For information on what the heck NaNo actually is, go here.
As November rapidly approaches (ten days!), you might be feeling that last-minute panic as you rush to prepare for the novel-writing adventure. But take a deep breath and pull out a notebook, because you can start getting ready now to ensure a smooth month of literary abandon. Here’s just a few of the ways to cut the stress and pain from your NaNo experience.
1. Plan your novel extensively. Know how you plan to start, a general outline of the plot, character development you want to make sure is included, and the themes you want to incorporate. Unless you’re a rare breed of writer called a “pantser”, or someone who’s able to write a good novel by just putting pen to paper and letting their ideas come on cue, you’re better off taking the longer but more effective approach. It may seem obvious to outline your novel, but if you don’t bother identifying themes before you start, they’ll be twice as hard to work in later. Even just having them in mind will help embed them in your story without getting pushy.
2. Make sure you’re held accountable. There’s a neat contract you can find in the workbooks (more on them in a second), that will allow you to identify your word count goal, add the date, and then have you and a friend or family member sign saying they hold you accountable for reaching that goal. It’s not foolproof, but the hardest way to fail is knowing that someone will be disappointed in you if you do.
3. Know your characters inside and out. Even if your plot has holes, your prose needs some polishing, and your dialogue is cringe-worthy, if your characters seem real, people will be drawn to your book. There’s a few different ways to accomplish this kind of character intimacy. The ones I’ve found that work for me are using the workbooks, a free online resource found here, character interviews (you can find a thousand memes through a Google search), and even just putting yourself in their shoes. Take half an hour and imagine yourself in their situation, with their background. How would you feel? How would you act toward others? Would you be aggressive, passive, complacent, confused? This is especially important for characters with troubled pasts. The best way to hook the audience is to make them feel like they’re “one” with the protagonist, and you can only accomplish that if you’re “one” with your main character yourself.
4. Make sure your pacing suits your word count goal. One of the worst things that can happen to a writer is to get halfway through November and realize that the plot of their 100,000-word manuscript is actually only enough to fill 25,000 words. It’s hard to judge this, because it depends on your writing style and natural sense of pacing, but once you understand where you are as a writer, you should adjust accordingly. Generally speaking, I’ve found that male writers tend to write only the bare facts and thus need more extensive plots, while female writers have a tenancy to give every single detail and write at a snail’s-pace. Find a happy medium, and make sure you have enough of a plot to cover your word count goal! It’s better to have too many ideas and have to tone it down than to shove plot points in toward the end because you’ve run out of things to write about.
5. Stock up on the Pixie Sticks. NaNoWriMo’s a fun time… but only if you make it that way. Enjoy the company of fellow suffering writers, have fun torturing your characters, and take pride in the accomplishment of a novel in a month. Don’t worry so much about the final product; if you came looking to write a perfect manuscript in 30 days, you’re in for a major disappointment. This is a chance to hone your writing skills, so roll up your sleeves and grab a pen. We’re in for a wild month!