In the fall of 2011 while I was waiting on confirmation that BIG IN JAPAN would be picked up for publication, I joined the rest of the writing world in the ritual known as NaNoWriMo. It’s a weird word, one reminiscent of a bad rhino joke or something Mork From Ork would say, but it’s actually National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every November. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month. And it’s a biggie. Lots of people try. Some succeed. Some crash and burn after three days of enthusiasm. I’ve been in both of those groups.
The “right” way to go about NaNo-ing is to plan ahead by creating an outline. To know what the story will be. Get that outline done, and the use it as a guide through the writing process.
Another way is to be what writers refer to as being a “pantser.” No, not some juvenile joke (although in my case, that could be what the end result would be termed as: a juvenile joke.) It comes from the term “writing by the seat of the pants.”
I’ve always been an outliner. Ever since the days I spent at high school with “the Jeans” as my brilliant but firm English teachers (Jean Roylance and Jean Workman, both incredible teachers and women), outlining has been the way it’s done.
However, that rotten November I got my “Idea for NaNo” late on the night of Halloween. It poured into my head like liquid gold. It was the-best-idea-ever and I couldn’t wait to get writing. Who needed an outline? I was full sails ahead, writing this thing like a maniac. Stuff kept popping up and surprising me (like a motorcycle at the bottom of the
NaNo ended, and I had to set it aside. I signed BIG IN JAPAN for publication, Christmastime happened (always a little distracting as the mother of five kids), and I finally had a chance to come back and finish the-best-idea-ever story in February. I remember that joyous moment typing “The End,” and thinking it was so close to being ready to foist on the world.
Now, two years and 5 serious edits past that, I am realizing today that this thing needs more than a tune-up. It probably needs a total overhaul. Possibly a rewrite from the ground up. I’ll have to set aside all that delicious prose I thought was the best-prose-ever, and recreate it with a little. more. control. And perhaps a plot. Or possibly some structure. I tried to wrangle it into submission in these past five revamps, but without that outlined structure, it won’t be wrangled. Okay, maybe I can lift some sections that are still okay, but I’ve got to let a lot of it go.
Man, I tell you. I’m never doing THAT again. If you’re a pantser, I don’t know how you do it. Since I’m an outliner, I’d better behave like one.
P.S. I still am in love with the story and think it’s the best-idea-ever. I’d better shape it up so it’s also the best book for that idea so the readers can agree and not say, “Great idea, but the book was a total misfire.” That’d be so sad.