Left it late to prepare for NaNoWriMo? Here’s your hit list

Photo by Alice Popkorn

National Novel Writing Month begins tomorrow, a heady rush of 30 days in which writers across the globe attempt to write 50,000 words of their project. When I look back at the milestones that have propelled me along my writer’s journey, NaNoWriMo is a key one.

For newbies, NaNoWriMo is great for building a writing habit; seasoned writers use it to drive up their word count or to get out of a rut. For flighty creatives, it helps you to commit to a project. The best thing about NaNo for me are the daily deadlines and the community. Writing can be lonely. Here, you have a ready-made network of people to word sprint or commiserate with when you hit a tough spot.

Pantsing is an option, that is, starting the month with a kamikaze approach and just letting your words rain down on paper in the hope that you’ll have something salvageable at the end. Better still is to have a loose plan. That way, when you’re up against the clock to meet word count, you are less likely to write yourself into a dead-end or be forced to magic up an asteroid shower just to plump up a chapter.

Photo by Tekke

So, assuming you’re me, and you have a few hours to prepare before NaNoWriMo 2016 kicks off, what should you concentrate on?

  • Leaf through your Da Vinci diary (you do keep a notebook with all your story ideas, don’t you?) and see what grabs your imagination. You are looking for a story idea that you can tease out and won’t get bored with.
  • Decide who your protagonist and antagonist are going to be. List their strengths and flaws. Next, search for an image of your characters you can refer to. That way, your descriptions are more likely to remain consistent throughout the breakneck process of writing a draft this month.
  • Following on from the story idea and the makeup of your main characters, define the story world and problem. Next take some post it notes, a large sheet of paper or use Scrivener’s cork board to write different events that can happen in your story’s timeline. Don’t forget to include a hook, the key conflicts, what secrets may drive the narrative, how the main characters fail and learn, and the resolution. Don’t hold back here, it’s ok to write down anything and everything. You can whittle down your ideas at the next stage.
  • Keep the cork board, rearrange the timeline in a manner you think will work with the story arc, choosing the best ideas and discarding the unworkable ones. Finally write a short summary paragraph of your plot. Together, the cork board and summary will keep you on track this month. That, and never giving in to the urge to edit.
  • Create your novel profile on the NaNoWriMo site and add any friends you know are participating this year. You can also find some great NaNo sprint communities on Twitter, and if you search the NaNoWriMo website you might even be able to find some write-ins at local jaunts where you can meet fellow participants.

There you have it. What are you waiting for? Write like the wind, I’m rooting for you. If you find yourself not enjoying the process or struggling to keep up from the outset, don’t buy in to the win or lose language that NaNoWriMo sometimes fosters. Any words you get down are a win because you’ve crossed the line from thoughts to reality. That you can build on.

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