How to be a NaNoWriMo ‘Panster’ – my 2020 NaNo talk + some free stuff!

Come listen to me speak at Milkwood on Saturday 31 October, 1pm SLT (you can also pick up some freebies there).

It’s nearly National Novel Writing Month! In case you’re unaware, NaNoWriMo (and, yes, it really should be called International Novel Writing Month, I know; let’s accept there are more important things to get riled about right now and let it lie) is the act of writing a 50,000 word novel within the 30 days of November. If you’ve never tried it before, there has probably never been a better year than 2020 to give it a go. NaNo is immersive, distracting from real world events and anxieties (a particularly big plus right now, though under no circumstances should you allow NaNo to distract you from voting on 3 November if you live in the USA) and, possibly best of all, a great way to spend your time that keeps you safe at home.

This year, communication from NaNo HQ has identified three types of November noveller: the ‘Planner,’ the ‘Plantser’ and the ‘Pantser.’ The planner-pantser distinction has been out there for a while. A 2010 post on the NaNoWriMo blog identified planners as knowing “what their novel is going to be about before November 1 rolls around. They know their characters, their setting, their story.” And pantsers are defined as flying “by the seat of their pants. They have some vague idea or a main character or even just an opening line, and when November 1 rolls around, they jump on board the story train and see where it takes them.” The new term, plantser, lies somewhere in between the two. Plantsers have the seed of an idea, which they plant on 1 November, and they see where things go from there. If you ask me, a ‘planster’ is just a pantser who’s done a little bit more thinking. But that’s the thing with categories: you create them as a useful rule of thumb and, before you know it, people are arguing over their minutiae as though they’re some sort of real thing.

So, within this broad delineation of stereotypes, I fall into the ‘pantser’ category. I start my novels with a vague idea of what will happen and see where this takes me. If I was to get picky with this term – though this would, once again, be rather missing the point of its invention – I might argue that it feels a little ‘cheap,’ as though it contains within it somehow the suggestion that a generated novel is somehow of lesser quality than a pre-planned one. It fails to capture somehow the importance of writing as an organisational process, by which I mean that the act of writing something down causes you to process your ideas in a new way, and that this processing can lead to further ideas. My favourite moment in any writing project is when something I’m writing causes a new thought to form, perhaps a new sub-plot or maybe even a perfect ending to the story. It’s a fist-pump moment, and it goes mentally something like this: “But wait… if this thing that I’ve just written is true than that would mean that [some other thing] is also true [or not true] and that would mean that [insert incredible new idea here]!”

Anyway. For the last few years I’ve been kicking off the NaNoWriMo season at literary venue Milkwood with a talk in voice about the approach I take to November novelling (a feat I’ve now completed nine times; the picture above is from my 2019 talk), and I’m delighted to say that venue owner Harriet Guasman has asked me to do a talk again this year – which will be titled, “How to be a NaNoWriMo ‘Pantser.'” So, if you’d like to hear a bunch of tips and more musings like those above, feel free to head over to Harri’s beautiful woodland writing area – with voice enabled – at 1pm on Saturday 31 October.

Milkwood is Second Life’s number one NaNoWriMo destination, and if you join the group (which is free) you can pick up some free goodies from the Group Gifts shack, including a NaNoWriMo t-shirt and a ‘back to nature’ writing scene, all pictured below. The pack also includes a 2020 schedule for NaNo events at Milkwood in the lead up to and through November. Writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days is a unique experience and being part of a community of people also going through it helps – and this year more than ever our writing community meet-ups need to be virtual rather than in person. As an aside, if you’re reading this as a NaNo regular who has never been to Second Life before – and would like to get back virtually some of that comradeship you’ll be missing through the cancellation of in-person meet-ups – I wrote a beginners guide to SL a few months back which you might find handy. The first thing you need to know is: it’s free. Once you’ve signed up, chosen your avatar, downloaded the viewer and logged in, all you’ll need to do is click on this link here to get teleported to the Milkwood writing venue.

And, whilst we’re talking about freebies, don’t forget to check out my free Progress Tool, an Excel spread sheet with everything you need for NaNo stats. You can see what it looks like below, populated with my daily stats for my 2018 NaNo.

I’ve also created a Flickr album of free photographs that could be used as novel covers here.  

And, if you’re interested in more of my thoughts about NaNo (I know, it’s unlikely, but it can’t hurt to make the suggestion, right?) then you might like to read my article from 2013 Five Tips on Writing a NaNoWriMo.  Don’t forget also to consult these wise words from Isaac Asimov on turning off that pesky ‘Inner Editor.’

See you on the starting line!

One thought on “How to be a NaNoWriMo ‘Panster’ – my 2020 NaNo talk + some free stuff!

  1. Reblogged this on Thar She Blows! and commented:
    Huck reminds us of the NaNoWriMo … OMfG, is it already November again, do you have 50,000 words in you??? As a failed writer of three log novels I always found the idea of the NaNoWriMo fascinating but first and foremost frightening.
    Needless to say I’ve never participated but i wish all you hopefulls all the best during the upcoming month of reclusive writing marathon.


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