How to Win NaNoWriMo Without An Outline

This week is all about you “pantsers” out there. We’re talking about 11 tips to help you win NaNoWriMo without an outline.

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How to Win NaNoWriMo: What Is A Plotter Versus a Pantser?

If you’re a veteran to the writing community, you’ve probably heard these terms before. A Pantser is someone who flies by the seat of their pants; while a Plotter is someone who plans each chapter or scene with a meticulous outline.

REASONS TO BE A PLOTTER.

PROS:

  • Get their novels written faster.
  • Effective way to combat a lack of motivation.
  • Consistent direction—even if you don’t always stick to the outline.

CONS:

  • Often feel confined by their outlines… and rarely deviate.
  • Some consider plotting “less creative”.

REASONS TO BE A PANTSER.

PROS:

  • Complete creative freedom… all the time, the entire time.
  • Can be great for fast-drafting the first draft.
  • You don’t get stuck on the outlining phase.

CONS:

  • If you get stuck… you can do anything to get yourself unstuck. Hate a character? Kill them off. Hate a scene? Cut it short with some crazy ending.
  • Can be a trigger for the habitually unmotivated, leaving multiple unfinished manuscripts in random folders across your hard drive.

CAN ONE BE BOTH?

So much yes.

I encourage people to start with one and then do the other. This allows you the opportunity to see what works for you in both methods. Then you can pick and choose what works and what doesn’t work and create your own method that reflects your style and process.

Keep in mind, this takes time. Sometimes lots of time. But it will help you determine how you work best, which will allow you to work even more efficiently, because you’re creating your process around the systems that work for you.

Do You Need An Outline to Win NaNoWriMo?

In all honestly, it doesn’t matter if you outline or if you don’t. What matters is that you determine what organizational method works for you. If outlining extends your process from a month to a year, then it might be a good decision to nix that step.

But, if you’re finding it takes you significantly longer to write your novel, you’re feeling unmotivated along the writing way, or you’re having to spend a year editing out all the kinks and plot-holes, then you might try the outline method.

I know many writers who can’t write without an outline… and I know writers who hate them. It’s all about you and your systems and your personalized process.

IS NOT OUTLINING EASIER?

Yes… and no.

Some people think not outlining means no planning. And while that might be the case with some, it isn’t the case with all. Some people love planning, but they don’t want to plan out every single detail. You might find it easier because there can be less planning involved; but you might also find it more difficult if you need more direction when writing.

Tips For Writing Your Book Without An Outline

TIP #1 STAY ORGANIZED… EVEN IF YOU DON’T OUTLINE.

Just because you aren’t outlining, doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) world or character build. In fact, these little things might help you combat a lack of motivation down the line.

TIP #2 FOLLOW ALL THE RANDOM TRAILS.

When you’re outlining, you might not want to deviate too much, because you’ve often gone through all your plots and subplots to avoid holes the best you can. BUT, when you’re writing without an outline, there’s nothing you’ve pre-built-out, which means the entire world is yours to explore (I mean, it is anyway… but)

TIP #3 TRUST YOURSELF—BE FREE.

Especially if you’re “winging it,” you should ask yourself “what if” questions to see what and where your characters are headed. Don’t hesitate to follow crazy ideas and make them as real as possible. Since this is your first draft, it might change it in later revisions, but don’t be afraid to explore unexplored territory.

TIP #4 USE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLS, SUCH AS TRELLO, TO VISUALIZE YOUR PROJECT.

Visualizing a project can help you understand where you are and what you should work on. It can help you organize something intangible and make it into something you can engage with.

TIP #5 THINK ABOUT WHAT YOUR CHARACTERS CARE ABOUT.

The key to determining their motivations and where the story might take them (even if you don’t want to outline) is to decipher what they do and don’t care about. Are they family oriented? Or are friends more important? Or perhaps they’re a loner and prefer the silence of solitude… When you’re writing without an outline, this can help you write and avoid writing blocks.

TIP #6 BRAINSTORM OBSTACLES.

Obstacles are part of every novel. Whether they’re internal or external, they drive your story forward and help you create well-rounded characters with an action-packed narrative. Having an idea notebook of things that might happen might sound like outlining, but not if you don’t know if, when, or where they might end up in your novel.

TIP #7 JUST KEEP WRITING.

When you’re writing through your NaNoWriMo novel, the goal is to finish the novel. To finish the 50K words to complete the goal and your manuscript (or, at least, 50-thousand-words of your manuscript). But this shouldn’t be your only goal. NaNoWriMo is about your commitment to writing. Don’t get bogged down in the 50-thousand-words bit and focus more on writing your novel and achieving your goals.

TIP #8 REALIZE THAT IT’S OKAY TO SUCK.

Your first NaNo draft will be terrible. Let me repeat that. Your first draft will suuuuuuck. It always does. It’ll be too short or too long or have too much dialogue, too many descriptions, plot holes like a back-country road. Whatever it is, it’ll be okay. NaNo is about drafting. The rest of the year can be about revising.

TIP #9 EVERY DAY IS A NEW DAY.

If you didn’t hit your word count yesterday… forget it. That is—don’t forget about writing your novel; forget that you didn’t hit your goal and reevaluate where you’re headed from here.

TIP #10 DO YOU & CREATE YOUR OWN GOALS.

While most people’s goal is the 50,000 words, it doesn’t mean yours has to be. Create your own goals that are realistic to your level and lifestyle and create targets around them.

TIP #11 CELEBRATE YOUR MILESTONES.

Did you hit your goal today or this week? Give yourself a treat. Or… maybe you didn’t hit your goal yesterday, but you did write 500-words. It’s still progress, even if it wasn’t the progress you wanted. Be flexible, adapt, and adjust.

There isn’t a one-stop-shop, because no two people are exactly alike.  Find which methods work for you to determine how you’ll best work. The debate of plotter versus pantser can go on forever, but the truth of the matter is… whichever you are ROCK IT!

ACTION STEP: If you want to win NaNoWriMo, you must consider your own method. What’s working, and opportunities might there be?

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