Journaling Instead of Outlining

November is coming up and for me that means National Novel Writing Month. For those who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month. That comes out to about 1,667 words per day. Yeah, it’s pretty crazy.

I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo every year since 2007, when I wrote my first 50,000 words of a novel, but I haven’t won since 2008. “Winning,” in NaNoWriMo terms, is completing the goal of writing 50,000 words. There is no guarantee that anyone will read it. Conversely, you don’t have to let anyone read it! It can be 50,000 words of terrible prose that never sees the light of day, which is basically what I wrote in 2007 (or so I think — I haven’t read said prose since 2007). In 2008, I wrote the first 50,000 words of a rather passable attempt at a novel.

Since 2008, I have been slowly, painstakingly, and with a large number of months-long breaks, working on my 2008 NaNoWriMo novel. I refer to this manuscript as ITTL, an abbreviation of its first title, In the Tea Leaves, which has since been changed several times. Since I began ITTL, I have also started writing at least three more novels, written a complete novella, several short stories and some poetry, managed to get a thing or two published, and blogged extensively. Obviously, I have not been focusing on ITTL.

However, ITTL must be completed. It’s currently about 70,000 words of a pretty good story. I have the whole thing worked out in my head. I had outlined it years ago, but the ending has changed so much since then that my outline is no longer relevant. Which leads me to the point of this post.

I’m not one to use the term “writer’s block” — it’s never as simple as that, as any writer who claims to have writer’s block can expound upon their condition with uninhibited verbosity. My problem is that I have a distinct aversion to writing the ending of this damned manuscript.

I tried to write the ending, and all I did was stare. I couldn’t even outline the ending. I typed a few sentences, but it didn’t even describe how I wanted the ending to happen. But I don’t believe in writer’s block. I had to write something.

So, I opened up a blank document and started describing my problem. Soon, I was writing about what my characters were doing. If I was worried about how one character would get from A to B, I wrote the problem down. Then I worked it out in the very next sentence. It was great — I now have the whole ending worked out on paper and it doesn’t have a single bullet point.

I immediately sat down and wrote a whole chapter of ITTL. I only have a few more to go. I’m totally gonna finish this, guys! Which is great, because I’m planning to start writing a new novel in November. This time, I’m not just going to win — I’m going to have a completed manuscript under my belt before I even get started.

My point here is: When in doubt, write it out. Even if you can’t write your story, write about your story. It might seem silly, but the more you focus on something, the more likely it is that you’ll get it done.

I’m off to write — wish me luck!


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