Losing the plot. And my pants.

writing about writing

I’ve decided that a large part of writing involves releasing guilt over living with unwashed hair. Or forgetting to eat breakfast and lunch and scarfing down half of a frozen pizza while still standing at the sink.

Writing longform pieces transforms me into some kind of feral creature. Like a mole burrowing tunnels in solitude, emerging only for sweets and tea and bathroom breaks, blinking against the light.

In short: I’ve been prepping for NaNoWriMo 2019.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every November. The goal is to write 50,000 new words, equating to roughly 1,666 words a day. (Written out like that, it almost looks like a hex, doesn’t it?)

“What are you planning to write?” asked no one.

Well, I have several stories kicking around in my head: a multi-generational coming-of-age novel that I started and abandoned a few years ago. A completed screenplay that I could deconstruct and salvage for parts. And a YA novel. They’re all unorganized, though, and perhaps a little navel-gazey. They each require more time spent staring out the window. The whole thing is a bit intimidating.

But the beauty of NaNoWriMo is that you can self-flagellate in a group of supportive, like-minded peers strewn across the globe, all of whom are rooting for one another and updating their progress and sharing tips. (If you’re considering participating this year, please let me know and we can be writing buddies, high fiving across the void!)

Naturally, I’ve been spending a lot of time jotting down premises and character sketches to determine which ones have legs. And I’ve been reading about novelists’ methods for completing manuscripts.

To me, writing manuals and lectures are fascinating. But I know it can get a bit too Inside the Writer’s Studio for some people, which is why I hesitate to write about writing. Like, who am I, some self-aggrandizing James Lipton character interviewing myself instead of, say, Angelina Jolie?

“What’s your favorite word?” “Yes.”

“What’s your least favorite word.” “No.”

(Always “no.” Never “influencer” or “streamline” or “debt.”)

But this blog is about what I’ve been doing, and I’ve been thinking about writing.

The NaNoWriMo community—and many fiction writers—divide themselves into two groups: plotters and pantsers. The plotters, well, plot. They outline and scheme and make spreadsheets and flow charts. They occasionally stockpile gel pens. One gets the sense that true plotters change their oil on time. Or even before the sticker date, which is outrageous.

Pantsers, on the other hand, fly by the seat of their pants. I include myself in this category. We’re Type B overachievers. We kick the ball down the field and watch our characters scramble. In theory, pantsing allows the story to unfold naturally, leaving room for surprise. I know I’ve hit my stride when it feels as though I’m bearing witness to my characters’ private fears and longings and mistakes—like I’m taking down dictation, almost inconsequential to the process.

But it’s doubtful that I can wing it for 50,000 words in thirty days without some semblance of a plan. I imagine I’d be paralyzed by choice, by the fear of “doing it wrong,” and be so intimidated by the countless diverging paths that I’d end up staring at a blank page, wasting time, stress shoveling chocolate into my anxiety mouth. And there’s far too much excellent Swiss chocolate for that. My blood sugar can’t take it.

So I’m going to create a rough outline, jot down possible scenes, and plot beats—all with the expectation that things will change as I go. Mix plotting and pantsing to become a… planter? A planter with no pants. Because I work from home.