NaNoOutWriMo Begins!

What’s that you say? You’ve heard of NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month, the kamikaze approach to writing a novel that begins November 1 with the goal of writing a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30–but you’ve never heard of NaNoOutWriMo?

“What is NaNoOutWriMo?” you ask.

NaNoOutWriMo is National Novel Outline Writing Month, a contest of my own devising and of which I am (thus far) the sole participant. Anyone similarly inclined is welcome to join me. Whoever loses has to buy drinks for the winner(s).

I’ve been working endlessly on getting the research transcribed and the outline written for my long-awaited First Novel. Having finally made the journey to New York City (where the book is set) I no longer have any excuses (you know, besides friends, family, a love life, work, household chores, this blog, etc.) So given that November is NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided that it will also be the month in which I choose to make a sprint and finish my outline.

“But Steve,” you might say (as my writer’s group did this past weekend), “why not just use NaNoWriMo to write the actual book?”

Fair question. The answer is: well, that’s just not how I work, sadly.

I have bits and pieces, sure. I have some scenes that popped into my head immediately when I started thinking about writing this book. But for most of what happens…well, so far I don’t know any more about it than you do.

Whenever I try to sit down and write without an outline, some firm idea of characters, plot, subplot, themes, direction of the story… Well, it ends up a terrible mess. It takes forever while I try to figure out what happens next and that delay stresses me out, makes me angry, frustrated, doubtful of my ability and talent, and usually devolves into heavy drinking. I get very little done and almost never go back to finish whatever it was I was working on.

But whenever I’ve had a whole outline the process is so much more enjoyable and doesn’t seem like such bloody hard work.

The way I work things out (scene by scene, on little cards) is very similar to the way Tim Powers described his process to us at Writers of the Future. And I remember Kathy Wentworth saying that she’s one of the ‘sit down and start writing’ kind of authors. When she gets stuck, she says, she kills a character and sees what happens. She said she wasn’t able to do the kind of detailed outlining that Tim did and that to do so required a deep connection with and trust in your subconscious.

To me, though, it seems the opposite: it’s much easier to know where you’re going if you have a map. Just sitting down and starting without knowing where you’re headed is relying tremendously on how connected you are to your subconscious. You have to trust that without your conscious self knowing, you’ll somehow ‘get’ what the story is about, where it’s going, and what happens next.

So NaNoOutWriMo begins! As you’ll see from the counter above, I’m guestimating that my completed outline will end up being around 30,000 words. Maybe more, maybe less. But either way, I’m going to have a completed outline for the novel by the end of this month if it kills me.

Updates every Friday in November. See you on the other side.

– S.