Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Yes, it's that time again! If you've found your way to this page, there's a good chance you were searching for NaNoWriMo and already know what it is. In case you don't, here's a short history. Fifteen years ago, Chris Baty was like a lot of us: he was always going to write a novel "someday." Novelists were cool. Novelists were famous. Most of all, novelists got dates. (Shows what he knew!)

But, also like most of us, he never seemed to get started on writing that novel, much less finishing it. He was a successful freelance writer, successful being defined as not sleeping on a park bench, with many articles published in well-known newspapers and magazines. He knew he was good at that, so why wasn't he any good at writing that novel?

Chris decided what he needed was a deadline. Instead of "someday," he needed to be able to say "when." So he came up with this idea of writing a novel in a month. He'd start writing on day one and finish with "The End" on the last day of the month. He also knew he'd be better motivated if he told people that's what he was doing. Better yet, he managed to round up twenty of his closest friends and persuaded them to do this with him.

And discovered that the whole insanity of starting with nothing but a dream and winding up with a 50,000 word novel in a month was fun! When your goal is to write 1667 words a day every day for thirty days, you do get a little crazy. You don't have time to mull over which of five scenes you should write next or what the meaning of life is. You need to keep typing. (Or even writing longhand, which some do.) Your goal isn't to write great literature. Your goal is to get the book done.

I owe a lot to NaNoWriMo. I am a perfectionist at heart. I wanted very much to write a novel, but every time I started, I was dismayed that the words I put on the page (or screen) were clunky, awkward, boring, and not at all like the novels I loved to read. And so I despaired. NaNoWriMo gave me permission to write crap and keep going. My goal wasn't to write The Great Gatsby. My goal was to type 50,000 words and get to the end of the story, however awful it was. When I "won" my first NaNo ten years ago, I had a great sense of satisfaction. I proved to myself I could write a novel, a very bad novel, but a novel nevertheless.

I've learned a lot about writing over the past ten years. I've not only written multiple novels and "won" NaNoWriMo several times, I'm about to publish my second novel. I've retired from the "day job" and become a full-time writer. I am living my dream.

NaNoWriMo allows me to experiment, to try different ways of writing a novel. This was very important in the beginning, when I had no idea what my method was. I've swung back and forth between "plotter" (someone who plans every scene ahead of time) and "pantser" (someone who writes by the seat of their pants with no idea what comes next until they start typing it) and many variations in between.

I've discovered I need at least a bare-bones outline when sitting down to write my novels. Otherwise, I either go blank or wander down bunny trails that have nothing to do with the story. The amount of revision I had to do on Shadow of Death taught me this lesson. I had to fill in those blanks and cut out the bunny trails to make it a good story. In order to write a novel in November, I need to do lots of preparation this month. So I'll be chronicling my preparation for NaNo, as well as my progress writing when it starts on November 1st. Like Chris Baty, I find it helpful to tell someone what I'm doing in order to stick with it.

So far, I've created a "series Bible" based on my NaNo novel from last year. I've gone through that novel and created character sheets for each of the characters (I was pantsing more than usual, so would throw in eye color or former occupation as I got to a scene), collected the maps I printed out, and organized what I know about these people and the locations in which the story takes place.

I have a little inkling of an idea of how the victim is killed, but not much more than that. I don't know whodunnit, why, or how my sleuth figures it out. I'm going to be spending a lot of time this month trying to answer those questions.

Okay, so she knows what she's doing, you're thinking. What about me? I never wrote a novel before. How do I get started?

Fortunately, there are lots of places to get help. The NaNoWriMo web site is one of those places. As usual, they're running behind in updating the site this year. (It's mostly volunteers and the whole program is free, so it's amazing they do as much as they do.) But I've subscribed to the newsletter for ages, and they've sent links to pages that aren't obvious on the site. One is the general NaNoWriMo prep page. This page has a whole list of helpful links about how to get started.

Another is the Workbooks they've put together for their Young Writers Program. If you've never written a novel before, I'd recommend downloading the High School version for help with planning your novel.

And Alexandra Sokoloff is doing her annual NaNo Prep series on her blog. Each day in October, she outlines the tasks you should be working on in order to be ready to write on November 1st.

Of course, if you're a pantser, you'll do your preparation by stocking up on snacks and caffeine, locating a writer-friendly coffee shop, and sharpening a few pencils.

Most of all, remember NaNo is supposed to be fun! If you start stressing at any point in the process, remind yourself your novel is not going to be The Great Gatsby. But it is going to be amazing!

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A Clash of Kings
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