NaNoWriMo: Get Prepared

This series will cover the stages of National Novel Writing Month and offer support and advice. This essay deals with getting prepared.

Image Credit: 
Epytome / Used With Permission

National Novel Writing Month isn’t for every writer, in fact, quite a lot of writers I know look down upon this month with varying degrees of scorn. Well, I can see why. There are many that take this month as the opportunity to write a book, and that’s exactly what they do. They then self-publish it and it ends up given to us how it was written: that includes lack of editing, lack of proofreading and lack of inspiration.

I do not believe that NaNo should ever be used to write a final draft. This is a writing sprint, an exercise to get ideas out using a sense of competition and pressure. I personally do not believe that a decent final draft can be written under such conditions.

Now, if every NaNo writer chose to do this, readers would be inundated (and some are) with half-hearted, poorly written novels. That isn’t what National Novel Writing Month is about, and that is why I’m here writing this for you, for those who want to get the most out of their writing experience.

It is important to remember that NaNo is about completing 50,000 words. For many authors, their novels extend into 70,000+ territories, and that’s something to bear in mind. This exercise is not to write a complete novel, but 50,000 words of it. The goal of any writer competing in this month is to write those words.

Four years ago I decided to take part in NaNo because I was tired with my ability to start a project and then not get much further than 10,000 words before starting a new one. I wanted to finally finish something. For many NaNo writers, the month will be dedicated to a first draft, to others it will be their second or third, and to some it will just be excerpts that they need to work on. My first advice is to work out exactly what it is you want to set out to do, create an end goal.

With the end goal, you are then able to create the steps in between that will help you achieve this.

Say your end goal is to create your first draft of your first ever story. Or you’ve written stories but you’re not particularly happy about the outcome. Or maybe you’ve entered NaNo before and never won. Whatever your reason, where do you start? Well, most people enter NaNo with a vague idea of what story they’d like to tell.

So, you’ve got a story that you want to write during NaNo, now is to start preparing yourself for the month ahead. 50,000 words to write, and more often than not writers put off writing through one reason or another throughout the year. Here’s your opportunity to finally stop putting it off.

The next step for me is to snowball this plot with enthusiasm, pick up some pace by fleshing out the world and the characters. If you’re writing fiction set in our world, at this time, then most of the work is done for you—but that doesn’t mean world building is of no use to you. Your characters, fictitious or deeply inspired by existing people, are in a world. It isn’t just location that defines a world, but also the people and cultures that make it up. So, take note of how your characters are going to live in the story you set them in. Make it vibrant and rich in detail so that your mind cannot fall into plot holes later down the line.

After that I can often be found fleshing out character profiles, from names, dates of birth, height, weight, and so on, for major and minor characters. My favourite piece to write is personality, for which I write the personality of the character at the beginning of the story and then detail the character arc and how it changes them by the end of the book. This isn’t for every character, or you’ll never finish it in time for NaNo, but great for the main and antagonist, if your story has one.

As someone who draws, I can never stress enough how fun it is to draw your characters. It can also become slightly addictive and build enthusiasm for the story. It also helps to get a better sense of what they look like. Other writers I know find celebrities they’d ‘most like to play their character in a movie,’ and that’s a lot of fun. Since readers get their own idea of what a character looks like as they read, don’t worry too much if their idea is different to your own.

For me, world building and character building often flesh out the plot by mere accident, and that is something one cannot fight. That’s why I tend to keep plot ideas skeletal, and as one writes, it will naturally evolve under your fingertips. I know a lot of writers who try fighting this, but since NaNo is a timed writing sprint, one doesn’t have time to waste with being stubborn. Be proud when your characters resist their fate. I will talk more about this during NaNo.

The best things in life involve music, personally, so that’s why a good playlist is always in my tool belt. Sometimes it is in chronological order, from start to finish like a sound track of a movie, following the moods and tones of each scene or chapter. Other times I have used a playlist that I believe suits my characters, or what I imagine they’d listen to.

Take all of the information you’ve compiled about your story, and find a way suitable for you to store it. Some people keep notebooks, scruffy ones, tidy ones, and other people stick post-it notes all across their desk space. Some people have all their information on websites or in word documents, and some, including myself, keep most of this information in their heads.

Whatever works for you, find a way to prompt yourself. As I said, I generally keep most of this information in my head, but I don’t necessarily consider it good practice. It is from years and years of not having my own writing space, but I am also prone to forgetting small pieces of information or generally becoming overwhelmed with all the information I have been carrying. So, I try to keep visual prompts around hidden within my laptop.

And now, during National Novel Writing Month, every year I’ve done it, I have set myself a daily word goal of 2,000 words. One could write 1,700 words a day and hit the quota, but 2,000 means that if I fall behind one day, I won’t need to panic or over exert myself trying to catch up the day after, or a week later.

Getting prepared means mentally preparing yourself for what should be a fun but stressful month. That can include setting your daily writing goal, and/or deciding which scenes you would be writing, which are the hardest and how you think you’d best handle writer’s block should it befall you.

Now if you ever get the urge to write, write, regardless of whether it is in your self-described time table. That could mean right now, at this moment. I have started writing weeks before the start of National Novel Writing Month, but not included those words in my tally. The words written during the month are the ones that count.

So write—it’s the most important part of the whole thing. Details that you’ve made in these prep steps can be changed to suit your evolving story, and that’s important to remember. It isn’t about completing a novel; it’s about proving to yourself that you can write 50,000 words in a month. It doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad, because they can be changed up afterwards.


Next: Get Ready

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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