Why You Might Need To Write A Hot Mess

If you’ve been watching me on socials, you might have heard me mention that this year’s NaNoWriMo project turned into a hot mess. But, I still pushed through to the target of 50,000 words. So, why didn’t I give up or start over?

Well, I’ve had this happen before!

Some stories need to percolate a lot before you can write them. My first manuscript didn’t come together until the third time I tried it — and its ending was still a hot mess for another couple of drafts. My last manuscript took two NaNoWriMo attempts because the first time, my space fantasy turned into a story about tax fraud and school field trips. While I’m happy to find out where the story takes me, sometimes, I don’t like where it goes and I have to back out and try again.

Here are a few reasons why you might need to write a hot mess!

1 – Figure out the world

You might not like to play with worldbuilding as much as I do, but even in a contemporary setting, getting the tone and the location and the right place in history and society just right can be a challenge. Add in fantastic or futuristic elements, and there’s a whole new can of worms to explore and weave together. I know, I’m mixing metaphors… that’s because I haven’t figured it all out. Yet.

2 – Learn more about the characters

Even when I outline and create character sheets for stories, I don’t always know my characters well enough to know how they’re going to react in any given situation. As I write, I learn more about them, and I find out that earlier scenes might not be true to who I find out they are.

3 – Find out what didn’t work — for this story

There’s a saying — or a song — about how when you’re going through hell, you can’t turn back because the only way out is through. By writing more, even after I knew I’d gone off the rails, I got the opportunity to explore the story a bit more. When I go to rewrite this story, I’ll know what didn’t work, and what might have just needed to be set up better.

4 – Fill in all those plot points the outline didn’t cover

Or the plot points that the vague idea floating in your head didn’t cover.- I know not everyone out there is a planner, or even a plantser like I am. While I like having a direction to go with my stories, sometimes having too many beat points planned out ends up with me writing the planned scenes without the right flow and everything feels forced.

Yeah, yeah. I can hear the pantsers laughing at me. Although, I’ve heard a lot of them do this on purpose — write a hot mess, outline it, then edit it into a working manuscript.

5 – Get back into the drafting mindset

My editing brain and my drafting brain are two different things. If I stop to listen to my editing brain while I’m trying to draft out the story, I tie myself in knots and end up writing out of order, which messes up the whole story flow, and leads to more of a disaster.

Some people find listening to their editor brain while drafting ends up with them rewriting the same scene over and over again without ever making progress. The very problem that NaNoWriMo was created to get past.

I like the quote that there’s no way to edit a blank page. The theory that the rough draft is the story you tell yourself. And the advice to never throw away a draft. After all, I managed to salvage 35,000 words from that tax fraud and school field trips manuscript and turn it back into the space fantasy it was always meant to be.


Have you ever written a hot mess? Did you see it through or bail when you saw the direction it was headed?

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