You’ve heard that it can happen. You know people who have experienced it, and they say it was the greatest thing that ever happened to them. They were writing a novel and an entire section, if not the whole thing, wrote itself.
So what’s the secret to being able to experience this amazing occurrence in your writing? Is there one single thing that, if it exists, will cause all the other pieces to fall into place with minimal interference from you, the author?
Perhaps you might think of having a setting. If you’re in a galaxy far, far away, the story will just write itself. But will it? Well, why are the people shooting at the other people and trying to destroy their big spaceship? See, now you have to start asking yourself questions, rather than writing your adventure.
Perhaps you might think that you just need to zoom in on the setting, focusing on something more specific. If you choose to write about the American Civil War, then the story will just write itself. But will it? Is your main character going to be in the North, or are they going to be in the South? Are there going to be major characters on both sides, or will neither side feature a primary character? Will the story focus on civilians, casualties, or other nations during this tumultuous time in the history of the United States of America?
Perhaps you might think that you need to have your characters established. If you know you’re going to be writing about a super-powered mutant, then some aspects of your plot might begin to fall in place. Honestly, I believe you’re on the right track.
The specific answer, in my mind, is character motivation. When you know what your character wants and why they want it, then you’re in a great position to watch the events of your story unfold before your eyes.
The Rebels want freedom from oppression, and thus they attack the Empire, intending to topple it. The Empire wants complete and total dominance, and thus they build a weapon that is capable of destroying an entire planet in a single blast. The Rebels don’t want to die, and thus they attempt to destroy said weapon.
A character that doesn’t want anything isn’t going to do anything, and a character that doesn’t do anything is boring.
If I was a tiny gardener in my own little slice of paradise, I wouldn’t go on a year-long journey into hell for no good reason. But if my best friend is making that journey because doing so means that the entire world will be saved from evil, then I would go too, both to help stop that evil and, more importantly, to help my friend stay safe. As long as you know what your characters want, even if you know nothing else, you’re ready to write a novel. In fact, why don’t you develop two characters on the fly right now? Give them opposite motivations. Make it impossible for both of them to be simultaneously successful, then see what happens. I bet out of that will come a fun, enjoyable, exciting story.
This is it. This is the year that you’re actually going to do it. You’ve been wanting to write a novel for the last ten, twenty, or even thirty years of your life, and now you finally have the motivation to make that dream a reality.
When it comes to motivating prospective writers, nothing has had more unmitigated success than the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I’m sure more than a few of us are counting down the days till November, eagerly looking forward to reaching that 50,000-word goal on the contest’s 20th anniversary.
Now, the question is, will you be among the thousands of writers who earn their winner’s certificate, or will you fall short? I believe that the answer depends a great deal on how much time and effort you put into preparing for November’s arrival.
Do you hear that? That is the sound of millions of pantser voices suddenly crying out in terror. Let me start by saying, do I agree?
Do I understand?
I meant to type that I completely understand and sympathize with pantsers, but it didn’t sit well with me. That being said, I still want you to do the very best you can this November, and if this magazine can provide you with the boost needed to achieve success, even as a pantser, then I provide that assistance gladly. That being the case, I’ve decided to dedicate the inaugural issue of The Writer’s Everything to you. The following article will focus on things pantsers can do to prepare for NaNoWriMo.
So, what does it take for you, as a pantser, to prepare to succeed in this year’s NaNoWriMo competition? How about we start with your day-to-day life.
First, don’t plan on going anywhere during NaNoWriMo! As soon as the first of November comes around, you are officially a hermit. You are an introvert. You are a homebody. Tell everyone what you’re doing. Tell them about your plan. Make sure they know how important it is for you.
Now, let’s say it’s not possible to avoid traveling in November. Well, in that case, it’s time to start considering what utensils and apps you’re going to be using to write down your story.
There are plenty of options available. The first thing you have to decide on is if you want to write your notes long-hand or record them digitally.
If writing with the ol’ pen and paper is your modus operandi, then you have countless options to choose from, anywhere from a dollar to a couple dozen bucks. Think about how large you want your notebook to be. Do you need to fit it in your pocket, in your center console, in the drawer of your desk? Or would you rather have as much real-estate as possible, to fill each page to the brim? Do you care about the quality of your paper, or is it all the same in your mind?
Once you decide on a notebook, you also need to choose a writing utensil. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend my favorite pen, namely the Pilot G2, because it tends to smear as I write. I believe that’s a problem with most gel pens. Honestly, if I had to recommend any pen, it would ironically enough be the Pentel R.S.V.P. It’s one of the cheapest available, but it makes a terrifically clear line. But once again, there are endless options, from cheap to expensive, from ballpoint to fountain.
What if you want to go digital? Well, in that case, you have three options.
First, you can type on a screen. There are endless mobile apps that are simply fantastic for writing, and along with those note-taking tools, you have a wide variety of downloadable keyboards to help you transfer your thoughts to the page at breakneck speed.
If I had to suggest my favorite combination, it would be Evernote with SwiftKey. I’d choose Evernote for its user interface, as well as the ability to log in on my laptop and have instant access to my notes. SwiftKey has been my go-to for years because of its swiping abilities, allowing me to type quite literally as quickly as I can think.
If you’re on iOS, however, you can’t do better than Scrivener. The mobile version is very close to the capacities of the desktop version, and they have syncing functionality as well.
Second, you can type on a physical keyboard. If this is your preference, I completely sympathize with you. I am personally incapable of developing solid prose without the use of a physical keyboard. Luckily, your options for physical typing are incredibly diverse, from tablets with keyboard covers to laptops to desktops.
Once again, you have your pick of writing software, from Evernote to Scrivener to bibisco to Microsoft Word to Pages to iA Writer. It may take a little time, and a little experimentation, but I have no doubt you can find the perfect app for your process.
Third, you can record your voice and either transcribe the recording to an app later or use transcribing software to do it for you. Personally, I’d only suggest this method if you’re performing a task where typing is impossible, such as driving, exercising, or other physical activities. Even then, you need to take care not to put your life in danger just to knock out a couple thousand words.
Now, my final two suggestions to help you to prepare for NaNoWriMo come dangerously close to plotting, but perhaps they will work for you anyway.
What am I referring to? Well, first would be establishing what your settingis beforehand. Sure, you don’t want to plot your story, but if you give it a little bit of thought, you can still decide on what era and world your story is going to take place in, whether its historical or modern or fantasy or second-world or futuristic or a galaxy far, far away.
There are all sorts of options open to you. Really, it all depends on what type of genre you want to write in.
And then, the last thing you can do to prepare to succeed in NaNoWriMo is to identify what your POV, your point-of-view, is going to be. You have multiple choices. You can write in first person, “I eat the food,” third person, “He eats the food,” or the extremely rare second person, “You eat the food.” You can also write in present tense, “I eat the food,” or past tense, “I ate the food.” Knowing what POV you’re going to write in ahead of time can save you much hassle and effort when you begin to write your NaNo-winning manuscript.