As I’ve written here before, I am a NaNoWriMo addict. Well, not an addict in the bad sense. It’s just that the challenge is perfectly suited for the way my brain works. I’m a project person. My philosophy on all projects is, “Go big or go home.” Clean the house? Bah! Amateur! I will rearrange the furniture, switch rooms around, rehang the pictures, and paint the walls. Plant some flowers? Too easy. I need to build two eight foot long raised beds and plant my crops for the summer. Sad but true. (Sad, because usually the small things don’t get done until they’re big things that interest me.
Last April, the Office of Letters and Light (the parent organization of NaNoWriMo), held its last Script Frenzy. That was really sad, because it was my first time doing it, and I had a blast. I came out with a darn good script, too, called Laid Waste, a dystopian drama. Anyway, because they didn’t have enough people, they’ve moved one of the Camp NaNoWriMo weeks to April, and allowed scripts as part of the official challenge. (Previously scripts were considered rebelling, except during Script Frenzy.) The other Camp NaNo will be in July. This all works great for me, since my daughter is getting married in June, and I have two graduating kids in May.
Anyway, I’m not writing a script, I’m writing book 3 of the IXEOS Trilogy, Darian’s War. You’d think that, perhaps, I’d have done a little preparation for this endeavor. But no… We are also trying to get our house on the market, I’m in the final stages of editing book 2 of the trilogy, IXEOS: Rebellion, and I’m writing a non-fiction book. And we’re going on a vacation over Easter. Yeah. Those special words you just thought are running through my brain all the time, right about now!
The real question is, are YOU ready for Camp NaNo? One great feature this time around is that you can set your word count goal anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000, so you don’t have to get 50,000 to win. The Camps, I think, have fewer winners than the November “main event,” so I think this is a great idea. My daughter entered because she could set her goal at 10,000. This is about all she can manage, with graduation in May and her wedding in June.
If you aren’t ready, I hope you are a pantser (someone who writes their novel by the seat of their pants), but if you’re a plotter, or a plotting pantser like me, you still have time. I planned my whole first NaNoWriMo book in a week, per Chris Baty’s “No Plot? No Problem” book, not realizing that things had changed and you could plan sooner. I have no advice for you pantsers, since you’re just waiting for 12:01am on April 1 to get going. But I do have some hints for the plotters who haven’t yet started.
Index cards, notebooks and/or Stickie notes. If you are a plotter or a plotting pantser, you will need to have some things written down to guide you through the month. I use a notebook, and write all my research and ideas fairly willy-nilly as I go. Because I am only coming up with a general outline, the beginning, the end, and some major plot points, my main note-taking is on my research into any historical or geographical facts I need to get started. (I do continuous research during the writing, too, so don’t feel like you have to have ALL your research done before April 1.) If I’m working on a new book, meaning one that’s not in a series, I use really big Stickie notes (about 6×8″). I write each character on a Stickie, with general information (ie physical description, job, location). I use these big notes because I stick them on my closet door. Using the giant ones means I can see the notes from where I’m sitting, and I don’t have to search for my scribbles anywhere else.
If you’re a real outliner, try to transfer your notes to a Word document or to Scrivener. Scrivener has a great cork board view, where you can organize virtual index cards just like on your wall, without the holes or ruined paint. If you don’t have your entire book outlined before 4/1, don’t panic. Get what you know down, and work on the rest when you’re done writing each day. You don’t have to know each chapter to start the first one. Baby steps…
Limit your forum time. I know, you get a lot of encouragement from the NaNo forums and cabins. But I also know that they’re a time sucker! I don’t use the forums much at all during the month I’m writing, but I tend to lurk around before and after. If you’re ready to go, that’s fine. Make some friends, have some laughs, get some good recipes. If you’re not ready, steer clear. You’ll start out with a virtuous search for help, and end up joining a tea exchange. Nothing wrong with a tea exchange – I did one in November. But that’s not where you need to spend your time right now!
Be realistic about research. I do a ton of research. Seriously. A ton. But don’t try to do it all prior to starting, even if you’re a plotter. For one thing, even with a great outline, you don’t always know what will come up. Maybe someone will speak in Swahili, and you didn’t see it coming. In this day of the internet, you can do amazing things in just five minutes! You can
- Pull up the Louvre on Google Earth and describe it down to the last brick.
- Find a full list of Korean or Italian or Scottish surnames.
- Look at a star map and find out exactly what constellations are visible where and when.
- Study a map of the London Tube and figure out which stops your characters would get on and off.
- Learn how an EMP works.
Research stresses a lot of people out. I research things that I worry about, like smuggling weapons and how to make a WMD. I just use a search aggregator so that (hopefully) Homeland Security isn’t going to show up at my door. While the NaNo forum has a great thread asking about all these questions and more, it’s a lot faster to just keep some research windows open and do it yourself. It doesn’t make you a bad writer if you’re doing research in the middle!
