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Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month

by Jennifer on September 30, 2009

By Jennifer Blanchard

Thirty-one days from tomorrow, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts.

For those of you who haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, you can read more about it here.

Simply put, NaNoWriMo is a crazy time when writers all over the world attempt the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

Starting at 12 a.m. on November 1 and ending at 11:59 p.m. on November 30, your goal is to write the first draft of your next (or first!) novel.

The main idea behind NaNoWriMo is output–quantity versus quality.

NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty, is a genius. He found a way to simplify the writing process and help writers give up procrastination by setting a short deadline.

And year after year, thousands of writers cross the 50,000-word finish line and call themselves NaNoWriMo winners.

For your novel to count toward your NaNoWriMo goal, however, you can only write it between November 1 and November 30.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t take the month of October to prep for it.

As you probably already know, the more prepared you are, the more likely you are to actually sit down and write (unless you are one of those writers who can sit down and start typing without any planning. If you are–congrats. Do what works for you.).

Here’s how I recommend you get ready for NaNoWriMo:

  • Create a Plan–As a writer who can’t just sit down and start typing, I need a plan. I need to plot out my story to have a basic idea of where I need to be by the end of each chapter. If you’re like me, then you will love Holly Lisle’s free Create a Plot Clinic. This short, but effective, guide to creating a plot for your novel will get you on the right track for November 1.
  • Get to Know Your Characters–One of the best ways to prep for NaNoWriMo is to get to know your main characters. You can use the character structure discussed in this post onbuilding complex characters to get you started. Or if you want to dig in a little deeper (since you have an entire month of prep time), you might want to check out Create A Character Clinic, by Holly Lisle. This hands-on book helped me make the main character in my first novel well-rounded and complete. I highly recommend it.
  • Get Familiar with Your Daily Word Count–In order to hit 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to write–at minimum–1,667 words each day. Before you get too overwhelmed by that number, thou, you should check out exactly what 1,667 words looks like. It’s about 4 pages, single-spaced. Not too bad.
  • Clear Your Schedule–In order to write 1,667 words a day, you’ll need to set aside between one and two hours of your time, depending on how long it takes you to write four pages. You may need more or less time. Just be sure to squeeze at least an hour of writing time into your schedule everyday. And on days when you have extra time, write more words. That way you’re ahead of schedule if something pops up that’s beyond your control.
  • Read No Plot? No Problem!, by Chris Baty–This 176-page NaNoWriMo guide book is a quick read and has lots of tips for staying on track. It also includes a week-by-week overview to getting your novel written. It’s a great tool for all NaNoWriMo-ers, but especially for first-time NaNoWriMo-ers. I just finished reading it for the second time last weekend.

For the month of October, I’m going to be bringing you weekly posts to get you prepped for NaNoWriMo. Here’s what the schedule looks like:

  • Week One (Oct. 5-9)–Plotting: All the tools, tips and resources you need to plot your NaNoWriMo novel.
  • Week Two (Oct. 12-16)–Characters: Meeting your main characters and getting to know them.
  • Week Three (Oct. 19-23)–Scheduling Writing Time: Tools, tips and resources for getting your schedule NaNo-ready.
  • Week Four (Oct. 26-30)–Final NaNoWriMo Prep: Motivational tips to get you moving on your NaNo-novel.

Stick with me, Procrastinators…the completion of your first novel is just around the corner.

Have you ever competed in NaNoWriMo? How did you do?

Also, if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, be sure to come back tomorrow and sign up for my 30 Days of NaNoWriMo Tips for Procrastinating Writers e-mail newsletter.

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is founder of Procrastinating Writers. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary Eagan September 30, 2009 at 12:06 pm

This will be my 7th NaNoWriMo as well as 7th as ML for my region. With the exception of the first year, I have met the challenge every year. I am extra proud of the region that I have (Central Iowa). This group of people meet for a write-in as often as possible (I have them scheduled every day but Thanksgiving day). We had just under a 50% successful completion rate last year. We have as young as 13 to over 70. Many of us meet throughout the year for encouragement and “mini” challenges.

Thanks for your tips! With your permission, I will share at our kick off party in October.

2 jblan September 30, 2009 at 12:11 pm

@Mary Eagan Of course you may share it with your group at the kick-off event! I appreciate you wanting to share it! Also, if your group would like a little extra motivation throughout the challenge, send them to my site (starting tomorrow) to sign up for my 30 Days of NaNoWriMo Tips for Procrastinating Writers e-mail newsletter.

3 Laura Lee Bloor September 30, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Oh man, I’d like to try NaNoWriMo this year, as I mentioned before, but the time around Thanksgiving is going to be extra tricky. I think I’m up for the challenge though. I’ll be looking forward to your posts for extra motivation!

