Happy Camp Nano July-eve, all! I’m chomping at the bit to get started, I’m going to send up a little prayer to my writer-muse to let me hit the ground running and be on a roll tomorrow, and I’ve even rooted out what will be my official Writing Candle to light when I sit down to crank out my (planned minimum) 1000 words per day.
In preparation for the upcoming month, I wanted to review a book that I genuinely didn’t think that I wanted or needed: Outlining Your Novel Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book. Read on to find out if it would be of help to you!
I am what is known in very technical author-y terms as a “Pantser,” that is, someone who writes by the seat of their pants. To be honest, the terms rubs me the wrong way, as it implies recklessness, a lack of forethought, or leaving your book up to chance, whereas being a Planner implies that one is responsible, thoughtful, and pays more attention to detail.
Let’s face it: would you rather your financial adviser be a Pantser or a Planner? Uh-huh.
To me, planning my books out as little as possible is part of how I write. In Sub Rosa, I genuinely had no idea that what became one of the biggest parts of the plot was going to happen. I was merrily writing a scene when the characters came up with that twist on her own and I was left sitting in my chair, jaw hanging open, thinking Oh my God!!! Then I went crazy, kicking out almost 4000 words in that same sitting because it was like being plugged into the most incredible writing electrical plug imaginable. But it wasn’t good luck, it’s how I write.
When I write, I go into zen-mode. The outside world disappears, and I don’t even like to have have music playing in the background, because I want to zone out as much as possible and the words to just flow and to become a vehicle for my subconscious to take over. I write out the dialog as the characters speak it in my head. Instead of planning that such-and-such will happen, I feel that I’m able to write something more realistic when it happens in the moment with the characters. I don’t have to write to accommodate what I planned to happen, I write what comes before it dictates. I may have an end goal in mind, or a few key scenes that I want to make happen, but that’s the limit of my planning.
(Disclaimer: This is what works for me. I am not in any way sneering at individuals who plan out their novel to the nth degree, and am happy that they use a method that produces their best results.)
Okay, I promised a review, and here it is, and I think you’ll see why my lengthy lead-in was needed!
I read a brief recommendation for Outlining Your Novel Workbook, and it essentially said that it doesn’t help you plan your book out from beginning to end as much as it helps spark creativity and guides you through brainstorming (not planning). I do love brainstorming so I was intrigued, I eyeballed the Look Inside!, and then I figured that $8.23 and Prime Shipping was worth giving it a try.
To my very great surprise and pleasure, this book does exactly what it advertises, namely:
“…a guided approach to getting the bones of your story down on paper, identifying plot holes, and brainstorming exciting new possibilities.”
This is a different kind of planning. This is not plotting everything out scene-by-scene in advance, this is not having your book written out in list form before you actually sit down to “write” it. This workbook contains exercises that poke the “What If…?” button repeatedly, sparking things into your mind that you would never have considered before.
One of my favorites was “What is Unexpected?”
“Brainstorm concepts readers would not automatically expect from your story, based on its genre, its characters, and early plot. Put a check beside any idea that sounds promising.”
These are the fire-starters, the creativity-sparkers. If you’ve got writer’s block, flip this workbook open and just start going crazy with it. Put “Kidnapped by aliens” in the “What If?” exercise for your historical romance novel…you’ll be shocked as how quickly you might think…if not aliens, then maybe PIRATES!!! BOOM, writer’s block broken! This workbook reignites a sense of excitement about your story, it makes you want to hop right back into writing because you’ve come up with an idea to solve the problem that’s been stymying you into NOT WRITING.
There are basic practical parts of this workbook too, and depending on your genre, you may screech with joy upon finding them. There’s a section for drawing maps, key included, for those of you that have to build a fantasy world and maintain continuity for it. There’s a calendar for you to fill in, which did make me screech for joy, because keeping things accurate in terms of time elapsed and how the time of year in question affects story elements (romantic outdoor picnic for Valentine’s Day in North Dakota? Hmm…) is incredibly important. Readers do notice when your characters aren’t affected by the passing of time and seasons…like, how many proms, Christmases and Valentine’s Days did the Sweet Valley High twins have while ALWAYS REMAINING JUNIORS IN HIGH SCHOOL???
There are a few exercises that do attempt to get you to nail down parts of your plot, but you can skip those, as I did, if you don’t need them. The value from the rest of the book FAR outweighs the few exercises you may not utilize.
Tip: there is a Kindle version, but don’t do that to yourself. I found that the actual act of hand-writing out the exercises was part of the process, and writing more slowly allowed me to be thoughtful, and the most amazing ideas were able to drop into my open and receptive subconscious. Kindle price: $3.99, paperback workbook: $8.23. Totally worth it, I’ll be buying a few more copies so I have a fresh one for each future novel down the road.
I’ve included a few more pictures in the slideshow below, but let me know if you’ve used this workbook, or if there’s another one you love and recommend! Also, are you Camp-Nano-ing? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!