National Novel Writing Month


NaNoWrimo (National November Writing Month), is underway and once again, despite honorable intentions, I failed to make the starting line.  I’ve never participated in NaNo, and while I considered diving in this year, my determination withered as the deadline loomed.  Despite a lengthy mental debate the past few weeks, I decided not to set myself up for failure, knowing I couldn’t manage the 1666 word (average) daily commitment.  I would not make the finish line.

My primary Achilles heel, my hesitancy to commit to the 50,000 word marathon, surrounds plotting and preparation.  Of the two types of writers, those who outline and those who do not, I’d like to introduce myself:

“Hi, my name is Mike, and I’m a pantser.”

For anyone unfamiliar, the term refers to those who write primarily sans-outline, no plotting, otherwise known as writing ‘by the seat of your pants’.

While firmly in the minority, we are a brave wanderlust troupe, exploring paths unknown, delving into our psyches, following rabbit trails.  I spent years using standardized writing techniques, plotting out structure, story arcs, three part acts, chapters, scene transitions, all that Jazz.  I created character backgrounds, comprehensive biographies identifying traits, eccentricities, vocabulary, flaws, desires, fears, you name it.

And more often than not, when I invested heavily in preparation, my after-product fizzled.

Like clockwork.

In fact there seemed to be a correlation between the cumulative time spent outlining, and the speed in which my enthusiasm and drive shrivelled, once the writing process began.  Eventually, periods of frustration and abandonment caused me to accept the inevitable, to bode farewell to the moral majority, and cross over to darker side.  Just me and my pants.

While I still struggle to complete projects, my odds of success have improved.  I take solace in knowing other authors, famous and not, embrace a similar method. Stephen King, in his book ‘On Writing’, compares plotting out a story to uncovering fossils, citing that outlining a story before writing, is like deciding the type of dinosaur you have before unearthing the fossil.  A clever analogy.  King goes on further to add, “Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort, and the dullard’s first choice.”

How’s that for choosing a side?

While many will disagree, and some will argue a balance between both styles is achievable – and preferable, I embrace the freedom of open writing.  Some writers are analytical, prone to structure, uniformity and preparation. Others are not.  For me, allowing the mind, the subconscious, to assume control, to travel, detour and invent, is a recipe I prefer.  Results vary, but the potential for original, captivating work, is heightened, at least for me.

When it works, it works well.  But recently, when crunch time came and the deadline approached, I feared the 1666-word-per-day sword of Damocles would prove fatal to my method.  (By the way, don’t think I didn’t notice the average daily word count contains a triple ‘6’.  Coincidence?   I think not.).

So I passed on Nano this year.  But the dream isn’t over, not for me or my pants.

For those who have taken the 2016 plunge, currently 8000 words in, well done, I commend your commitment.  Best of luck, although we all know luck has nothing to do with it.

I’d love to hear from any other (closet) pantsers, plotters, or hybrids.  What’s your process?

Until next time,

31 thoughts on “National Novel Writing Month

  1. Mike- I would say I am a hybrid. While I do like to have a roadmap for my story, I prefer to act as a conduit for my characters. They usually let me know where the want to go. Sometimes they follow the route, other times they like to explore.
    I am also not participating in NaNoWriMo. I can see where it would help those who need a swift kick in the pants to get their project off the ground. Since I am an iconoclast, I prefer to just write. I do not need hype for me to put pen to paper. To everyone in the thick of this annual event, Godspeed & my best wishes. I hope you create your masterpiece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. Writing takes so many forms, and a novel is definitely not in everyone’s to-do list, at least no initially. NaNo is like a set of jumper cables, once a car sits idle for so long, it needs a jolt to get running again. It’s a tremendous commitment, and I truly admire those that attempt the feat. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I prefer to write short stories and to write a Novel, am not sure if I got that in me. Although I nearly write about 1500-2000 words on daily basis as a ghost writer, but that’s paid work. I am driven by money:-). However, to write Novel-I hope I do get there sometime in the future. But definitely no NaNoWriMO 2016 for me!
    – Sarojavasanth

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Writing a novel is a huge challenge for me and yes as u said distractions have no count. I admire all those who got the patience for it.
        – sarojavasanth


  3. Hi, Mike. This is from on panster to another. I enjoyed this post. I’m a hybrid gardener-architect when I write. sometimes plan, plot and outline, then others, it’s throwing the word on the page and coming back the following day to see what flowered, and what needs pulling.

    Invitation: Since you’re not participating in the NaNoWriMO challenge, why not think about a guest submission to Two Drops of Ink.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Mike!
    Excellent article and i would like to say all kind of positive things about beating procrastination and leaving the fear of deadline behind but I really really really can’t.
    I never entered the Nano either because quite frankly the idea of a specific word count needs to reach is unappealing to me. I write with the flow. I put my own challenges up and play by my own rules much better than I do with others. Or at least that’s where I am at now.
    Maybe I will evolve as a writer after being more comfortable with my own wok process, I don’t know.
    Anyway, I once again can totally relate to your article and I really thank you for sharing this with us!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. sorry, my giant fingers hit the ‘send’ button before I completed my thought. I think for the aspiring writers out there who keep saying ‘one day I’ll write that book’, and never do, this is one way to force the issue. Definitely not for everyone. Cheers for the comment, always appreciated!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Personally, I never use an outline, and I’ve got two books out there. The closest I come to any type of organization is an occasional scribbled note to myself (“Make sure Lula Bella has an alibi when the pinata falls on the nun”) just to keep the logic consistent. When I start a chapter, I usually only have a vague idea in mind (“Interim scene in Pappy’s Diner, harpoon gun found on pool table”) and I rarely have a chapter-end in mind. I find it when I write it. I just let it come out and the story develops as I go. I can honestly say the most personally satisfying stories I’ve ever written were things that I didn’t intend to write when I sat down. It can mean a LOT of editing, but that’s what works best for me. Your welcome. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cheers Brian. Your (!) bang on about the editing part, the style has its benefits, but often at the expense of massive rewriting. I find that it’s when I’m backed against a corner with no idea of what to write about, that some of the best material emerges (eventually).

