There are 8 rules for writing.
There are only 7 plots in the whole wide world.
There are 36 plots.
There is only 1 rule for writing.^
You have to write fast. You have to write slow. You have to plot first. You have burn on pure creativity. You must structure your story. You must begin at the beginning.
After a few years of attending talks and workshops and listening to people who also wrote but did not write like me, I realized everyone follows their rules. They just forget to tell you that everyone has their own set of rules that they have cobbled together from their trusted mentors and peers and sources which are totally different from yours.
Once you look at all these different rule sets a pattern emerges where you see this person's set of rules is that person's wriggle room, and that person's set of rules leaves little spaces for this person's rules to fit between. Together they make a series of contradictions that function smoothly with only a few conjunctions to smooth the way.
You have to write fast and (some days) you have to write slow.
You have to plot first or you have to burn on pure creativity.
You must structure your story but you must begin at the beginning. So what if your structure doesn't begin with the beginning?
Nanowrimo has one rule: Don't look back!
Like speed limits, it's a guideline, and like the rules above, it works best in conjunction with your pre-existing personal writing rules.
Let's talk about speed limits for a minute. There are some speed limits you obey without questions because of the unstated "or else". I always obey the speed limit that says "25 mph on this twisty mountain road...or else you might die" and "30mph in this residential area...or else you might kill someone". That sentence started with "I" for a reason, because you might trust yourself on mountain roads or trust your breaks or distrust driving through gorges...
My writing rules were pretty set before I did Nanowrimo the first time. And they were pretty set right after that first hellish month of approximately 12,000 grueling words that had been over-plotted and under-developed. I planned the life right out of my characters and spent my first word war paralyzed with writer's block.
My writing output before and after Nano was about the same, which is to say, slim to none.
The second time I tried Nanowrimo, I decided to follow the 1 rule and throw everything else out the window. I didn't look back. Some days I wrote in complete silence, some days I created careful playlists to evoke moods and characters. Some days I looked at my outline and some days I said to hell with it and plowed onward. Some weeks I went to the write-ins and sat with fellow writers and some weeks I spent wrapped up in my cocoon of a bedroom as a solitary serious artist.
I like to celebrate Nanowrimo as a time to explore new rituals in being a writer. This upcoming month I have plotted my novel as three separate storylines in very sketchy details. My characters are defined in single phrases and as comparisons to existing celebrities, TV characters in certain episodes or arcs, or even as a time of day.
Rather than plotting every single scene on index cards* I have decided to plot tomorrow's writing at the end of today's writing. I am going to break the only rule of Nanowrimo that exists to save accelerating writers from their own inability to stay off the delete key. I will read my writing of that day once I've finished it in order to write down certain details to aid with plotting - namely where I've left threads and throwaway details that may enhance tomorrow and even next week's writing.
I'm a little worried. This is the one concrete rule I've held for three successful Nanos. It won't break any of my other rules (be true to my characters, don't talk down to the reader, at some point I have to actually like the person through which I am viewing this world, among others), but it may throw off my routine. It may cause doubt. Doubt brings with it the paralyzing uncertainty 2 minutes into a 15 minute word war that can last another precious 7 minutes, losing hundreds of words in the process. I will, in effect, pants my novel.
Wish me luck!
^If you follow this link, only one rule applies to writing. :)
*Done it. Even drunk plotted before. All I have to say about that is, I guess I get philosophical when under the influence of a good white wine. Philosophy, unfortunately, does not do a whole lot for an action packed climax, especially when I've just compared an emotional arc? The path out of hell? The antagonist's long lost daughter and/or mistress? to winter's light. Oh, maudlin, oh, hangover. Nothing says bad idea like the morning after, trying to decipher both my handwriting and genius.