Ready, Set, Write: NaNoWriMo Preparation

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When you first start the program known as NaNoWriMo, you may think 30 days is a long time. You may think writing 50,000 words in that amount of time is doable. After all, that’s only 1,666.667 words per day. Maybe you’re already writing 2,000 words per day now. Good for you, poor deluded being.

Here’s the thing: NaNoWriMo occurs during November, which as we all know has many holidays. There is Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday. You may laugh about those last two shopping holidays, but when you’re in the middle of trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you won’t believe the distractions you will face. And then there’s Daylight Savings Time – “spring forward, fall back.” If you write before daybreak, you are blessed by an extra hour, but if you like to write during afternoon daylight, you lose an hour.

So what can you do to prepare for NaNoWriMo? There are a number of things that will help you get through the program.

First of all, sign up in advance. You will get helpful emails from the NaNoWriMo group that will give you ideas on how to start, and later how to keep going. To sign up, go to the NaNoWriMo website. There you can monitor your word count, see a graphic of your success (or failure), and see how many words remain out of the 50,000 you’re trying to write.

Signing up will force you to consider a couple of initial items. NaNoWriMo wants information about your book. For instance, does it have a title? Take it seriously – give it a title – what the heck. My latest book is going to be called Triad since it is about three men and a woman in the early 1970s. I seriously doubt that will be the final title. But for the last few months, I’ve been kicking it around in my head, trying to decide where to start. When I do start, I want to have something that I can use to refer it. So I can say, “No, I didn’t do the dishes today because I’m working on Triad.”

You will be invited to pick a genre for your book. This can be particularly helpful in making you take the work seriously. Are you writing Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Are you writing Chick Lit (appropriately titled “Women’s Fiction” on the NaNoWriMo website) or are you writing Literary Fiction? Maybe you don’t know what the genre is. Don’t worry, there’s a category called “Other.”

NaNoWriMo will ask you to write a synopsis of your novel. Remember that everything you write for NaNoWriMo should be written on your computer first and then plugged into their website. Never write original material on the website. It’s too easy to lose the work, and then you have no backup. Write it out by hand if you prefer. And when you start putting your novel into the NaNoWriMo word counter, make sure you’re doing it from your personal files and not writing directly onto the website. For the synopsis, you can write a couple of lines or you can write multiple paragraphs. This will help you focus on exactly what you want to write about.

Once you sign up, you can even put in a novel excerpt. This might be helpful just to establish your style.

You can join various NaNoWriMo groups, if you want to. Some are online, and some are local. You can find out about various groups and events on the website.

Just be careful that you don’t use the groups as a method of delaying your work. Remember those holidays? They are not the only problem out there. Distractions are everywhere. Complaining about how few words you have written to someone who is in another state may seem like a good use of your time when you can’t write a single word, but it’s a bad idea to get distracted this way. Save your angst for your novel.

Even though you are not a person who normally outlines your work, you’ll have a better chance of completing NaNoWriMo if you create an outline first. I speak from personal experience. The first time I did NaNoWriMo, I only completed 32,000 words. The second time, I got up to 38,000 words. The third and fourth times, I actually wrote out an outline for a book and completed a first draft of that book. One of those books has already been published, and I’m editing the next one.

One good thing about creating an outline is that you can start anywhere. You can start writing at the most interesting point in the novel and make the connections later. So, you might want to start at the most exciting to you. You can of course write in a linear manner if this feels more comfortable. But if you go from A to B to C and then get stuck, an outline might help you continue.

Listen to the webcast from NaNoWriMo, for good ideas about how to start. Are you a plotter or a pantser (seat-of-the-pants type)?

Does your book require research? Do it in advance. Or skip it. Remember you are writing a first draft. You’re going to be changing a lot of things, adding material to your book, and adding transitions. If you start doing the research when you are in the middle of writing, it’s very easy to get sidetracked. For instance, one year, for a book set in the sixties, I started looking at some political material, and got sucked up into various stories. When I found myself reading an article about former bikini model Morgan Fairchild (huh?) who had absolutely nothing to do with my book, I realized that I was just using research as another excuse not to write.

Which brings me to the most important point of all – do not judge yourself while you’re writing. We all know there are those moments when you look at what you’ve written and say to yourself, “Who the heck broke into my computer and wrote that garbage?” But when you’re writing 50,000 words in 30 days, you don’t have the luxury of judging yourself. Just write. Get it done. Turn off that judgmental little voice in your head and get going.

Take off your shopping scarf, your social beret, your cynical earmuffs, and make yourself at home. Let’s make Gainesville the number one region for this year’s NaNoWriMo success.

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Wendy Thornton is a freelance writer, editor, and instructor who has been published in dozens of major literary magazines. Her memoir, Dear Oprah, was published in 2013, her mystery, Bear Trapped, in 2015. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has been Editor’s Pick on Salon.com multiple times.

One Response

  1. Mary Bast
    | Reply

    Love your humor and your wise words. I’m not a novel writer, but twice I’ve had the experience of writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month. Yeah, I know the average 200 or so words of a poem X 30 only adds up to 6,000 words. But the discipline (and the joy) of being part of something bigger is a great motivator. Yay for you, Wendy, and for everyone who’s writing a novel this month!

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