    I can’t recall if I’d mentioned this, but I read ‘Screaming in Paris’ and thought it was fantastic. I downloaded it just prior to a vacation and actually read the first few chapters flying from Buffalo to Orlando, the absolute perfect setting, considering the material. Hilarious and wonderfully written. But I also came away a bit disgruntled, envious actually, that you can consistently pack more humour in a single paragraph than I can manage in a 1000 word post. I guess have more work to do. Thanks for the comment, and the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Mike, thanks for the compliments on “Screaming”. But don’t be disgruntled. I actually think that you and I are very similar writers, in that you have an easygoing, conversational style. Some people only know how to “tell” a story, and other folks are able to “share” a story. I’d much rather read a shared story, which is why I keep coming right back here… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I too am a panster, and the Idea for my latest Novella ( i thought it was going to be a novel, but I don’t want to ruin it) began at the tail end of August. I hit the end Last night. I was so engrossed in this story that I figured Nano would be just a pointless distraction – and for what – to say I did. Well, I did do it, without them! Now to get it edited ugh.
    I must say it sounds like I need to check out Brian’s work 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  8. If Brian “can consistently pack more humor in a single paragraph than you can manage in a 1000 word post” then I better read Brian’s work, too. I think you write humor extremely well. And I love your excerpts. I was already chuckling even before I clicked “continue reading”. I enjoy your writing and I must say you’re never boring. I’m sure you can come up with a novel that’s filled with hidden humor here and there, AND you can do a comic-thriller combo (is there such a thing?). Obviously, I read and still remember your Clowns article. 🙂
    I never learned writing at all although I’ve read some advice on writing. The only reason why I have an outline is because an idea for a novel presents itself out of the blue and disappears quite quickly so I have to take notes. Sometimes, I even have to do voice recording. Other than that, I prefer to write without too much preparation and surprise myself. I think it’s like allowing the muse to gift you. 🙂
    However, it doesn’t work for me either as I have novels with first chapters and a complete synopsis/outline and they sleep for years — they are still waiting for Prince Charming to kiss them awake. Sigh! Procrastination masked as busyness with the less exciting finance work that pays the bills.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the kind words Anne. I tend to be over critical at times with some of my ongoing projects, which leads to many getting shelved. I dust them off after a year or so and re-read them, thinking they weren’t so bad after all. I’m currently toying with the idea of first person narrative novel, zero prep work, winging it and seeing where I end up. I just have agree on a reasonable weekly word count. I concur with your procrastination comment, between that, my 9-5, and everything else, finding time to write is a challenge. But then again I manage to find time for Netflix, so I’m probably complaining more than I should. Thanks for taking the time to comment, always appreciated. Cheers!


  9. Great post, Mike. I’m definitely a pantser, like you! I’m not doing Nano this year unfortunately–work is absolutely insane and it just doesn’t seem possible this month–but I am working on a story right now, and I’m over 12,000 words into it. I usually start with just the germ of an idea or a single image and just start writing. Terry Pratchett’s quote about the first draft being a means of telling yourself the story really resonates with me. The story tends to evolve and manifest as I write it. I rarely make a plan, although I think there is a balance to be had… It is possible to just keep writing without tightening up and ending up with a mess of a novel. At some point, one has to make a choice about a sub-plot or character and stick to it. But first, I just like to get it all out and see who my characters are, how they behave and what happens to them. That’s the fun of it, for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Louise. Your system is similar to mine. So many great quotes out there on first drafts and how they are supposed to be terrible. During the writing process I often have to remind myself of this fact, to fend off getting discouraged early on. It is a journey after all, often we completely underestimate our ability to create new and unique predicaments for our characters.

      Thanks so much for commenting! Good luck with your story and stay in touch.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I think I am just not motivated enough at least not yet. I know that I was a bit daunted perhaps in a way even terrified the first time I was bold enough to add my poetry blog to the April challenge. Having gone through the poetry challenge once I didn’t think twice to do it again and now I actually look forward to the time when it comes again. However it does paint an amusing picture of me. Blasting music and doing anything else for inspiration every day and my muses singing in both ears and me trying to make sense of it all but I come through smiling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Whatever works! I didn’t pursue NANO but I did start an impromptu story that I hope will pan out into a novel, just have to keep the motivation level up. For me, music inspires, but it has to be classical, no lyrics, I get distracted too easily.
      Great that you added poetry to your Blog, another creative outlet.
      Cheers and thanks for visiting and commenting!


  11. So glad I stumbled upon this. Whilst I have the ideas, themes, and back bone of my novel I am a panster, not that I actually knew it till now! Also looked at buying Stephen King’s book so looks like I’ll be adding it to the list if he agrees.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad to have you stop by! ‘On Writing’ is a must read for every aspiring author, pantser, plotter or otherwise. It’s truly inspirational, and a fantastic read.
      Cheers and thanks for commenting, much appreciated!


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