Note: The original post is from October 10, 2010. I have updated it in preparation of NaNoWriMo 2012.
It’s that time of year again. Aspiring and veteran novelists are all worked up about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
This will be my fifth time participating in NaNoWriMo. During my first three attempts to write 50,000 words in just 30 days I would start out of the gate happy, shiny, and optimistic. Sometimes I kept that enthusiasm going for two weeks. But then I’d let doubt creep in and inevitably get off track.
After three straight years of trying, I skipped a year. When I made my fourth attempt in 2010, I didn’t step into the project haphazardly. I was armed with a detailed plan of attack based on lessons I’d learned in previous years of NaNoWriMo participation and from friends who’d been successful year after year.
Executing that plan made all the difference in the world. In 2010 I finally ‘won’ NaNoWriMo. Then I went on to finish the book. It is one of the manuscripts I’m currently revising, Sorry Charli.
Lest you think the years I participated, but didn’t win, were a bust, they weren’t. I got back into the habit of writing. My participation netted me several partials, which I am completing one-by-one. One of those novels eventually became Too Good to Be True, my debut novel which will be published by Carina Press in 2013.
I wasn’t able to participate last year, but I’m eager to participate in NaNoWriMo 2012. Carina Press acquired Too Good to Be True as part of a two-book deal. I’m using this year’s event to write the bones of the second book, based on a secondary character in Too Good to Be True.
Recently I’ve been chatting with fellow writer and blogger, M.L. Swift about my approach to NaNoWriMo. It occurred to me that re-posting this plan, with a few updates, would be helpful to me and to other NaNoers (both old and new) so they won’t need six years to create a workable plan.
Create an Outline
I’ve typically been a pantster (someone who writes without an outline). I’d begin with my characters and a basic story in mind. Then I’d see where the characters would take me as the story developed. I loved the little surprises my characters would deliver, doing or saying something unexpected. Yet inevitably I’d write myself into a corner. I’d lose momentum and often abandon the story. That’s how I ended up with three incomplete works in progress (WIP).
Then I heard author Kimberla Lawson Roby on an internet radio show talk about her writing process. She uses a very structured outlining process which includes writing a synopsis of each chapter before she begins writing.
I decided to give outlining a try. It helped TREMENDOUSLY. Even if I don’t follow the outline exactly (because sometimes my characters have a mind of their own) it gives me a great framework and I work more effectively. Now if I get stuck, instead of sitting my work aside for a few days (which in one case turned to a few years and counting), I take out a notebook and map out the scene. It works every time! By utilizing the outlining process I was finally able to finish one languishing WIP and then another.
Note: I’ve discovered that when it comes to plotter or pantster, I’m a hybrid. And I’m okay with that.
If you don’t want to do a detailed outline for your story, another option is to write your synopsis BEFORE you write the story. This way you know exactly where the story is going. Relax, the synopsis will simply serve as a guideline. You can always change it.
Flesh Out Your Characters
It ‘s hard to write interesting characters with strong motivations and plausible actions when we don’t know them intimately.
Of course we know your characters. We created them. But our initial vision of our characters may only scratch at the surface–what they look like, friends and family, who they love. Getting readers invested in our story requires a much deeper knowledge of our characters. Having this knowledge from the outset allows us create more meaningful characters.
Character profile sheets can fairly simple, like the one provided by Kitty Felone. Or they can be much more detailed, like the character chart provided on EpiGuide. A detailed chart is important for primary characters (hero, heroine, antagonist). For other important characters who play a smaller role, do a simpler profile sheet.
Are character profile sheets time-consuming? Yes. Do they yield invaluable information about your characters that will enrich your story? ABSOLUTELY. So stop whining, my friend, and just do it.
Creating detailed character profiles is a lengthy process, but I can’t think of a better way to get to know your characters. You’ll be amazed by the secrets and hidden motives your characters reveal. It’s like getting to know a friend over cocktails. All sorts of revelations spill out.
I’ve used and like Writer’s Cafe which has a nice portable feature. It’s the perfect complement to the outlining process. I discovered the software a few years ago. About a third of the way through my story I’d lose track of details like last names and physical traits of minor characters. I started using the software to track these details. This eliminated the need to dig through a manuscript to find them.
There are many other options. However, the program most writers I know consistently swear by is Scrivener. I’ll admit, I’ve taken a go at it twice (less than a day each attempt). The program seems complex and difficult to follow. However, I’ve been promised by everyone who uses it that it is worth the effort to learn it.
Know What Time of Day Works Best for You
About three years ago I stumbled across Lisa Coffey’s website What’s Your Dosha where I learned a little about Ayurveda and Dosha types. Ayurveda is India’s 5,000 year old “Science of Life.” It teaches the art of living in harmony with nature. Your dosha is your mind and body type. After taking the Dosha quiz and watching a few of Lisa’s videos I discovered something I would never have believed about myself – I work best very early in the morning – as opposed to late at night, when I was doing most of my writing.
Getting up earlier to attack my writing before moving on to other tasks was a sacrifice initially. But I remembered what writer, Connie Briscoe, said at an author event in Cleveland a few years ago. She said when she first started writing she had a full-time corporate job. She rose early in the morning to write before work because she wanted to give her best to herself. Everyone else would get the rest.
Discover what time of day works best for you. Write when you’re at your best and feeling most creative.
Create a Workable Schedule
Writing doesn’t happen unless we make time to do it. This is especially true when undertaking a huge challenge like NaNoWriMo. Before you know it, you’re in the middle of week two with barely 3,000 words to show for it.
Create a feasible schedule; one you and your family can live with. I’d love to say I’ll write every single day. Who knows, maybe I will. However, I know myself (and my other obligations) enough to admit I probably won’t.
The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a new novel during the month of November. That’s 12,500 words per week or about 1,667 words per day. I’m creating a four day per week schedule with a goal of writing 3,500 each day (3,125 words minimum).
Write or Die
Sounds harsh. But Write or Die is an excellent productivity software for writers. It helps me stay focused and keep writing for designated periods of time. I’ve typically produced around 1200 words in 48 minutes using this software. Three sessions (2.5 hours) and I’ve got my goal for the day. You can use the web version of the software or the newer desktop version.
No-one understands the craziness of NaNo unless they’ve experienced it.
Connect with fellow writers participating in NaNoWriMo this year. If you’re part of any writing community, Facebook, or Twitter, you should have no trouble discovering participants. NaNoWriMo has a fantastic forum which enables you to connect with other NaNoers by locale, genre, and a number of other factors. Attend local NaNo events if you can. At the very least, join in online writing sprints with other participants.
Fellow NaNo’ers will sympathize with you, encourage you, and give you a much-needed kick in the pants whenever necessary. There is also the element of healthy competition. When you see how much your friends have written you’re more likely to put the remote down and hop on your computer so you won’t be left behind. In the end, you can all celebrate together.
Just Do It
The prospect of writing 50,000 words of a new novel is daunting. No-one is more aware of this than me. However, if you’re a writer who needs to kick-start your writing, NaNoWriMo is a wonderful project.
Whether you finish or not; whether your book ever gets published or not; at least you’ll be writing. That’s a huge step in the right direction.
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I’d love to connect. My NaNo username is RaleighRoxStar. I’d also love to hear your plan for getting the most out of NaNoWriMo this year. Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.