On Writing: Preparation Tips and Advice for Success during NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo changed my life. NaNoWriMo could change your life.

Now that over the top statement is out of the way, let me briefly explain why.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It's an international, non-profit, literary movement which aims to encourage budding authors out there - like you and me - to write 50,000 words during the month of November.

Traditionally, the 50,000 words will be the first draft of a novel, but after twelve years of success and growth, NaNo writers all over the world will be penning 50,000 words (or more!) of non-fiction, blog posts, poetry, flash fiction, short stories (hello!) and other works. You sign up to NaNoWriMo, create a profile, upload a little information about your novel (if you like) and as of 1st November you begin writing and updating your daily word count.

The 50,000 words over 30 days correlates to a 1667 daily word target, if you write every day. ( Here's how I got on last year.) After the 30th November has been and gone, you will get a chance to upload your finished manuscript and the NaNo robots will verify your word count and applaud you as a winner.

I've been writing stories all my life. Or rather I've been starting stories all my life. I've never once finished a story, at least, not a full book of stories. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, this changed. Thanks to NaNoWriMo I published my first book less than a year after finishing the first draft on the 30th November. If you've always wanted to write and write seriously, with purpose and passion, then NaNoWriMo will  kick-start  your writing like nothing else. Here are  ten more reasons why you should consider taking the challenge.

How to prepare for NaNoWriMo

The only thing you need to take part and complete NaNoWriMo is a commitment to it. Truly. You've just got to want to do it. Everything else will fall into place.
You don't need a plot, you don't need a plan and you don't need a chapter outline or even an idea of where you want your book to go. (Here's a nice post about whether you're a planner, pantser or percolator, I think I'm a percolator...) Though truth be told it helps to have an idea of what you want to get out of your NaNo experience.
Here's what I recommend you have in place before 1st November...

1. An idea of what you want to write...

Last year before NaNoWriMo I'd already written some very bad first drafts of many of my short stories - all of which are nothing like what has been published. But a week or so before NaNoWriMo I took eleven pieces of notebook paper, one for each of the stories I wanted to write. By the time I woke up on the 1st November, on each of the pieces of paper there were either several lines of writing summarising where I wanted to go with the story or there were just a a handful of words capturing something I wanted to write about, e.g. on one piece of paper was written "See the Amalfi Coast and die..." and that was enough to get me writing  See the Amalfi Coast . It took me less than an hour to "plan" these and while some I stuck to like glue, three or four of my stories took on a life of their own. It was wonderful... both in terms of creativity and in terms of me not wasting too much time with too  detailed  planning.

The only possible exception is if you plan on writing a work of non-fiction. I can see a great deal of value in having a deeper level of planning with all the key topics or points you want to cover mapped out. But even then, I can imagine that there is always room for a little creative inspiration.

The other advantage of having an idea of what you want to write is that if you get stuck on a scene (which you will, trust me) you can leave this and pick up on a different part of the story. Don't worry if your first draft is incomplete on 30th November, as long as you have ploughed on and you have 50,000 words or more to play with.

This year, I'm going to try and write the first draft of my first novel. A few months ago I did a rough chapter outline and before next month I'll spend a few hours tidying it up or rethinking it a little, but I'll also try to keep it open and flexible - I'm dealing with some very strong characters and so I can't wait to find out where they want to take the story...

2. An idea of when you will write...

Unfortunately there is no short cut when it comes to the time you will need to spend meeting your daily or weekly word targets (some people like to take a day or two off). Only you will know how much time it takes, but one thing's for sure. It will take time.

Last year, I estimated I would need to set aside 1-2 hours each day to write 1667 words and on average that was probably about right. Now, I know I can knock out 2000 words in an hour on a good day but on bad days I'll still struggle to write 800 words in an hour so over estimate this to be safe, not sorry and stressed.

I also know already due to visitors coming to stay and a few work commitments that there will be a few days  in November when writing will be near impossible so I will have to catch up or get ahead to compensate for this.

