I’d planned spend the 3rd week of November talking about plot and conflict. Or plot and meaning. Or plot and purpose. But definitely plot. And then two things happened: one of my students wanted to quit and I had to abandon over 50,000 words of a passion project. My student wasn’t having any fun with NaNoWriMo, her manuscript didn’t make any sense, and it all seems pointless. For me, other than the grief over lost material, the shift away from it allowed everything else to come into focus. The shift wasn’t easy but after a lot of back-and-forth and writing this way and that, it was the right thing to do. At this point in my career, I know to listen when my inner writer has different ideas than the woman doing the typing. I know to listen, and yet I didn’t. And not listening meant I went via the scenic route to nowhere. It happens. Bummer.

Given that, I certainly wasn’t going to tell my student she had to keep going at all costs. Instead, I asked if she wanted to shift goals. What if the point of the month-long challenge wasn’t to finish the novel, but to practice writing in a way that would allow her to develop skills? Skills that included listening to her own inner writer. She agreed to try, and I agreed to stop sobbing about the 50k+ words in my manuscript that will now gather dust.

Now, on to plot.

I am not a plot-driven reader or writer. And that means plot as a tool in the writing craft is not my default as a teacher. I have an incredibly brilliant friend with a PhD who has written many a poem to make your heart stop. She also teaches and starts every creative writing class with a discussion on plot and conflict. I remember the first time I saw her syllabus, I thought, huh, that’s odd. And forget a plot that you can describe in an elevator pitch. I’m one of those people who thinks that if you can talk about a book in the elevator, I don’t want to read it.

But one of the ways that my writing has changed since writing about dragons in Vienna, is that I have become more story driven. If you find yourself stuck and it’s not because you are chasing 50,000 words in the wrong direction, look at your plot with these questions.

What is the conflict at the heart of the scene (yes, my friend was right. She is brilliant for a reason)?

What is the purpose each character has in the scene?

How does this scene move into the next?

Lastly, if everything is feeling futile, go and re-read The Second Coming. It will put NaNoWriMo, your wasted time, your work, and the world into perspective.