The October Writer’s Dilemma


Not my hands.

Is anyone else struggling with an October… weirdness this year? Yes, that’s right. I’m a therapist and the best I can do is ‘weirdness.’  I guess another way to express it would be ‘October NaNoWriMo Anticipatory Time Distortion Funk.’

For the first time ever, I’m going into NaNoWriMo this year knowing more or less what I’ll be writing, with a basic outline already started. Years past, I’ve been an unwilling pantser (that sounds just horrible) as November sneaked up on me out of the blue. Last year my life was a fat mess. My dad had just died, I had a newborn. I didn’t even start my NaNoWriMo project until November 3rd, and I bailed out at 19,000 words or so.

This year, I’m in a different space entirely. Last year’s NaNoWriMo was this summer’s publication. Life has largely settled down, or at least I’m pretending it has, and my confidence is up. I’ve done some research, made my outlines, I’m ready to go. What? It’s only October 8th? But I’m ready NOW! I keep freaking out thinking I’m not ready enough, then bemoaning how much time is still left until November, then panicking that I found an hour or two to write but wasn’t sure what to do with it. October feels both long and short at once. Thus the weirdness.

The way I see it, here are my options:

  1. Cheat. I could start writing the novella I’ve plotted for NaNoWriMo early, and no one would be the wiser. But that’s not cool. Why bother participating if you’re not going to do it side-by-side, minute-by-minute with your writing comrades? Plus, that sounds a lot like the easy road, which is just not my style. Plus it would probably be wrong on, like, some ethical level or something.
  2. Start on Something Else. I have another Work In Almost-Progress that I have outlined, the next novel featuring the same set of characters from my first two. Logically, that’s the thing to do – work on that one and change gears for November. If I were further along in the process with the WIP, that’s absolutely what I would do, but somehow it’s hard for me to imagine beginning two new projects simultaneously. In the revision stage with one I could certainly start on another, but trying to conceptualize and start on two projects at once feels scatterbrained, even for me.
  3. Procrastinate with Purpose.

You can probably tell by how I set it up, #3 is the option I’m going with. I’ve decided to see what happens if I sit on my hands for three weeks, chomping at the bit. I’ve taken breaks from writing before, but always by force of life, never by conscious choice. I’m impatient by nature, so it’s hard to hold back from something I feel really motivated to do. This will be interesting.

I wonder what will happen if I try to set writing aside for a couple of weeks and focus instead on creating a better environment in which to write, and doing more planning? What will happen if, instead of writing surrounded by a disorganized house feeling a little guilty that I’m swept up in my story and not keeping things neater, I spent a few weeks getting things extra neat and ready to go? I see a trip to the Container Store in my future… [Okay, I have a preschooler and a toddler, so staying neat is not an option, but I could at least be a bit more organized].

More importantly, what will happen to my spontaneous, organic writing process if I force myself to take longer in the planning process? Reading, outlining, more research, more preparations

For me, all of this Type A stuff is very out of character. Ever since my first book reports were due in elementary school, I’ve been the girl who waited until the night before and reveled in pulling something readable out of the fire at the last minute. As a novelist, I set a deadline and go – stopping to rethink, research, revise along the way — in sort of a beautifully messy manic spiral. I’ve always worked better in a pinch. Or at least, that’s how I’ve always worked.

I’m really curious how changing that a bit will impact my writing process. Of course I’ll still have the time pressure inherent in NaNoWriMo structure, but having a clear plan and spending more time on the front end will be new to me. What do you think? Is this going to make me a better, more efficient writer? Or will I find away to bring back the chaos that has been my friend in the writing process all along? Do you think more planning will make my process smoother, or will it end up being a waste of time?

Have you ever made a big change to your writing approach, and how did it go?

Have a happy, weird October!!


2 thoughts on “The October Writer’s Dilemma

  1. There really is no “law” against cheating. I’ve had several discussions with other NaNoWriMo participants, and they pretty much agree that the point is to write something, regardless of whether you started it on November 1st, or sooner. I’m continuing on a work-in-progress that I have been outlining for months now. My plan is to have the first draft done by November 30, and that’s where NaNoWriMo comes in.

    So, go on and cheat. No one’s going to snitch on you.

    • Thanks, Gus. I can see your point, and I am definitely researching and outlining this month. I’m going to hold off until the 1st to start the actual writing, though. But you’re right that the whole point is to use November as a launching pad.

      Good luck with your draft!

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