I always thought of myself as a “start with a blank page and see what happens” kind of writer. Y’know follow the stream of consciousness and see what the muse tells me.
It didn’t work out too well for me.
I read mostly horror, action/adventure and suspense/thriller’s. For the first three years I tried to write a story in one of these genres using the ‘blank page’ method. Each time, I’d run into a situation where I didn’t know where to go with the story after the first week or two. I’d lose ground every day as I struggled to think of what to do. Eventually I’d hit a wall and stop.
The other thing that happened to me is that while writing one story, another one would pop into my head and I’d think, “Oh man, that’s a much better story. I know where to go with that”. So, I’d stop work on my current story and start over with the new one. Yep, you guessed it; I’d go off the rails with the new story and come to a grinding halt – again.
I gave up on the ‘blank page‘ method, as I finally had to admit I didn’t have that sort of creativity – as I once believed I had. I looked at what happened the previous three years and a clear pattern emerged and so did the answer.
- Whenever I wrote a story without a map or plan as a guide, explaining what it’s about or where I am going with it; I’d get lost and stop.
- Without a map or plan to follow there was no focus. I was easily distracted, going off on tangents – where again I’d lose my way and give up in frustration.
I often heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. I took this to heart when I started to rebuild my dismal financial situation ten years ago – and it worked.
For some reason, I never put the suggestion of that saying to use in my writing. That is until NaNoWriMo 2004.
In October 2004, I knew I wanted to write a road trip/adventure story loosely based on a cross-country trip I took with friends in the ’80’s. I used the month of October to figure out where to start the story, and where it would end. I outlined the story as a a series of events/scenes with conflicts to overcome. I mapped out the towns and areas the events would take place – setting the scenes. I then put a lot of thought and work into creating the four main characters of the story.
By the time November 1st arrived, I had the story pretty well mapped out. I knew where it was going to start, I knew who was in it, I knew where it was going, and I knew how it was going to end. I had the frame or bones of the story, all I needed to do was to flesh it out.
This time the writing was much easier and more consistent. I was often ahead of the 1,667 words-per-day goal. During the writing, new ideas for the story did appear and temporarily took me off the original path, but only as a scenic overlook. Each time the side trip came back to the original route and the story continued.
There is nothing (in writing) like hitting the 50,000 word mark for the first time. You get a real sense of accomplishment when you realize you wrote 175 pages of a story in just 30-days.
Outlining the story served as a clear guide of where to start, where to go and how to get there. With a little perseverance and determination, the outline helped maintain the Focus needed to see the story to its end.
How do you ensure you’ll finish your story by November 30th?