Why do I love it so much? I wrote a blog post answering that question last year, which you can find by clicking here; if you’re still deciding to give it a try, check that post out. The quick summary is, NaNoWriMo gave me permission to just let my hair down and write, no judgments, no inner critics, just me and whatever my muse sent me. And along the way I learned a lot about my writing process, and gained a lot of confidence. I ensconced myself in writing habits that serve me to this day, and for that reason alone, I highly recommend the experience.
But today I’m going to assume you’ve already decided to take the leap, and share with you a few things I’ve learned the last three years about prepping beforehand.
“But wait!” I hear you say. “You’re not supposed to start before Nov. 1st! Isn’t that cheating?”
Not at all. Yes, you do the actual writing between Nov. 1st and 30th. But there’s plenty more you can, and should, do well before Nov. 1st rolls around. Some involve time management planning, and some involve novel planning.
By this I mean something like ‘I’ll set the alarm 20 minutes earlier so I can write first thing everyday.’. Be honest with yourself here. Are you a morning person or an evening person? I know that if I set my alarm clock earlier, I’ll just throw the clock across the room and go back to sleep; my extra writing time needs to come at the end of the day, not at the beginning.
Can you take advantage of times when your energy peaks? If you know you’re most creative at lunchtime, plan to scarf that lunch down and pound out some words during your lunch break. Are your weeks jam-packed, but your weekends more leisurely? Find small bits of time to keep your momentum going during the week, and plan longer stretches on the weekend. Figure it out now instead of thinking that writing time is going to plop into your lap when the time comes.
- Find some stuff to cut.
- Evaluate your obligations for the month, and plan around them.
For Americans, Thanksgiving is one of the biggies here, especially if you host it. Don't think it will take care of itself--putting your metaphorical fingers in your ears and singing ‘I’m not listening’ isn’t going to do anything other than derail you once it gets here. If you know you’re going to lose 2-3 days to family time during that week, and still only plan to do 1,667 words a day, you’re going to find yourself behind. Take it into account ahead of time; write a little more each day, or give yourself an extra couple of hours one afternoon to bust some word count out. And whatever you do, don't rely on making it up after--the psychological weight of that word deficit is heavier than you think.
For me, one big obligation I can't ignore is my nail art blog. I'm making sure I have posts scheduled throughout the month so I don't have to worry about that content when I need to be focusing on my book. I've also planned out the product reviews I've agreed to do, so I can finish them before NaNoWriMo begins.
- Plan extra time in the beginning of the month.
Nothing will keep your mental momentum better than having a word-count cushion. Unexpected things happen, and rarely do they create extra time. Being behind the word count can be disheartening; finding out that even though you had to spend the whole day replacing your kamikaze microwave you’re still 1,000 words ahead of the game is divine. I personally stay up on Halloween, and at the stroke of midnight I start writing—I’m so excited to begin and have so many ideas swirling around my head that I have no problem busting out 1,000-2,000 words before bed. And I wake up on Nov. 1st ahead of the game, which is exciting…and on it goes.
- Investigate some support options.
If you have friends doing NaNoWriMo, you’re already golden: set up times to write together in person or virtually, and set out some solid ways you’ll keep each other accountable. But if you don’t know any other NaNoers, never fear! There are many options for building a community of support for yourself. One of my favorites is the virtual write-ins that NaNoWriMo holds on their YouTube channel—they talk about writing, do sprints, give prompts, and more. If you watch them in real time, you can chat with other people watching. But you don’t have to watch them as they happen—the videos stay on the channel, and you can watch them anytime; you can even find the videos from previous years. NaNoWriMo also holds twitter ‘parties’ and sprints, and of course, check out the forums.
- Buy a notebook to carry during November.
Claim those wasted moments in your day. Scribble while you’re in line at the grocery store or the pharmacy or whenever—you know, all those times you’d normally spend checking Facebook on your phone. Those minutes = words, and those words add up. They also keep your brain working on your manuscript even when you aren’t. Choose one you can’t wait to write in and you’ll be excited to seek out those moments whenever you can.
- Do some very basic (or more!) outlining.
Are you a pantser who loves to set out with nothing but an idea and a cup of coffee, blissfully following wherever the muse leads you? Awesome, I’ve done it that way and love it. But I’ve also come to understand the value of having some sort of very basic skeleton in place, even if it’s just a general idea of what you want to happen in the beginning, middle, and end (basic three-act structure) of your book. This year I’ll be starting out with a basic plot idea fortified with the main divisions I know I’ll need. I’m writing a mystery, so I know I’m going to need a set-up, an initial murder, etc., and I’ve worked out the basic structure I want for those events. Calling it an outline would be optimistic; I’ve created empty chapter folders for each of these in Scrivener, but it gives me some pegs to hang my metaphorical hats on when I hit those roadblocks.
- Get to know your characters.
Even if you just have a glimmer of an idea, you know of at least one character that’s going to be present in your book, probably more. Spend a little time with them. Do character interviews, ask yourself questions about who they are and why. Most importantly, what’s the goal that’s driving them in this book? What do you want them to learn? When it comes time to write your book on Nov. 1, you’ll have developed characters to take charge of that plot.
- Start some basic research.
Do you know your book is going to be set in 1600s Spain? Are you writing a murder mystery that involves poisons? You can do a little reading about the relevant topics and have that information ready to go when it comes time to actually write. And it’ll probably get you all jazzed to get going, so that when Nov. 1st rolls around, you’ll have a surge of momentum that’ll get you off to an awesome start.
- Check out some resources that can help you on your journey.
I’ve already reviewed Fast Fiction by Denise Jaden (you can find that review here); I will be reviewing two more books designed to help with the book-in-thirty-days concept. The pros at NaNoWriMo itself have also put out several items that can help you. If this is your first time doing NaNoWriMo and you have no idea where to start, check out No Plot No Problem; it answers a lot of questions about how to make NanoWriMo work for you. If you’re more the plotter sort, Ready, Set, Novel! is for those who want to set up some structure, but aren’t quite sure how.
No matter what, remember this: Any word you write is one more word than you had when you started. Even if you don’t come anywhere near to the 50,000 word mark, NaNoWriMo is a great way to get yourself writing. Never let your word count discourage you—focus on how much you’re accomplishing rather than fret over how much more you have to go. Write what you can. Revel in what you’ve written.
And have fun!