Plan your month and daily word counts. I’ve written about figuring out word counts before here, but here’s the short version. There are 30 days in April. Theoretically, you write 1667 words a day for 30 days and you have 50,000 words and a winner’s badge. But Easter break is this month. Tax day is this month. My birthday is this month (if you are looking for things to celebrate!). Maybe you’re going to a wedding, or throwing a party, or, like me, putting your house on the market. In short, in a perfect world, you have 30 days, but in real life, you may have 27. That’s okay! Don’t worry about it!
Here’s why. Take a deep breath. Look at your calendar and determine the realistic number of days you’ll write. I know that I can’t write every day. My brain needs a break. I also know that I will be traveling April 1-3. One day is a lot of air travel, so I’ll count that day in. But April 1 is probably a definite no, and the 2nd is 50-50. We’re having a moving/yard sale on April 6. So that’s probably 25 days of writing for me (the 3 days with something going on, and 2 for mental health). If my goal is 50,000, I divide that by 25 instead of 30, and I get 2000 words a day. That would be my goal. (Since my personal goal is to finish the novel, which will be about 85,000 words, my actual goal is 3400.)
Now, figure out a way to keep track of your goal. I have a Stickie note app on my desktop, and I keep a tally every day. Here’s what that looks like:
June 1 3266 GOAL 3,000 3266
June 2 6935 GOAL 6,266 3669
June 3 10,723 GOAL 10,000 3788
June 4 14,070 GOAL 13,723 3347
June 5 17,715 GOAL 17,070 3530
June 6 20,830 GOAL 20,715 3115
June 7 24,066 GOAL 23, 715 3236
June 8 27,223 GOAL 27,066 3157
June 9 28,062 GOAL 30,223 839 (-2161)
June 10 32,432 GOAL 31,062 4370
June 11 37,494 GOAL 37,432 5062
June 12 42,517 GOAL 42,494 5023
June 13 45,535 GOAL 45,517 3018
June 14 50,049 GOAL 50,000 4514
June 15 OFF
June 16 53,335 GOAL 53,049 3286
June 17 57,104 GOAL 56,335 3769
June 18 60,551 GOAL 60,104 3447
June 19 64,039 GOAL 63,551 3488
June 20 67,143 GOAL 67,039 3104
June 21 OFF
June 22 70,349 GOAL 70,143 3206
June 23 72,446 GOAL 73,349 deficit -903
June 24 75,608 GOAL 75,500 3160
June 25 80,026 GOAL 78,608 4418
June 26 85,846 GOAL 83,026 5820
June 27 88,370 DONE!!!! GOAL 88,846
The numbers in the second column are my actual word counts after writing for the day. The goal is the previous day’s total word count plus that day’s goal. The final number is how many words I wrote for that day. Notice that, even though I didn’t meet my goal on two of the days, I did not add that deficit plus my next day’s goal. I just added the next day’s goal. If you look through, you can see that, most days, I more than met my 3,000 words a day goal, meaning I had “words in the bank.” Some days just don’t go as you want them to… Don’t set yourself up to fail by making the next day miserable. Just pick up where you left off.
Prepare your family or roommates. Especially if this is your first NaNo event, prepare the people in your house, and any others who may be effected by your focus on writing during the month. Prepare menus if that will help you keep up with things. My first NaNo, our meals were the most organized they’ve ever been! Let people know it’s not just the time writing, but time thinking. Be prepared for your brain to be more tired than usual at the end of the day. Creativity is exhausting, especially if you’re not used to writing daily. If you get resistance, put your foot down. It’s one month… Everyone can manage!
Don’t edit. Decide right now that you aren’t going to edit as you write. For many of you, that is tantamount to cutting off your pinky toe, I know. But do it anyway. If you can manage it through one book, you’ll never go back to the write-edit-write-edit loop that keeps so many people stuck in my-novel-will-never-be-finished land. This is your first draft. Read that again. It’s your FIRST DRAFT. It’s supposed to suck! It would practically be sacrilege if it didn’t suck! That’s okay! If you forget something that should be in Chapter 2, don’t go back. Write it right where you are, and make a note to move it when you’re done. I’m totally serious. Why? Because if you go back to Chapter 2, you’ll start reading to see where to put it. Then you’ll find problems and start editing. Before you know it, you’ve spent two hours editing Chapters 2 and 3 and written exactly zero. Don’t start! You can fix it all later – the words aren’t going anywhere. (Speaking of that, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE save and back up your work daily! NaNo is rife with stories of people whose computer ate their work…)
Just do it! Nike has it right. Sometimes, despite setbacks and against all odds, you just have to do it. Bribe yourself, bully yourself, get a buddy, chain yourself to your desk… If you have decided you’re going to do it, then you owe it to yourself to try your best. Yes, things happens. People get sick, life gets in the way. That’s okay. If you can say, at the end of the month, that you did all you could do to win, then that’s the important thing. I happen to believe you actually can win, unless we’re talking major natural disaster or personal catastrophe… You can do it!
If you’re participating, let me know! I’m jswwrites in the forums, although I won’t be there too much. I’d love to know how it goes, and answer any questions if I can. Good luck!
DISCLAIMER: I am a 5 time NaNo participant and winner, but I don’t represent NaNoWriMo in any capacity other than as an enthusiast!