I love autumn. I suspect this feeling comes with being one of those annoying people who liked school.

Autumn feels like the beginning of a story, when you settle down on the couch with your blanket and hot chocolate and big fat book. The start of the school year means new stationary and classes, lots of potential and lots to look forward to – lots of work, sure, but also a sense of real purpose and being a part of something.

(My form one teacher would be appalled at how many times I used the word ‘lots’ in that paragraph. She once said that we should avoid ‘got’, ‘lots’ and ‘nice’ because they were lazy, boring words. I was the smart-arse who replied, “I’ve got lots of nice.” She was my favourite teacher of all and she’s still going strong, last I heard.)

In Autumn, we’re also settling down for winter. I’m used to doing this particular transition in April so I’m feeling a bit out of kilter with it all, but I haven’t had an autumn for 18 months so, rainy or not, I’m still loving the colours and coziness of it. Winter can be rough, of course, but there is a rhythm to it – weeks and months when we can just get into our work, our routines and projects and plans.

The first big project of the coming-cold season is Nanowrimo and I’ve got to say that it makes much better sense to write a novel in November in the Northern Hemisphere. In NZ Nanowrimo happens just as school is wrapping up for the year. The weather is getting warmer and things are winding down before christmas and the long summer break. If you’re a student then you’ve got exams to prepare for, and if you’re not then there’s usually half a dozen “christmas” parties to attend and then recover from.

It goes rather against the grain, in that climate, to park yourself at your computer for several hours a day just when there’s finally a good reason to go outside again. You’ve had all miserable winter to be antisocial, inside, writing.

But here, in France and most places this far above the equator, we’re just coming into miserable (I say that in the most affectionate way) winter and it feels just right. I’m ready and willing to start some new piece of work, to really get into it, without distraction…

hey, a girl can dream. To really get into it, with distractions, is of course a much less appealing scenario, but as it’s the only one on offer, into it I go.

I’m not actually ready, of course. I want to finish editing my current work in progress (this draft anyway) – and then I need to plan what I’ll write for nanowrimo.

I’m a planner. I love planning. It’s so much easier than actually carrying anything, for starters, and at this stage anything is possible. It’s easy, now, to completely rearrange things, to combine two novel ideas and smoosh them into one, to give the villain fantastic quirks and fascinating back story, to give the hero annoying habits and, you know, a super power or something. Even if it means completely changing the genre of the novel. And if I want to do that, I can! As long as I do it now. Stuff like that gets more and more difficult as you go.

I’ll start with a nice orderly plan that vaguely resembles this rather neat five-act-plan, care of the Nanowrimo Young Writer’s Program workbook.

And come the end of November it’ll be more like this…

Months or years later, edited to crisp perfection (a girl can dream) it’ll look more like that first image again, perhaps, but that’s for then. For now: plan a story.

Step one: choose a story idea. I have so many at the moment, a wonderful problem, but a problem nonetheless. I’m nicknaming them to keep tabs:

– naive nanny in Paris

– an actress regrets (despite how it might sound, this probably needs more than a month’s work)

– lady chosen last and heir unapparent – a regency romance (though I’ve not chosen a specific era yet)

– how to stand on a fence (sequel to current work in progress, how to sit on a fence)

– sydney and sydney (oops, we thought you two were the same person)

– the defining factor (bare-bones idea: awful person does heroic thing)

It occurs to me that these ideas sound terrible in this short form. The characters are the winning factor. Which brings me to…

Step two: hash out a history and a personality for the protagonist and then any other major characters. And at the same time mess around with possible storylines, asking fun questions like, what might she do if this happened? What would he do if she said…? What would happen if she…?

It’s like a limitless pick-a-path story… except more like hard work. And on that note, I might try to do some… after this one cup of coffee.