Ready to NaNo?

It’s the middle of October, which means November and NaNoWriMo are only a couple of weeks away. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, a period during which thousands upon thousands of writers of every ilk and intention, all around the world, put fingers to keyboard and start furiously writing in the attempt to turn out an entire novel (of approximately 50,000 words — so not really a full-length novel according to most genres) in 30 days.

If that sounds a little insane, it’s actually only a little less than 1,700 words per day. That’s a lot for some writers and less than normal output for others. The real idea behind the challenge, however, is to force you to write, full out, with no time off for editing or mulling over or second guessing. You turn off the internal editor and just see what you come up with. At worst you have a really shitty first draft on December 1st that needs a whole lot of work. Maybe you just keep small bits and pieces and end up turning them into something else. Or perhaps you have the bones of something new and wonderful. What you don’t have is an empty page.

I encourage writers who want to give NaNoWriMo a try. It can be a fun exercise or a social endeavor, a way to finally push yourself to get a lot of writing done or a kick start on your next project. The key is to remember you will end up with a first draft, not a polished manuscript. December 1st rolls around demanding more writing and lots of editing. So give yourself permission to go a little crazy.

Whether you’re an outliner or a discovery writer, you’ll have a better chance of hitting your 50,000-word goal in a month if you do at least some prep work. So what kind of things should you be thinking about between now and November 1st?

  • Characters – Who do you want to write about? Dream up some interesting characters and figure out a little bit about who they are and what they might want.
  • Setting – If you can figure out where you want your book to be set, you may be able to do a little research ahead of time so you’ll have the information to write about at your fingertips.
  • Careers – Here’s another aspect of your story you can research ahead. If you’re planning to give your characters interesting jobs and/or skills, you want to be able to describe them or fit them into your story with a certain level of authority. So look up things now.
  • Plot – This is the tricky one, of course. Maybe you have an idea already burning in your brain, or maybe you have a hundred of them. Pick one (or maybe one and a backup if you’d rather) to flesh out a bit. You won’t start writing yet, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fill a few note cards with ideas for potential pivotal scenes in your book — things to write first, or to write toward.

Finally, be sure to check out the NaNo site for information and tips. They provide pep talks throughout the month of November, plus all sorts of advice. There are local groups and online forums and places you can go write with other participants in coffee shops. Even if you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo before, you can make it a new and fresh experience each year. Good luck, and happy writing!