Look at the month ahead. If you have other commitments and a life to manage in November (who doesn't?) then be good to yourself and set aside dedicated time to tackle NaNoWriMo. It may mean saying no to a few things - a worthy exercise anyway - or it may mean setting your alarm an hour earlier each day but if you really, really, really want to write your book, it's worth it.

3. An idea of how you will write...

This is the only one on this list where I'm going to tell you how to do something.

You are going to write with no rules. You are going to write always looking forward. You are going to write without worry of where it will take you. You are not going to edit, rewrite or even spell check anything that has gone before. You are going to go forwards, always. Even when you know what you've just written was yukky, stinky and nasty. You are going to just keep going.

You are going to write until you are in a hole with no escape. You are not going to dwell in that hole. You are going to pick yourself and your cursor up out of it and you are going to start somewhere else. You can fill in the gaps later. You are going to relish in how the words you write are yours and only yours. You are going to revel in their future potential and their present joy. Because despite a handful of days when it hurts to type, you are really going to enjoy NaNoWriMo.

If you don't, you can stop. Only  then, you can stop.

4. An idea of where you will write...

Most writers - from Stephen King to Charles Dickens - are adamant that you had to have a set place to write.

Thanks to my spending the last two years city-hopping, often staying in places without a desk, I'm a little bit more flexible. That said, it could work for you to create a writing spot in your home. A place you instantly associate with writing. I will have a desk, a monitor and a mouse (!) this year and the prospect of such luxury is making me giddy, though I will miss being able to reward my efforts with a half hour's sunbathing as I did last year in Thailand.

Create a corner of a room, sofa or bed that is your place to write and when you are there, that's all you do until you're 1667 words deep.

5. An idea of where you will find support...

NaNoWriMo is both an individual and team sport. It's a tough challenge but it's made easier by knowing that you are one of thousands on the same journey. You should take full advantage.

Twitter and the NaNoWriMo blog are your first ports of call for moral support. There are NaNo forums and regional groups you can join too. On Twitter you just need to follow the hashtag #NaNoWriMo or #amwriting to find people bemoaning or celebrating daily word count targets. As I did just this last year invariably a handful of strangers would reach out to me in response offering congratulations or commiserations. That helped me immeasurably.

Also tell your friends and family that you're doing NaNoWriMo, even if it's just to explain your hermit like behaviour in November. You'll be surprised how impressed they will be.

Indulge in the support and return the favour freely. ( Here I am if you want to connect).

The key to success at NaNoWriMo

Enjoy it. 

The following paragraph is a section of what I wrote in a blog post I published on the 30th November 2012 and it summarises why enjoyment of NaNoWriMo is the key.

" In the stories I have written I have visited 14 countries on 21 different journeys with the 39 characters I have created of various natures and personalities. Giving depth to these characters has been the most challenging and most rewarding element to my NaNoWriMo experience so far. I have finally learnt what it means to be led by them, to metaphorically sit back and watch them take over your story; it's the strangest and sweetest and scariest sensation.... 
I have laughed at my own words, cried at my characters' fates, cringed at my terrible prose and felt self-doubt and self-pride in equal overwhelming quantities."    

I wish you all these sensations and more... PLEASE NOTE: I have purposefully written "an idea of..." because the nature of NaNoWriMo is that you remain flexible enough to change, adapt and abandon what you've already planned in favour of a spontaneous spurt of creativity.

Also if you're a first-time writer, let the challenge decide for you when is your best time to write and where etc. Last year, I tried to squeeze in my daily word count before dinner, so around 5-6pm every day but this was completely unrealistic as that's really the time of day when I start to tidy up loose ends and close off things I've been working on; it's not a good time to be thinking of starting something fresh. Because I have the luxury of being flexible with my time I quickly abandoned this and wrote either after dinner or before breakfast most days.

Have you ever wanted to write a book? Have you ever started to write a book? Does it make you uneasy thinking you may leave this world without writing that book? Have you ever wished you could just finish that flipping, jipping book that just won't leave you alone?

Now's your chance. Thanks to NaNoWriMo.
All photos are mine except Peter's photo of Shy Feet on a train to Durham, UK.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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