We might all be looking forward to Halloween on Saturday but, for many of us, there is an even bigger and more exciting event on the horizon: NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo (short for ‘National Novel Writing Month’) is an event that takes place in November every year, in which participants challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word novel before 11:59pm on 30th November. The idea is to help budding writers put aside their hang-ups and fears and just write.
But is it really possible to sit down and write a novel in a month? Honestly, NaNoWriMo can be a slog, but there are things you can do beforehand to make the whole thing much more achievable and rewarding.
As a two-time entrant and ‘winner’ of NaNoWriMo, I feel I have some wisdom to share about this fantastic event, so here are 7 ways you can prepare for NaNoWriMo.
1. Plan (or don’t)
If you’ve done NaNo or any other kind of long-form writing before, you probably have a good idea about how you write. But even if you’ve never put pen to paper like this, you can still work out whether you’re a planner or a ‘pantser’.
Do you always like to know exactly what you are doing, when and with whom? Do you like lists and schedules and the security of knowing what’s around the corner? Then you’re probably a planner, and you’re going to benefit from sketching out your story beforehand. This could be as little as writing down the major plot points, or as much as creating character profiles and outlining each chapter ahead of time – whatever helps you know where you’re going, and gets you there. Just remember not to be too rigid: if the story isn’t working out as you planned, try something new and see where it takes you.
If you’re more of a carefree, see-what-happens type, you might work well as a ‘pantser’ (ie. someone who writes freely, by the seat of their pants). Of course, it’s always a good idea to start with a core idea – be it a character or plot point – and see where you go from there. Follow the characters that interest you most, let them interact and see what happens, throw an obstacle or two in their way and work out how they would realistically react to it. Do beware of tangents, though: you don’t want to leave so many loose threads hanging that the plot becomes totally incoherent.
2. Set up a workspace
Again, only you can know where you work best, but if you’re a slow writer and know you’re going to be sitting down for at least two hours every day, it’s a good idea to find a desk or table you can use. Curling up on the sofa or in bed works well in the short term, but with a heavy laptop on your knees you can soon start to feel the strain, especially if you’re doing this every day. Find a chair, a table and a computer that you can use comfortably (or a nice pen, if you prefer the traditional method!) – you’ll find the words come a lot more easily when you’re comfortable.
3. Accept that you will write badly
This is crucial to NaNo, and the core reason why it was created in the first place. One of the main reasons so many writers abandon their novels is because they get inside their own heads and give up. That’s understandable: when you’re several thousand words in and realise that everything you’ve written so far is rubbish, it can be virtually impossible to carry on. But, believe me, this is a necessary part of writing a novel, and the only way to get through it is to finish the writing and set aside the editing work for afterwards.
NaNo was created to help writers do just that – there is no quality control in NaNo, nobody is going to check your spelling or point out slightly peculiar character motivations. The only thing you have to do is write the words before the deadline; the rest comes later. So yes, you probably will write a sentence (or three hundred) that makes you cringe, and your plot might end up tying itself in knots, but just remember that, for now, that doesn’t matter. The writing might be bad, but at least you are writing. That’s what NaNo is all about.
4. Find communities
NaNo has come a long way. In its first year (1999) there were 21 participants and 6 winners; in 2014 there were over 325,000 participants and nearly 59,000 winners! With this dramatic increase in participants, various communities have also sprung up that you can find and get involved with. I recommend the NaNo forums, the NaNo subreddit, and local NaNo write-ins in which you can find NaNo participants in your local area and go and write with them. All of these communities are filled with friendly, like-minded individuals who will be struggling with the same mammoth word count goal as you. Check them out when you want a break from writing or if you need a little motivation.
5. Try writing exercises
You wouldn’t run a race without warming up, so don’t try to write a novel without flexing your authorial muscles either. There’s still a whole weekend before NaNo starts and you can use that time to try a few preparatory writing exercises. Try finding some writing prompts and penning some short pieces to get you in the mood of working with new ideas, or have a go at some of the numerous inspiring sprints, crawls or word wars on the NaNo website. These exercises will warm up your fingers and your brain, so you’ll already be in the swing of things by the time 1st November rolls around.
6. Create a NaNoWriMo account
If you haven’t already, I really recommend signing up to the NaNo website. Not only does this give you access to all the forums and information about local write-ins, it also allows you to track your daily progress with a bar chart. I can tell you that the bar chart was more or less the sole reason I ever completed my two NaNos at all: seeing the little bars fall behind the target line, and then forcing them back up to meet it appealed to the completionist aspect of my personality like nothing else. Plus, if you have a NaNo account, you can upload your finished work on 30th November and get the word count verified, opening up a whole world of congratulatory messages and cool sidebar buttons. It’s totally worth it.
7. Don’t panic
Ultimately NaNo is a challenge you set yourself and if you don’t complete it, it isn’t the end of the world. You may feel the pressure of that deadline looming, but remember that even taking up the challenge in the first place is half the battle. By deciding to start you’ve done better than most who dream of writing and never get round to it, and however many words you manage to write after that is a bonus. Deciding to do it is half the battle, so keep calm and write your socks off.
I plan to write NaNo blog posts all through November, so keep checking back here for more tips and motivation, and do let me know if you have any more advice for fellow NaNo participants.
If you do decide to participate, I hope you enjoy it – it’s a truly fantastic experience!