Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Every November there’s an event where hundreds of thousands of writers (at all levels of experience) attempt to write a novel in thirty days or less. It’s called NaNoWriMo, it’s free to participate, and it’s a lot of fun.

You can sign up for free on the website, track your word count there, attend a local meetup with other writers, get help from other writers on the message boards, and earn a digital badge if you write 50,000 words between Nov 1st and Nov 30th.

An illustrated banner image. A coffee cup, calendar, phone, pen, donut, and pencil sit on a wooden desk. The calendar is turned to Nov 1st 2018. The words "NaNoWriMo Writer" are printed in white in the upper right corner.

Writing 50,000 words sounds intimidating, but I’ll argue that nano is still a blast even if you don’t hit that lofty goal. Pushing yourself is a goal of NaNoWriMo and when you’re hauling ass to meet a difficult deadline, it helps you focus more on the story and less on your insecurities. Who cares if your first draft is good? Get it down, get it out, and you can clean it up later.

If you write every day in November, fifty-thousand words comes out to 1,667 words per day. And if you take all the weekends and Thanksgiving day off? That leaves you with 2,381 words to write per day.

It’s pedal to the metal, baby.

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

My project for this year is to write a complete first draft of my second Emerald City Spies book. Because this is my fifth novel, and I’ve got more experience under my belt, my goals are rather high, and my process is more clearly defined than it was when I first did NaNoWriMo in 2005.

If you are doing nano for the first time, I encourage you to have fun with it, and to avoid making your expectations so high that you stress yourself out. Just write, enjoy, and see where it takes you. But for those of you who want to hear about my prep, here goes:

First, a little math.

Based upon past experience, I expect this suspense novel to be approximately 75,000 words long, with about 30 chapters.

I don’t plan to work on weekends, or on Thanksgiving/Thanksgiving eve, which leaves me with 20 writing days in the month.

If I divide my 75,000 words by 20 days, that leaves me with 3,750 words per day needed to complete the first draft by the end of November.

That number’s doable for me as a full-time writer, so I’ll run with it.

Next, a little plotting.

All writers are different, but I like to know what I’m writing before I write it. Even though the story will bend and change as I write it, I prefer to begin with a roadmap and a certain level of understanding about my characters.

Here’s what I’m working on now:

  1. Making a list of major characters and writing a few paragraphs about their backgrounds and motivations.
  2. Using a story structure template (like one of these) to sketch out the backbone of the story. A story has a certain flow, and I want to have a sense for what the major events and turning points are.
  3. Building a bullet-point outline of the entire book. Nothing fancy, just “this happens” then “that happens.” Probably two sentences per chapter.
  4. Mapping out how each main character will change between the start and end of the story. What will they know that they didn’t know before? How will they grow? What relationships have formed or dissolved?

I’ll do most of this work by hand on a legal pad because for mysterious reasons it’s easier to do brainstorming work with a pencil and paper than on a keyboard.  I won’t transfer any of this information into my computer until I’ve got the basics sorted out.

Some writers hate plotting; they’d rather put two characters on a page and let the story unfold organically. While there’s nothing wrong with that approach, I waste months spinning my wheels when I go that route. That’s why I organize my ideas before I write a story.

This year, I’m starting NaNoWriMo with a question: Can I really complete a 75,000 word manuscript in one month? While I haven’t done so before (my max has been 50,000 words in a month), my plan feels solid. Now it’s time for the important part, hitting “publish” on this blog post so I can get to work on that outline.

When it comes to achieving something big, the process is pretty simple:

  1. Decide what you want to accomplish.
  2. Make a plan.
  3. Set aside the time.
  4. Try.

So here’s to trying! If you’re participating in nano this year, you can add yourself to my buddy list here.