Encouragement to not change your NaNoWriMo story concept mid-month

We’re roughly halfway through NaNoWriMo and, if everything is going according to plan for us, we’re also roughly halfway through reaching our 50,000 word count goal of our first draft.

In reality, many of us are stuck.  We feel our characters are flat.  Or maybe we’ve written a series of scenes, but when strung together they don’t resemble a cohesive story.  And now, we’re desperate – ready to change our story concept or throw in the towel entirely!

I want to try and convince you why it’s a good idea to stick with your original NaNoWriMo story idea instead of changing to that newer, better idea that came to mind yesterday while sipping lattes and listening to smooth jazz at the local coffee shop.

First thing, take a deep breath.  Let’s look at what you’ve learned so far.  Go ahead and make a short list, and maybe it’ll look something like this:

  • I thought I had a clear idea in my mind of what I’d write.
  • I thought writing by the seat of my pants would be easy.
  • I thought writing based on an outline would be easy.

There’s a great quote attributed to author Mark Twain that summarizes the NaNoWriMo experience:

“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.”

NaNoWriMo is a bit like that.  You can read other peoples’ posts all you want about how challenging it’s going to be, how beat up and battered you’re going to get, but it’s not real for you until you learn it for yourself.

While it may be tempting to change story concept mid-month, I want to suggest that you don’t.  In reality, you’re going to run into the same challenges as you did with your original concept.  You’ll question your creativity every time, I promise!  So why not embrace this struggle and push through it now?

Imagine if you will that you were being paid to write this novel.  Maybe you stepped in to finish a novel for someone else, or perhaps you’re paid to write a screenplay for a major motion picture studio.  You wouldn’t necessarily have the freedom to change your romance story to that of a sci-fi novel.  Therefore, you should stick it out with your original story concept.  Plus, it’s only a month.  So look at it from the angle of taking with you for life the lessons you learned from this experience.

So how can you recover and make the most of NaNoWriMo 2013?

What I like to do is take a step back and revisit my story concept at the highest level.  I’ve been known to do this daily.  Maybe it can be summarized in simple bullet points like:

  • It’s a love story.
  • Boy and girl meet in summer at the beach.
  • Boy and girl risk losing each other when the summer ends.

I then look at what I’ve written as part of my story so far.  Have I deviated from these bullet point objective?  If yes, let me put myself back on course.  If not, then I am reassured I’m still on track.

See, that part is pretty easy to do.  Now take it a step further and write a dozen or so bullet points that show progress and setbacks.  These can be used for chapter breaks:

  • Boy and girl make eye contact as one is getting onto a bus.
  • Boy or girl talk to their friend about the missed opportunity.
  • Boy or girl goes on a hunt to find the other.
  • Boy and girl meet.
  • Boy and girl schedule a date; spend afternoon strolling the beach.
  • Boy or girl seen talking to another; other becomes jealous and suspicious.
  • Boy and girl work through the misunderstanding.
  • Boy or girl has to tell other that they are leaving earlier than expected.

Now I look at the rising and falling action of these bullet points against what I’ve written so far with my novel.  Is there alignment?  If yes, perfect.  I’m still on track.  If not, then I push my existing chapters to the bottom of my document and start fleshing out new chapters.

Now I have a clearer picture of my structure.  This is where I go ahead and start filling in details, jumping around and writing the details of chapters out of sequence.

I promise you if you take these actions every day, in a few short days you’ll find yourself no longer questioning the validity or merit of your story and you’ll find yourself feeling back on track.

Happy noveling!

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6 thoughts on “Encouragement to not change your NaNoWriMo story concept mid-month

  1. Wish I’d had this post in front of me during 2012 NaNo. By the end of the month I somehow picked up on your concept (somewhat) before I flung myself over the finish line. 😉

  2. That ‘stuck’ point is where normally, I’d research. See what I didn’t know about my character/setting that would inspire the next step. But NaNoWriMo–there’s no time for that!

  3. I’ve learned my lesson so I don’t end up with a major plot crisis.

    Always allow for the psychotic whatever to filter into the story. The last one was a serial killer. This one is a sociopathic borderline stalker with a fixation on the main character. I’m always going to insert a crazed whatever into my stories. They are always going to have a darker tone. It doesn’t interfere with the basic plot but if I don’t allow for it, it means a lot of scene juggling.

    It doesn’t matter how well I plot or even if I pants it. I will insert a antagonist, who is one step way from death row only by virtue of not being caught yet, in the plot

    I need to add the line “Everything can be fixed in rewrite.” to my list. It can go right under “First draft of anything is shit” — Hemingway

  4. Great thoughts, thanks for sharing.

  5. I think the purpose of doing NaNoWriMo is to prove nothing to anyone and everything to yourself. Therefore, all counts as success, even failure.

  6. Well, what I have is all over the place, and at this point the only way I’m going to get through the damn thing is to write whatever the hell pukes itself out of my warped little raisin of a brain and sort out what actually might make a modicum of sense later.
    I find as well that the only way to get through these things is not to listen to anyone else, or I only end up thinking that I’m doing it wrong, and then I get bogged down and end up with nothing.

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