NaNoWriMo and working from an outline

This is my first official NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I did camp this summer, though camp is more laid-back. For camp, I wrote a story that I’d had on my mind for a number of years. I had already envisioned the whole story, I knew my characters well enough that they were closer than some friends. I was a little worried going into this NaNo without a firm story in mind. Would the story flow into my head and through my hands like it had before?

In September, I started prepping for NaNo by deciding that I was going to write a sequel to the story I wrote for camp. There was some safety for me there. The focus for this book is on two minor characters from the first book in the series, so I didn’t have to create new ones. I already knew those characters. I’d made a four-page outline of exactly how I thought the story might play out. I really thought about the story and where I needed cliffhangers, slight resolution, more drama, and a wonderful ending. It was an outline I could be proud of.

Here’s the problem. I have discovered that I just don’t write that way. I stuck to the outline for the first two and a half chapters and it felt stifling. After that, I decided to just let the story happen in my head and now I am writing with renewed vigor. I felt so tied to that outline that parts of the first few chapters will need major overhauls because they just don’t feel like someone’s life. If I don’t catch my reader by the end of that first chapter…it isn’t going to happen.

I think in the future, I will stick to writing general ideas for stories down, so as not to forget a good idea, but writing an outline is not for me. I’m not saying that it is wrong, or that writers should avoid it, the reason I tried it was because I was new and unsure. You will never know if something works or not until you try it. Now, after completing 1/5 of the month-long challenge, I can say with confidence that the story will come if I let it.