

A question for you…
Are you a planner or a pantser or somewhere in between?  Will you be branching out this year or sticking with a tried and true method?  How do you prepare before NaNo?

Alicia Summers (NaNo screen name: Go.Zeki) is a writer and a dreamer, a reader and a retired ghost hunter.  She loves Firefly and science fiction and is not ashamed to admit she watches Star Trek and attends comic-cons.  She has two black cats and a picture of a llama.  She blogs often (http://unique-ink.blogspot.com/) and drinks coffee when no one is looking.  She also does not usually talk about herself in the third person (except for this paragraph, of course).


  1. Oh! The first line--great idea. I am going to think about that this week. I have my story and character notes and first few chapter summaries, so I think I'm ready. Good luck and I will see you along the NaNo journey (whenever we emerge from our writing caves!)

  2. Thank you so much for your encouragement on my blog, TL. (Is it OK if I call you TL?) I am following your blog, and I will keep checking in on your NaNo posts. =)

  3. Coleen, I thought the same thing. Ohh... I don't have a first line ready! I can't really start writing until Nov 1, but I can certainly put some thought into where I want to start! Chap summaries are a great idea, too. I have some work to do!

    Rain, welcome! You can call me TL or Tricia or "Hey you!" Really, I respond to all. Thanks for the follow!

  4. This is good advice for the budding planners like me!

  5. I'm mostly a planner...at least for the big things. I have most of my scenes usually mapped out and then I just fill in the rest. I'm an underwriter though. I have to write a 50K rough draft before I can really get into a story.

    6 days!!

  6. I'm a planner. I'm a planner. I am a planner. *repeats it over and over*

    Can someone tell me why I don't have a freaking plan this year? Meeeeeep! Slippery shoes it'll be. WISH ME LUCK.

  7. OMG, I am a totally unorganized pantster and now I feel like a loser. I am in awe of your planning. I want to be that way, I swear I do. It just never works for me. My first draft is basically my outline. I may try to be more organized this year. I love the first sentence idea. That is something even I can do.

    Thanks for the tips.

  8. I'm a planner. In the past people have oohed and ahhed over my organization. But you, good lady, put me to shame.
    Also, i'm freaking out a bit because i don't have my pre-draft query or my outline written yet. 6 Days!!! I have to get my butt in gear

  9. Is it wrong that I'm getting some sick satisfaction out of knowing I'm not the only one who isn't ready?

    On my "to do" list for my writing group tonight:
    Character arcs
    Chapter summaries.

    Yeah. Lots of work and little time. Oh, the romantic life of a writer...

  10. You make me wonder the percentage of writers are non-linear thinkers (I'm one too) vs. linear thinkers. And I love that last step - the first sentence. I go through all the other steps, but never thought to play around with different first sentences a head of time. I don't think that counts as cheating when it's probably less than 50 words! Great advice!

  11. I had a notebook(s) like that, but I could never find things when I wanted them. I jump around a lot when I plan - especially when I'm doing research. And then I found Scrivener... Ahhh...

  12. I think someone should put together a post-NaNo blog hop/party specifically for Scrivener users where each person shares their most fave aspect of the program. I have to be honest, yes, it's slick and awesome, but Word is so much easier.... facing a dilemma.

  13. I wrote my first novel in Word and I had such a hard time figuring out where I was in revisions and then find things that I was looking for. And I really struggled to keep track of research notes and pertinent ideas and stuff. I wish Scrivener paginated, though. I haven't bothered to figure out all the really neat tricks yet, I'm just happy to be able to move sections around on the cork board and keep folders of notes and character/location sketches. And I really love that I can put pictures in the same folders as notes - it's making it much easier for me to write place descriptions.

  14. Man, you make it sound so easy, Megan! :) I wonder if I'm not setting up my folders correctly in my binder? Hmm... sounds like I need to watch some more of the tutorials. God forbid I actually try and read/watch directions before I just jump right in. I'm also using version 1.0 though I hope to upgrade after this year's NaNo.

    Maybe you could post some screen shots of your left nav bar that shows what folders you have under what headings? I think that's my problem--I'm not sure where to put my folders. Does each chapter get its own folder? So many questions...

  15. So, I needed a blog topic, anyway - Here's a brief blurb on Scrivener with some screen shots: http://wp.me/p1H0Xz-2h


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