By week two a lot of people realize they’re just not ready for Nanowrimo this year. Either they fall too far behind, or they realize they weren’t as in love with their stories as they thought, or life jumps out and gets in the way. It happens. So if it happens to you, don’t despair. You may not be aiming for 50,000 words anymore, but you can aim for something a bit more obtainable: a really rocking outline.
I really like the Snowflake Method. It was introduced to me by some friends in my writing group, and it’s a really detailed way to figure out where your story’s going, down to the smallest details. I usually don’t go all the way with it, but I’ve only used it a few times, so I never say never. It’s great if you’re a “plotter” instead of a “pantser.” These are terms that get thrown around the writing community a lot, but if you’re not familiar, a “plotter” is someone who likes to plan where they’re going before they start writing, and a “pantser” prefers to just write and figure it out when they get there. I’m more of a pantser, and I think that makes Nanowrimo easier for me than for plotters. I don’t need to know where I’m going, or I need only a vague idea, so I can just jump right in. If you’ve found you’re more of a plotter, the Snowflake Method of outlining may work for you. (if you’re a pantser, you may find that the Snowflake Method is more appropriate when you’re ready for revising—that’s when I use it)
The Snowflake Method was created by author Randy Ingermanson, and it’s based on the idea that you start with something very basic, and keep adding small parts to it until it becomes something beautiful—like a fractal snowflake. Or a great novel.
You can find the full, step-by-step breakdown of the method over on Randy’s website. But here are the basics.
You begin with a one-sentence summary of your book. Basically your elevator pitch. For one of my stories, my sentence is “two college students make a lot of mistakes and fall in love.” It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you can and should revise it as you go, but it really helps you figure out what exactly the point of your story is. What matters most? What’s at the heart of it?
From there, you basically make longer and longer summaries. One paragraph. Five Paragraphs. One Page. And so forth. You do the same thing with individual characters, figuring out their backstories and plotting their place in the story. It’s a very manageable process, but it does take time. You can’t do it all in one sitting. For the first project I outline, I think it took me about two weeks, working on it almost every day for about an hour.
So if you’re stuck on your novel, and ready to give up on Nano, you should really consider shifting your focus. You can still do something towards your novel, without getting totally stuck on the 50,000 words thing. Then when December comes around, you’ll be ready to really work on your novel in ernest.