At the end of last week, I'd just finished reading a book by the founder of National Novel Writing Month, and I was set to write my own novel with no advanced knowledge of the plot, characters, or anything else. All I had was an idea. The adrenaline rush was supposed to drive me to average 1667 words a day for 30 days. It sounded like fun. I was up for the challenge.
Bear in mind that I've attempted to write novels without outlines before. It's never ended well. I get a few chapters in and the creativity runs dry. It's frustrating to sit at my desk and not know what's coming next. I know many writers love that feeling, but it sucks the fun out of the process for me. And I believe there should be fun in the process. After all, if you, as an author, hate writing the novel, why should a reader enjoy reading it? That level of passion (or lack thereof, in this case) will shine through.
Now, a week after telling myself that this time will be different--this time I'd zip through the story, discovering everything as I go, and have a blast while doing it--reality has set in. The blank page mocks me. My pen sits in my hand, spitting out taunting thoughts, informing me the only ink that will come out will take my story, my characters, and everything about the process, in an entirely wrong direction. It's not fun, and I'm sure my prose back that up. So I'm calling a halt to my personal NaNoWriMo quest.
Do I feel like a failure? Maybe a tiny bit, but to tell you the truth, I feel more victorious than anything. Why? I've discovered, without a shadow of a doubt, what works best for me. I can't write anything longer than a short story from the seat of my pants, but that's okay. I've crafted three novel-length manuscripts using outlines, and I'm proud of all three. I think they're each quite good. (*Massive self-promotion break* You can judge for yourself on one of them--I've self-published Way Over the Line, and you can click here to get it and see if my pride is deserved or not. *Self-promotion break over--you may return to the regularly-scheduled blog post*)
So what's next? I believe in this story that I started, so I'm going to stop writing it and stat plotting. I'm going to flesh out the characters so they'll begin to speak to me. Then, when I can see where everything is going, I'm going to put the words down on paper. And this time I'm going to have fun doing it.
"Nice story," you might be saying. "Thanks for the insight into your writing life, but so what? What does it have to do with me?" No worries, I can tell you what it has to do with you. Learn where your comfort zone is. Discover if you're a plotter or a pantser (or a healthy mix in between). Discover how you write best. Because when it's all said and done, no matter what writing books and your peers say, one way of writing is not superior to any other. The best way to write is whatever works best for you. Try both ways and a combination of both. You'll swing and miss a few times, but once you find the sweet spot, you'll bring joy into your writing. And that's what it's all about. Have fun with the process, and your readers will see that.