NaNoWriMo #14: Surrender to the Process

Got an email this morning from a regular (and wonderful) Storyfix reader.  In essence her comment was, “slow down, cowboy…” in reference to my assumption in a recent post that you probably have your concept in place by now, or should.

Did I say that? 

If you do have our concept up and running, you may not have noticed.  If you don’t, you may have felt like the train has left the station without you. And it’s tough to chase that train if you feel the window of opportunity is closing.

It’s not.  Still wide open. Waiting for your to climb in, even if it happens at the eleventh hour. Which isn’t too late, by the way.

Either way — as a means of cutting yourself some slack — allow me to remind of a handful of true statements about writing a novel, planning a novel, and applying both goals to NaNoWriMo.

Yep, this is a pep talk. 

And a critical tip: hang in there. Keep being proactive and focused as you plan your story.  Doesn’t matter that you lack a Big Idea or haven’t whipped it into an Effective Concept yet. 

Surrender to the process.  It’ll work.

First, creating an effective, structurally-sound sequence for your story is hard

Always has been, always will be.  It’s really hard if you don’t even understand what the target structure (and its attendant parts and milestones) even are… and/or if you labor under the naive assumption can just write what you want and put it wherever you want and it’ll still work well enough.

While orders of magnitude more accessible… it’s still hard with these tools at the forefront of your awareness.

So relax. This may take a while.  Half of October remains to plan your story.

NaNoWriMo applies an artificial pressure to it all. 

Not just in the 30 days of writing, but also in these preliminary weeks of October planning.  That pressure is what makes you feel like the train has left the station.

It hasn’t. 

But you do have apply proactive, attentive, informed effort toward the hatching of your central story idea, the resultant concept and the ensuing other five core competencies.  You don’t have time to wait for it to come to you… you have to call for it and set out the proper bait.

Keep playing “what if?” games with your ideas.  Evolve them into dramatic threads to see where they lead.  When it doesn’t make enough sense, when it doesn’t optimize the physics of storytelling (covered two posts ag0), go back and explore another option, another direction.

Very rare is the case when the idea expands itself without that effort.

Very mysterious, and somewhat reliable, is the case where you acknowledge that you’re stuck but nonetheless hang in there with the “what ifs?” and the constant churning… and then one day it’ll click.  Almost as if from an external source (go ahead, think of it that way if you must; fact is, your solution is the inevitable product of creative, enlightened effort). 

The Solution will arrive. 

The Big Idea will morph into the Big Concept, and from there you’ll experience similar breakthroughs as you search for your story — the plot points and character arc and Incredibly Satisfying Ending that will surprise even you with how it fits and feels.

Because you’ve made it fit and feel wonderful… by applying the principles of structure and the criteria for your story elements.  Whatever your actual writing process.

Surrendering to the process doesn’t mean sitting back and waiting for the muse to sing to you. 

Rather, it’s playing name that tune with the muse, forcing it, playing with it… and not sweating it or backing off when the pieces don’t seem to fit.

And – this is important — not settling at that point.

They will fit.  That’s the seemingly magic power of understanding and applying these tools.  Knowing what to shoot for and where it all goes, in combination with knowing the standards (criteria) for those creative decisions… that’s the contextual power of your subconscious creative mind at work. 

Which, once you nudge it in the right direction, is likely to chime in when least expected.

I’m betting you’ve already experienced this, either in a previous project or even this one.  It’s true, you can’t rush the outcome — it’ll come when it comes — but you can and should rush the processThat’s your October planning month. 

Keep at it and it’ll all be there, ready to write, come November 1.

Fill each waking moment with “what ifs?” and your intimacy with the fundmantals (structure and criteria)… keep throwing those balls into the air… but don’t sweat the outcome.  It’s already out there, waiting for you to find it… and you will.


Filed under NaNoWriMo

5 Responses to NaNoWriMo #14: Surrender to the Process

  1. Hi Larry,

    Doesn’t look like I’ll be able to participate in NaNoWriMo, but your tips are useful for any writer at any time of the year. I have several of your books, including Story Engineering, which is a big help, but this blog connects us with you in a warmer, more individual way. I first came here to learn about deconstructing a novel (couldn’t find useful info about it anywhere else), but I’ve stayed and learned and learned and learned. Many thanks for all you do to help writers, both newbies and more experienced. BTW, do you plan to continue with the deconstruction of Bait and Switch after this NaNoWriMo project? I’m looking forward to it. Again, many, many thanks.

  2. Somewhere along the line, we have to learn to trust the process. The first time we get into a new car, we know only general things about it, i.e., it has turn signals, brake and accelerator pedals, etc. Our operation is a bit tentative.

    If we were a new (young) driver, there’s a _ton_ of stuff to learn, seemingly all at once. However, by sticking to it, we learn to trust the vehicle, trust our knowledge of how it works, and trust (sometimes mistakenly) that other drivers will observe the rules of the road.

    If you are teaching someone to drive, do you start them out in mid-town NYC? Hopefully not.

    If writing were easy, everyone would be doing it successfully. We need to learn the process Larry is talking about here and learn to apply it until we trust it. No, it isn’t easy, but keep working at it. It will rarely ever become easy, just more familiar.

    Once you’ve done a couple of successful stories using the process, your trust in the process becomes ingrained.

    Now you can pull out all your creative stops because you have a process and framework in place you are confident will lead to a reasonable result.

    Will it be a best-seller? That’s a crap shoot, for sure. What you can be sure of is that you’ve given it your best shot.

    Now go write something great.

  3. Surrendering to the process is one of the hardest things for me. It usually takes until I actually start writing to be able to do that. I spend the whole month just getting the words out and then I go back and clean up the mess later.

  4. I was starting to feel the pressure so thanks for reminding me to take a deep breath. I trust that my subconscious is still working away on my story even when I’m focused on other things.

    I’m also curious about the deconstruction of “Bait and Switch.” I enjoyed it and look forward to your insider’s take.

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