Writing by Discovery
In writing, there are plotters – people that plot out their stories and follow that plan – and there are pantsters, which are kindly called “discovery writers.” This pantster signed up for National Novel Writing Month 2019 (NaNoWriMo).
I had an idea, a “what if,” and I had a deadline. Every night that November, after the kids went to bed, I followed my characters around for approximately 1800 words. Some nights it took an hour to meet my wordcount; some nights it took four. It was stressful, and I was tired, but it was only 30 days. I tried not to think about it during the day.
As a “discovery writer,” I honestly had no idea what was ever going to happen next. As I typed, I’d suddenly realize something about a character’s past. Or I’d leave a note to myself in all caps that said, “HOW LONG TO GET TO MARS?” – because now they were going to Mars (unplanned by me, but that’s where they were going, so I should probably find out more about it if I was really going to write this ridiculous book). I did research as I went, and kept a spreadsheet of links to NASA, MarsONE and studies about soil bacteria, which had – also against my will – become an issue on the space shuttle, and one that I couldn’t fix for months. I wasn’t in control.
The story went off in weird tangents – not my story, because my story was never supposed to be about space and soil – it twisted and turned. I wrote completely without a plan, without an ending in mind, and somehow, I managed to type my last word – my 50,083rd – just before midnight on November 30th.
It wasn’t the story I had planned to write, and they weren’t perfect words but there were 50,000 of them. I put it away for a month, then read it with fresh eyes, and while it was still imperfect, it wasn’t terrible. Over the next six months, in lockdown, I revised, expanded and rewrote while my kids sat and homeschooled beside me.
NaNoWriMo was a grind, but it gave me the reasonably short timeframe and the motivation I needed to finally write a novel. I even sat down to do it again this year. I wrote another 50K words in 30 days, but this time I was prepared. I wasn’t a pantster this time: I had an outline, almost chapter-by-chapter, of what I wanted to happen and what I wanted to develop. This story wasn’t going to go rogue on me (though it did, here and there), but I discovered something else: it wasn’t as much fun.
Ground Control is being published in e-book, paperback and hardcover formats in the Spring
(*My dear friend Joanne’s niece)