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The Ways of NaNoWriMo Part I: An Interview with a “Pantser”

NaNoWriMo, one of my favorite times of the year, is nearly upon us. For those not in the know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual 30-day challenge during the month of November that encourages writers to develop good writing habits by challenging them to write a 50,000-word novel in that 30-day window. Some writers plan for months, and some even the entire year, making outlines and notes, but the first word(s) can only be written starting November 1.

There are other writers who prefer to let the journey surprise them. They’re affectionately called “Pantsers” in that they “fly by the seat of their pants” when it comes to writing. They write without an outline and maybe only a vague idea of the characters and story as a whole. Theresa A. Munroe, who writes as T.A. Munroe and has been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2008, is one of these “Pantsers.”

Blank Page Writing: What is your current work in progress (WIP)?

T.A. Munroe: Killing Julie is the tentative title. Julie, MacKenzie, 33, owner of a successful small business and former costume designer in Hollywood is assailed with advanced stage leukemia, Dan a new love interest, and her psycho ex-boyfriend Craig, all within weeks of each other. Craig begins to stalk Julie and soon nothing and no one she comes in contact with is safe. Each time he moves against her, Craig destroys more of her life until one day he abducts her from the hospital on the eve of a life-saving stem cell transplant. Weak and deathly ill, she is forced to endure unspeakable torment as Craig tortures her, Dan, and another friend in a strange remote location. If she can’t save them, nobody can.

BPW: Did you create an outline (at all) for this project?

Munroe:  No. This was my 2010 NaNo novel, my third. The year before I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, the kind I afflict Julie with, so I wanted to work that in. (Fortunately for me, my case was caught early and has been easy to treat.) Also, instead of doing a bunch more research, I wanted to use what I learned about Hollywood and filmmaking writing my first novel I intended to publish, Another Place on the Planet (the alternate ending of my very first NaNo novel.) I’m also an expert seamstress, so I wanted to use that knowledge, too. But when I sat down on November 1, that’s all I knew. By that point in my writing career, I knew I enjoyed letting the characters come to me and reveal their personalities and stories as I wrote.

As I learned more about the craft, I came across the concept of beat sheets and use Blake Snyder’s from Save the Cat very loosely. Although designed for screenplays, it works easily for novels, too. As I cruise along, I make sure I have something that can work as an inciting incident, some conflicts and problems that become increasingly hard to resolve, a mid-point turn around where we see things will get much worse before they get better, the dark night of the soul which is the lowest point for the MC where she must decide what action to take, the climax and resolution.

BPW: What kind of notes do you keep?

Munroe: Not many, if any. I might put some ideas for changes or additions for a scene in the notes section of my Scrivener page. I’ve come to consider my NaNo draft the outline I’ll use to revise, so I try to let the story flow and deal with details later on when I know what the story will be about.

BPW: Have you ever tried to outline?

Munroe: Thinking I needed to outline and plan a story before I wrote it kept me from writing for years. My brain just doesn’t work like that. Each new novel is an adventure in meeting and getting to know my new invisible friends and going on their journey with them. I can’t plan someone else’s life. I can barely plan my own!

BPW: Would you be further along with your WIP if you outlined?

Munroe: I don’t know. I’ve gotten better at keeping a clearer focus when I NaNo now, because I know it’s just a rough draft and I’m going to end up adding and cutting a lot before I type The End for the final time. I’m better at staying off rabbit trails and reining in my characters when they want to go hopping off somewhere. However, in a rough draft those side trips can be useful for getting to know the characters, even if the words don’t make it into the book. The trick is once I know what I really want the book to be about, to cut the stuff that doesn’t fit during revision.

Even if you outline, revision is a must. Not once or twice, but as many times as it takes. A first draft completed with or without an outline is still just a first draft.

BPW: How do you control consistency if you don’t have an outline?

Munroe: As far as consistency, so far, I seem pretty good with that. My brain may not remember to take the list I made to the grocery store, but it mostly remembers my stories. For Killing Julie’s first revision, I made a time line to keep track of events because thing get crazy for her in a matter of days. For my Lilyland series, I created a “bible” for character names and relationships. I revise and reread several times before I send my work out to others so I catch most of the plot and continuity glitches. My critique partners and beta readers point out things that don’t add up, too.

Pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants) is not for everyone, but I know outlining is not for me, at least at this time. It’s important for a writer to discover how she best works, to accept that and not compare herself to others and their techniques. There is no right way to create a story. The important part is to enjoy the process so your readers enjoy your writing.

T.A. Munroe’s NaNoWriMo projects

2008: Box of Rain

2009: Subculture

2010: What Doesn’t Kill You  (Now titled Killing Julie)

2011: Places Bright and Dark, Lilyland 2

2012: Potholes

2013: Lilyland book 3 (still not complete)

2014: Zook’s Corner (looking for an agent for this)

2015: Dorrie

2016: untitled


You can reach Munroe through her blog, Facebook page, or Twitter account, or check out her Amazon author page:

app-cover pbd-cover

My occasional blog:

My Facebook author page:


Amazon author page:

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