Preparing For NaNoWriMo

In two days a group of ordinary people will embark on an extraordinary adventure. They will abandon their families, shirk their responsibilities and quite possibly stop bathing altogether on the journey to becoming novelists. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month is primarily a support network that encourages, promotes and inspires those among us who have been afflicted with that very special type of insanity that drives a person to write fiction.

Maybe you’re thinking about joining them. You might be thinking about how good it would feel to spend the next month Doing Something. Or maybe you’re tempted by the  idea of spending a month living in an alternative reality. Maybe you’re thinking about the motivational aspect, how November is really just a chance for writers to take a second shot at a New Year’s resolution. A deadline does work wonders for productivity, after all.

This will be my first time participating in National Novel Writing Month so I’ve been doing a lot of research and planning. I love a solid game plan.

In order to reach the minimum word count of 50,000 participants will need to write an average of 1,667 words per day. The rules of NaNoWriMo stipulate that all writing must start 12:01 AM November 1st but that doesn’t mean that you have to go into November with a blank slate. There are a few things that you can be doing in the next two days to get prepared that don’t involve writing.

1. Find Your Starter

In baking, a starter is a bit of bread dough that’s saved from every batch. It is already fermenting when the baker adds it to the new batch of dough so it activates the yeast and the dough rises.

A good story starts with an idea. Since you’re going to be spending the next month wandering through this idea you want to make sure that it’s something you’re excited about.  If you don’t already have an idea like that, read through your notebook until something snags your attention. It should really hook you. Maybe you’ll read on but then your eyes will wander back, reading over the name or the sentence again. That wriggling lively idea is just begging to be written about. And that’s it. That’s your starter.

Character is an excellent starter. There are plenty of shadowy characters in every writer’s notebook, indistinct and unformed, waiting to be written into being.

2. Meet Some Of The Characters

If your starter was setting or plot related, take some time now to think about the characters who will live in your book. It’s easy to assume that the first character you think of should be the main character but try coming up with a few rough characters before you make your decision. Think about the story as it would be told by each of your characters; maybe write a paragraph or two to see what it would be like. Take their perspective for a test drive. A story changes dramatically when told by different people so give some serious thought to this.

Spend some time thinking about names as well. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write and coming to a total stand still when the only name you can think of is Roxette. Roxette is the right name for some stories but definitely not for all of them. Name with care.

3. Make A Bubble Chart

Or write out a list or use refrigerator magnets. However you do your best thinking down on paper (or fridge), get ready to do it. Because what you’re going to do next is make a story map.

Sit down with a blank piece of paper or document and casually start to think about the story. Write down the first thing that comes to mind be it a place, an event, a person, or an object. Then connect it to something else. Follow wherever your thoughts take you, writing down everything you’ve been thinking about your book, filling in you story’s family tree.

I like to do a bubble chart because it only loosely connects the story leaving room for flexibility and change. However you do it, this is a good step to do a day or two before writing starts; I’ll be doing mine today.

4. One True Sentence

Ernest Hemingway’s advice for those with writer’s block haunts me.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

This quote tends to pop up on the edge of my mind all shiny and golden when I’m staring at the blank first page of a new story and starting to panic. The first sentence is always the hardest. So in the last couple days before NaNoWriMo, think about how your story wants to start.

Try out a couple of different approaches. A few ideas for how to start:

  • Dialogue
  • In the middle of a scene
  • Description of a person/place/object
  • Flashback
  • Journal Entry or Letter

There are tons of exercises and prompts on the Internet so do some searching if you need help getting started. The important thing is to sit down on the first day with something to put on the page. If you start with confidence that will carry you a long way through the month.

5. Manage Your Expectations

It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into when you start NaNoWriMo and to clarify what you’re hoping to get out of it. There will be discouraging days and there is a strength that comes from being prepared.

In order to “win” NaNoWriMo you’ll need to complete 50,000 words in one month. That is just long enough to be considered a novel by a some publishers but it is much more common for publishers to accept novels closer to 70,000 words in length; you may want to add some length after the month has ended. More importantly, writing 50,000 words in a month is likely to produce some loose writing and, to quote Hemingway again,

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

When the month ends, you’re still going to have work to do. Be prepared to edit like crazy, add scenes, characters, whatever the story needs. You can (and should) take a break from it though. Take a couple days or a week away from the book. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t write, you should always write. Just write something else for a few days and return to your novel with fresh eyes.

I hope that you are all thinking about stories and getting as excited as I am! NaNoWriMo is going to be rigorous, it’s true, but think about what we get to do this month. We get to make up a world, give birth to a new family, watch detailed events unfold in a whirlwind of creative release. We are writers. Our job is magic.


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