Throwing Out the Rules

Every time you sit down to write a new novel, you have to re-learn the process again. I’ve heard or read versions of that statement from many authors, but of course it only really hits home once you experience it yourself.

Each new story I write, I try to hone my technique, figure out “the way” to create the characters, understand their goals and motivations, increase the conflict. There are dozens of plotting systems out there, hundreds of different kinds of character creation tools, ways to dig into their psychology and personalities. And any of these methods or combination of them may be the “the way” for a given story.

So each time I write a new story, it’s like starting from scratch. I do think I’m learning from previous efforts, but that doesn’t actually make it easier to do the work. Duplicating the exact method you used previously is rarely possible, nor does it always achieve the same results.

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month and this year I’m throwing out the hard-won knowledge I gained from my two previous wins. I’m pantsing it this time. I would absolutely not recommend this strategy to anyone, but I’m having so much fun doing it. The challenge of waking up each morning with absolutely no idea what’s going to happen – or just a tiny sliver of an idea – and then putting fingers to keyboard and just letting it flow … it’s invigorating. And so far, it’s working.

I’ve gone down a few rabbit holes of story tangents in the six days of Nano, but by the next day I seem to be able to pull myself out. I’m crafting a story and only have the vaguest idea where it’s headed. There’s a mystery I haven’t solved yet, but I’m confident my subconscious is up to the task and will tell my fingers when the time is right.

I used to pants everything, and never finish anything, so I think the lessons I learned in actually finishing, in completing novels and winning previous Nanos, has coalesced, even though I’m throwing out the “rules” I used to do these things.

It helps that I feel no attachment to this story. It’s not on my production schedule, it may very well never see the light of day. Then again, maybe it will. I don’t know what’s around that next corner, and for once, the control freak in me is okay with that. I’m a pantser and a plotter and an everything in-betweener, and I’m cool with that.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Are there any rules you’re sticking to or throwing out the window?

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2 thoughts on “Throwing Out the Rules

  1. Oh no! Don’t tell me every new story is like starting from scratch. I’ve convinced myself that I need to finish THIS story to nail down the process for all the other stories to come. Crap. Guess I need another reason to finish this story and infinite patience to repeat this one-step-forward-two-steps-back trajectory …

    1. Well, the good thing is that with one under your belt you do have more confidence that it’s possible to do the whole thing over again. You’ve done it once and even if you don’t quite remember how, you know it’s now something you can do.

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