The video below is one of my favorite author-editor scenes:
And it fits with the advice I’m about to give for writing fast: plan ahead, or don’t.
In my experience, writing fast means working with a loose set of ideas, a general sense of the work ahead, and then plowing through it as quickly as possible without taking much notice of the world around you. The key is following the action and not to get bogged down in the details. Once you get off in the weeds, it’s hard to get moving again.
Reading this, you may think that it’s best not to plan your NaNoWriMo novel and you may be right.
You may be right about this because you may be writing your very first novel-length work. I’ve read a number of first-time author experiences where the writer was just surprised how the book “just flowed out” or they “wrote like mad.” These writers are consumed by the passion of composition, the deep connection they feel with their work. And while they might have a heap of editing and rework to do later, it may turn out that writing flat out was the best thing for their work. Otherwise, they might have stopped and wondered just what the hell they were doing in the first place.
At the same time (and I say this while gazing upward at my twirling pencil), making notes can be helpful for moving fast. With a framework for your story, you can concentrate on the moment and worry less about the larger picture. This enables you to work with the assurance that you know where your story is going and, roughly, how you’re going to get there.
So what’s an author to do?
I can’t tell you which method to use because this is something you have to learn for yourself. This is one of the great secrets of writing fiction (if not writing in general): there are a great many things that no one but you knows about and you won’t know what you know until you know it.
“Many things in writing are best learned in the laboratory of pen, paper, and wastebasket.” ~ Wallace Stegner
I know that isn’t terribly helpful, but it’s true. The only way to really learn how to write (fast or slow) is to do it. Everything you read in writing handbooks is merely advice based on someone else’s experience. There is no perfect roadmap, no set of assembly instructions.
There are some writing books that claim to give you such structure and guidelines and if you follow them to the letter you may indeed write a book. However, you won’t follow them to the letter, I assure you. As you begin to write your book, you will find that some of the rules apply to you and some do not. Perhaps you will discover that there are entirely different rules that apply to you and no one else. In the end if you stick to it, you may not discover the “right” way but you will discover your way, and that’s about as close as anyone gets in these things.
For me, writing is often like watching a movie. I turn on the film and sit back and record what I see. Essays like this are sort of the same thing. There’s some part of me that steps up to the podium (or whiteboard, cause I like to scribble) and then just begins rambling on and on about one topic of another. The writer part of me tries to get it all down as best as I can, which is a semi-nice way of say that I usually make a mess out of it even if I do have a lot of fun trying.
So for me, taking a lot of detailed notes before I draft is often a debilitating move. I spend more time fussing about whether I’m getting all of the notes into the story instead of watching the movie and recording what I see. What I do find helpful though is to write little story trailers, the kind of thing that gives a sense of what the story is about without giving it all away. This provides enough structure to keep me moving forward while still allowing for the flexibility to go way off track depending on what I find.
Yeah, I know that sounds completely wacko – unless you’ve written a novel and then it sounds sane if not downright sensible.
Doing NaNoWriMo? Buddy up with me!