Plotter or pantser? JanuWriMo

Some people are just gluttons for punishment. Having done, and won, NaNoWriMo in November, completing an 80,000 word draft in mid-December, who would want to do it all again two months later?

*puts up hand*

This time I was planning to write not one book but two. Two 25,000-word middle-grade children’s books, possibly the first two books of a series.

When I say ‘plan’, though, I mean it pretty loosely. I’d plotted out the first book by chapter, and had some character notes. For the second book I had…a vague idea.

However, I also had help in the form of the marvellous Fiction Writers Group on Facebook. I have to give a special mention here to Earl Chessher, one of the leaders of FWG. He came up with the concept of JanuWriMo, created a spinoff Facebook group, and encouraged, spurred, and cheer-led us every step of the way.

But a group isn’t just one person. The group as a whole (and there were around a hundred of us in the JanuWriMo spinoff group) was a huge factor in pushing me along. We shared our word counts, problems, best bits so far, procrastination issues… Some people posted phenomenal word-count figures which leapt into the stratosphere within the first week. Some people posted that life was getting in the way of writing. But we all kept going. The group slogan is ‘Writing is Winning’; whether you reach 50K or not by the end of the month, you’ve still written more than you would have otherwise. While I enjoyed doing NaNoWriMo very much, I tended to check in with other participants via Facebook or Twitter, rather than the official website. The JanuWriMo Facebook group was a much livelier experience, and it really did feel like being part of a community. Several of us have befriended each other, and there’s already talk of doing it again…

I’d hoped that my idea of plotting one book and pantsing the other (‘pantsing’ as in ‘flying by the seat of your pants’, for the uninitiated) would settle the question of whether I’m a plotter or a pantser. And the answer is…somewhere in between.

I wrote book 1 in the first two weeks, maintaining a fairly regular 2500 words on weekdays, and to be honest it felt a bit flat. I enjoyed writing it, but I knew what was going to happen all along (well, except for introducing an extra major character on the first page).

At the start of Week 3 and book 2 I had all the characters from book 1, to be reused as appropriate, and the main setting, but no plot except for thinking that there might be a spelling bee in it. So the first thing I did was to rent and watch Spellbound (what can I say, sometimes writing is hard work!). This helped with character ideas and a broad structure. I wrote the first couple of chapters and then realised I NEEDED some sort of bare-bones outline if I was going to get much further. Half-an-hour and a side of A4 later, I felt much better, and I enjoyed the process of writing the second book more. Plus there was the additional bonus, as I crept towards the 50K mark, of seeing group members, one by one, passing the finishing post. I got there myself on 29 January, and it was a great feeling to be cheered over the line by my new writing friends. Both books ran a little over 25K, so I completed book 2 on 1 February, reaching a total of 53K for both. Not a bad month’s work!

And what now? For me it’s editing one of the drafts that I set aside to stew while I did JanuWriMo, and also attempting to unchain myself from the desk and get running again,  as I’ve signed up for an event at the end of this month! Stay tuned for updates…

The splendid featured image is the FWG JanuWriMo group logo, available in a variety of colours, and is reproduced with permission.

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