A solid plan can do wonders
NaNoWriMo is more than halfway through. In a little more than a week, the event will be over, and it will be time to sum up. However, at this point, I’m already happy with the result.
The aim of NaNoWriMo is writing 50k words in a month. This year, thanks to more free time than expected and careful preparation, I was able to reach that goal two weeks earlier. On the 15th November, I hit the 50k words mark, beating all of my records. So I decided to try to double that word count by the end of the month, writing other 50k words. At present, I’m a little behind schedule to reach the 100k goal, but I’m still confident I can do it.
It’s quite a new feeling for me.
Confidence in my ability to reach such an ambitious goal.
What makes me so confident? Have you ever felt that confidence about something? If yes, then why?
Where does confidence come from?
There are many sources of confidence. My favourite — and the one with the most solid foundation — is preparation.
I’ve always been quite anxious. Before a test at school or an exam at university, I absolutely had to be as prepared as possible because if I weren’t anxiety would have eaten me alive. Moreover, I’m one of those people who underperform under pressure, so being well prepared for what is about to come is the only way I know to avoid poor figures.
In the past editions of NaNoWriMo, I often tried to prepare myself in advance, and most of the times failed to do it enough. Whatever I did in terms of outlining my writing or plotting my scenes always proved to be insufficient. I usually started very well, with a high daily word count rate, mostly driven by the enthusiasm of finally working on a new project. But then, around the middle of it, something happened.
The muddy middle
Writers know what I’m talking about. When you start writing — or even planning — a story, there are two parts which are usually very clear. The beginning and the end.
You know where to begin, who are your characters before their journey, what’s their situation in life and what’s going to be their challenge. You also know what the ending looks like, if it’s happy or tragic, if they’re going to get what they want or not.
Cool, you’d think! You got everything you need to start writing.
As it happens in real life, rarely a story is a straight line from A to B, from the initial situation to the end. It wouldn’t be fun to read if it was, and it wouldn’t be fun to write. However, the risk is finding yourself trapped in the muddy middle.
There you have a vague idea of the general direction of your story, you see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you don’t know the next step. You see the mountain you’ll have to climb to reach the top. Still, you don’t know if your immediate future envisages a jump over a crevice, a hole that will sprain your ankle or a smooth and charming wooden bridge.
Food for thought for non-writers
If you think about it, this often happens even if you are not writing a story. The muddy middle is part of every project. It’s the point where you can look back and see you’ve come a long way from where you started, but if you look ahead your goal seems desperately out of reach, and you are so confused you don’t know what to do next.
Have you ever felt this way?
I certainly have, more than once and not only with writing.
When I was at university studying chemistry, I found myself in the middle of the second year with a breakdown hanging over my head. I was almost at the end of the first half of the journey, so changing my mind and leaving chemistry for something else wasn’t an option. I had invested so much time and effort in getting to that point that giving up wasn’t possible anymore.
At the same time, I had another year and a half ahead of me, and I didn’t know what was best. Should I focus on following the lessons, or studying for the exams I had left behind, or desperately trying to catch up running with the hare and hunting with the hounds?
I was quite lost until I sat down and decided to stop looking at the big picture and started considering just one action at a time.
The power of a solid plan
What helps getting through the muddy middle is a solid plan, not only with writing but with life in general. And with ‘solid plan’ I mean a detailed roadmap of each step you need to take to reach your goal.
When I was at university and didn’t know what to do to untangle myself, I sat down, made a list of the things to do, sorted them by priority and length of execution, and then designed a plan.
When I decided I wanted to really be well prepared for NaNoWriMo, I sat at my desk and started an extensive outline for my new novel. Then I tried to condense it in a series of scenes so that whenever I finish writing a scene, I immediately know what’s my next step. And not in a vague way, but in a precise, detailed way.
This allowed me to fly through the first draft of the first act of my novel and, even if I’m in the muddy middle right now and words aren’t flowing like they did last week, I still have a plan to follow and a list of scenes to write.
Maybe I’ll have to cut many scenes during the editing stage, but right now what’s truly important is dragging myself out of the mud and reach the third act and the end of the first draft.
When I was outlining, I wasn’t sure about it. I wondered if it would trap my creativity or if I would feel forced to follow the outline disregarding the sparks of inspiration coming to me along the way. But when I started writing, I was amazed at how much the outline was helping me. For the first time in my life, I was able to write more than 3000 words in an hour. And all just because I knew in advance every step of the road.
Most writers don’t like to plan so extensively, because they feel it takes the joy of discovery out of the process of writing the first draft. As it happens with many things, you need to find the balance that works for you.
However, the next time you have to do something new and don’t know where to begin, start with compiling a good, solid plan.
You won’t regret it!