NaNoWriMo Prep: Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Remember that post about writing a fast-and-furious, no-apologies-needed first draft? NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is the perfect time to exercise your edit-free, crappy first draft rights. For the uninitiated, the idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel between November 1st and November 30th. You start and finish all within the confines of a single month, pounding out words every day — or possibly in marathon weekend sessions where you forget to sleep and subsist primarily on coffee and junk food. (For the record, I don’t recommend that last strategy.) Participants range from published writers attempting to get a jump on a new project, to first-time writers looking to turn off their inner editors, to complete newbies who just think it might be a fun thing to try and are hoping for a really hilarious end product. But for the more serious-minded writers among you, NaNo can be a wonderful way to churn out that first draft (or at least a good chunk of one, since 50,000 words is a bit short for an actual novel) because there really is no time to worry if it’s any good.

So with those thoughts in mind, I’m offering up a few ideas for how to prepare for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Decide what you want to write. I’m not saying you have to outline ahead, but it will make your life markedly easier if you have some direction each time you sit down at your keyboard to pound out your daily word count. Create a few characters ahead, figure out your conflict, and if possible make a list of a dozen or so scenes you know you want to write. They may get cut in your second draft or your fifth draft, but for the purposes of that fast first draft, everything goes in.
  2. Stock up on some healthy munchies. Coffee and leftover Halloween candy will only get you so far. Make sure you’ve got some nice crunchy veggies and dip, fresh fruit, nuts, etc. to grab when you’re running low on mental energy. Also, some easy-to-prepare dinners are great, too, for those nights you’re loathe to step away from the computer. Pick up the fixings for a couple of crock-pot meals, or make a few batches of soup or chili ahead and freeze in individual portions for easy nuking.
  3. Check out the NaNo site and see if there are write-ins local to your area. If you’re the type to do well with a bit of cheerleading, these gatherings for group writing sessions will be right up your alley. You also might meet some new writing friends or pick up a potential critique partner in the process.
  4. Tell people what you’re planning to do. Even if your friends and family are used to you mumbling to yourself about your characters, they might find you vastly different under the pressures of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Let them know you’re signing up for NaNo and that you will likely be pretty busy during November, so they should not count on you for casual cocktails after work or lengthy Sunday brunches.
  5. Do some research ahead. Have you picked some fun settings for your characters? Given them intriguing careers? Hit the library and gather information that will let  you flesh out your descriptions and bring your characters’ experiences to life while you write.
  6. Turn off that editorial brain. Try not to polish any projects those last few days of October leading into NaNo. Get yourself used to just writing full speed ahead. Maybe hang a little sign over your computer or in your writing space to remind you not to edit, and especially not to delete. Plenty of time for that come December.