You’re right that this is the perfect solution for procrastinating writers to get a novel completed.

4 jblan September 30, 2009 at 12:30 pm

@Laura Lee Bloor For Thanksgiving time, you can always write a little extra on the days surrounding it. Also, since you prolly have off on Thanksgiving, as well as the day after, use that time to your advantage! It doesn’t take long to write 1,667 if you sit down, focus and get it done. Set up some kind of reward system for the holiday, like “I get a piece of delicious pumpkin pie when I finish my 1,667 words, but not before.” 🙂

5 Brittany September 30, 2009 at 4:03 pm

This will be my first NaNo WriMo, and I can’t wait for all of the weekly tips! This is good advice, too. I need to figure out when I’ll have time to write. I’ve read No Plot, No Problem, but I’ll probably check it out and read it again during NaNo WriMo.

I’m so excited!

6 Brittany September 30, 2009 at 4:06 pm

By the way, where do I sign up for the newsletter??

7 jblan September 30, 2009 at 7:44 pm

@Brittany This is my first NaNoWriMo, too! I attempted last year, for about a day and then quit, so I’m not counting that one 😉

Also, sign ups for the 30-day newsletter start tomorrow on this blog. Be sure to check back!

8 Sandra S Richardson October 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm

This will be my first NaNoWriMo and I’m petrified. I have my idea, I even have part of the plot worked out and know my characters fairly well. I just don’t want to start and not make it to the 50,000 goal. I need to succeed.

In the past, I’ve known where my stories (long or short) were going in my head before I wrote them, not that things wouldn’t change while writing, but I knew the plot flow. Lately, that hasn’t been happening and I’m having to (force? create? find? dig-up?) ideas for what is going to happen. I’m not used to that and it’s causing everything to feel flat and lifeless to me.

Either way, I’m taking the plunge and I’m looking for all the help and encouragement I can get!


9 Liz October 1, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I’m doing my first Nano this year. I’m looking forward to the excitement of October.

Mary Eagan–I’m in Des Moines!

10 Brittany October 1, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I’m not sure if I’ll win or not. I missed NaNo WriMo 08′, so I wrote my first novel during JanNo WriMo and won. I know that I can do it, but I’m not sure if I’ll have enough time this year.

11 Larry October 1, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Jennifer is SO right-on about this advice. The more you know about your story before November, the more effectively you can charge out of the starting gate. They say this is about quantity versus quality, and if you just look at it that way, that’s what you’ll get. But, if you do enough quality story planning ahead of time, you can actually write something with a future, and with darn few more days required after Nov. 30 to polish your 30-day masterpiece into something you can proudly submit.

To get more specific about what you should know before you start, try this list:

1. Know your general concept, presented as a “what if?” statement that makes you wish it was Nov. 1 right now… that’s how exciting your idea is.

2. Know what your first plot point is… what happens that really kicks off the story AFTER you’re set it up in the first 20% of the narrative… what does the hero need or want from that point forward… what opposes her or him… and most importantly, what’s at stake in that process? Give us big answers to these questions and your story will play big.

3. Know how the story will shift right in the middle, with some powerful new information being introduced.

4. Know how your hero enters the story, flaws and all, then know how she or he will change and evolve over the course of the story, and how they will apply that learning toward becoming the PRIMARY element/catalyst that causes the story to conclude.

5. Plan how you intend to ratched up the pace, the dramatic tension and the stake of the story as you go along, resulting in an explosive and emotional climax that knocks the reader back into their pillow and keeps them up all night. In other words — the MOST important thing you should know of all — know how the story will END.

6. Know what your story is saying to the reader on a THEMATIC level — what is this really about in terms of life, love, God, the issues, the future… etc.

The more scenes you have in your head, ready to write and in context to the above, and the more you know about where those scenes will reside in the story’s sequence, the better equipped you’ll be to make them sizzle on the page.

Think like an engineer, plan like an anal-retentive maniac… then write it all like a poet possessed. And have fun.

I considered posting this on my own site, but hey, Jennifer beat me to it. Stay glued here for her 30-tips in 30-days gift — that’s what it is — and juxtapose it all against what I’ve contributed here… you’ll be shocked and awed by what you’ll accomplish in the month of November.

12 jblan October 2, 2009 at 1:00 pm

@Larry Thanks for posting this! I SO appreciate you taking the time to come here and share your valuable information with us. You are absolutely right–the more you know about your novel before you start writing it, the better your draft will come out.

Readers: Be sure to visit Larry’s blog: http://www.storyfix.com for lots of great advice on plot, characters and more!

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