Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
No, it’s not November yet. But we are close. And that means the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or just NaNo) is close too.
NaNo is a fun and sometimes grueling race to finish 50,000 words of a fiction manuscript in 30 days. Your only competition is yourself; everyone else is too busy competing against themselves. But you could egg on your friends and writing buddies, challenge them to daily totals.
The point is to get down on paper or computer 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. That’s 1667 words per day if you write the same number of words every day.
And it’s completely doable.
But not always easy.
Still . . . trying is fun.
You can find all the how-to details at from the NaNo people at NaNorWriMo.org.
What I want to focus on in this article are ways to prep for NaNo. You can’t write the text of your story ahead of time (not if you’re playing strictly by the rules), but you can get yourself and your story into a strong starting position.
Start now. Do what you need to do to give yourself extra time to write next month.
What does that mean, start now?
That means get your outline going. It means start your character sketches, especially those for protagonist and antagonist, hero and heroine, major characters and important second bananas. It means thinking about possible scenes. It means plotting and imagining your setting.
Even if you’re a pantser rather than a plotter and you hate the idea of outlining, at least sketch out a few scenes.
Devise a possible opening scene—
Lucas finds a body
Lucas finds a clue
Lucas finds a baby outside the fire station
Look forward a few pages or chapters and imagine an action scene—
Lucas fights with his brother
Lucas fights with his best friend
Lucas fights with his wife
Lucas fights with himself
Consider a scene brewing with emotion—
Lucas is betrayed by his brother
. . . by his best friend
. . . by his wife
. . . by his injured body
Consider the scene where Lucas almost dies. And the one where Lucas wants to forget everything and run away or go home or quit.
Make notes for the scene where Lucas faces Mr. X the first time. Or maybe for the final time.
Explore what you might want to include in an epilogue: consider details you might need to include in order to set up the next book in a series.
Plan a big action scene. Consider where it might take place and who might be included.
Plan a scene of almost straight dialogue. Who should you set after someone else with only the power of their spoken words to act as swords?
Plan a scene in which you can reveal your main character’s goals and motivations.
Prepare by planning for scenes, characters, plot threads, setting, the emotional high and low points, and the climax and resolution.
Your prep can be detailed or as simple as a few words—Lucas argues with Sam at the abandoned mine.
The good news is that you don’t have to stick to your outline, but you could. The point is to get some of the thinking and planning and plotting done ahead of time.
And speaking of time, you could work on your story’s timeline. Even if you know only a few story events, make sure they’re in the best order for creating conflict and insuring reader interest.
Throw out a few (dozen?) what-ifs. Let your imagination go wild; you can always rein it in later.
Play devil’s advocate to see which plot threads will hold up. Try to shoot holes in your plot.
Imagine action and emotion-filled scenes and determine what kinds of characters would best suit such scenes. And then plan ways to give your characters the traits they need to help them fit into those scenes better than any other characters could.
Try out a couple of settings. Consider multiple eras. Compare the possibilities of a handful of different cities or worlds.
Consider a main character of the sex opposite to the one you’re imagining.
Consider first person narration rather than third or third rather than first.
Consider challenging yourself with present tense if you always write in past or past if you always write in present.
Consider writing in a genre different from the one you write in most often. And if you decide you want the challenge of a new genre, use October to read books from the new genre as well as read up on the characteristics of that genre.
Use October to read a really great novel and/or a really crummy one—psych yourself up to tackle something better than both.
Do any necessary research now, before November. No, you won’t know everything you’ll need to research, but it’s likely that you’ll be aware of some issues you need to look into. And yet don’t feel that you need to take on a whole lot of research before you begin. You can always check facts later. In December.
Beyond a Novel
Keep in mind that your NaNo project doesn’t have to be a novel. Adapt the writing month to one that fits your current projects.
Work on a memoir or other nonfiction book. Work on a collection of short stories.
Use the month to rewrite or edit an existing manuscript.
Use the month to study the craft of fiction: read a few how-to books, try some writing exercises, practice an element of the craft that you know little about or have trouble with.
Read a grammar book or two, preferably on topics unfamiliar to you. Read a handful of novels in a genre you don’t typically read or one that fascinates you and explore the storytelling elements that make the books successful.
You win NaNo if you write 50,000 words of a novel within the 30-day limit. Yet even if you do “win,” that doesn’t mean you’ll have completed a ready-to-be-published novel. You’ll just have 50,000 words of your first draft.
It’s also likely that you’ll have text and scenes that you’ll delete in December. You’ll have jumbled plotting and useless characters.
You’ll have too much setting detail and too little dialogue or vice versa.
You’ll have nonsensical sentences that you’ll never decipher and action that proves meaningless given the two major plot changes you made.
But it’s also likely that you’ll have a few scenes that hit just the right emotional tone.
You may have dialogue that sizzles and emotion-inducing scenes that haunt your dreams.
You may have phrasing that seems to have fallen straight from heaven.
It’s likely that you’ll have discovered plot holes and implausibilities in your planning—which means you’re one step closer to solving those problems.
You’ll have the positive and the negative, the heavenly and the hellishly awful. But you’ll also have text to work with, characters and plot threads and setting locations that you can play with and adjust.
You’ll have more than you started with on November first.
I know that some writing professionals don’t think that NaNoWriMo is worth the time, but I think that many writers can benefit from applying themselves to writing fiction in a concentrated way for a month at least one time in their lives. It’s only a month, 30 days. If you keep at your story or at your development as a writer for 30 days, your skills will likely improve—multiple skills improving in multiple ways.
So for October, consider prepping yourself for NaNo. Consider planning out events and scenes and settings and characters. Get yourself ready to work diligently on your story or craft for thirty days come November.
And don’t forget to arrange for help if you’ve got kids and school projects and three jobs and a dog and half a dozen goldfish. You’re going to need a little extra time come November, maybe an extra hand here and there. Prep for those needs as well.
And get your binge TV watching in now. Use the two and three hours in front of the computer or TV at night to write instead.
I encourage you to try NaNo this year. If no one else is standing with you, know that I am. I know you can do it. I know you can give some extra time to the craft of fiction.
You can devote yourself to story this November.
P.S. If enough writers are interested, we can have a write-in here at the blog one night during November. Fix yourself a drink and some popcorn and write for a couple of hours with a few friends. I’d love to have some writing companions for an evening of writing, even across the physical miles and the unfathomability of the Internet.