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NaNo: The Ultimate Guide

Updated: Jun 16

Success is All About Preparation

If you are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, its name stands for National Novel Writing Month, or more affectionately known as Nano. More accurately, it should be InNoWriMo, as it has truly become an international on-line event.

The objective of this exercise is to set aside a month of the year where you can prioritise writing your book over your family and social events and complete a fifty thousand word first draft in thirty days.

If that breaks you out in a sweat, you wouldn't be the first -- there are many writers out there who abhor the idea of being forced to write at such a speed and believe it to sacrifice all they have learned about good writing. However, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it as it does provide some advantages.

The primary thing to remember here is that its purpose is to bash out a completed first draft. That is to say, by the end of the event, your story has a beginning a middle and some kind of conclusion, but it might still need some scenes and chapters filling in later down the line when redrafting. 50k words is better than no words and a head full of dreams, right? And even if you don't make the 50k, writing 30 or 40k are still better than blank pages, yes?

A common misconception is that participants complete their 50k words and then that's the end of it, skimmying around in search of a publisher. This is NOT how Nano works. It's simply the first stage of drafting a novel.

If you want to become a published writer one day, you're going to need to meet deadlines. Yes, I know there are these romantic notions of authors holing up in a cabin in the woods, torturing themselves for years over their 'art' and keeping their publishers waiting until they get through their writer's block or mid-life crisis - or just take a shower - but in reality publishers do not appreciate a missed launch date.

If you are yet to prove yourself able to sit down with a regular writing routine to complete a lengthy project, NaNoWriMo might well be the training you need. If nothing else, it will teach you something about yourself. You might even make some worthwhile friends in the process.

It's worth knowing that there are all sorts of on-line and in-person events and groups to help you through. Writing is a lonely gig and we all know it, but writers are usually helpful people willing to give their support to help a fellow through. You can find online groups on Facebook, follow hashtags on Twitter or even find a local 'write-in' -- a live event hosted in libraries, cafes, school halls or even round a friend's house, organised by either your official local Municipal Liason (if you have one) or by unofficial Nanoers who want to find kindred souls near to them. To find out if you have an ML near you, you need to sign up to the NaNoWriMo site and search the forums for your region.

So, if you are suitably convinced that trying NaNoWriMo at least once in your life is a worthy experience and that this year is the year to do it, here are some preparatory tips you can follow to set yourself up for success.

Twelve things to help you succeed at NaNo, and you can start them now!

  1. Choose a time of day that suits you best to write. Every day at that time sit in your writing corner – wherever that may be – and use it to make notes on your forthcoming project.

  2. Say goodbye to family and friends. Explain to your loved ones and chums that during the whole month of November you will be prioritising your writing project and not to expect disturbing you during your chosen writing hours. Guard your writing time aggressively. Embarrassed to confess you’re a writer? Don’t be. Own it. Even if you’re a beginner, being a writer does not automatically come with a contract that you must be good at it. If you write you write; end of. But, first rule of Nano: expect to fail. I don’t mean on word count – I mean that it won’t be the novel you dreamed of in your head. But first drafts never are, whether they took 30 days or 30 months to write. This is about getting the idea and key scenes down in some sort of format. You can’t work with a blank page.

  3. Clear your diary during November. For any engagements you really cannot defer, set aside extra writing time into your scheduled hours during the two or three days prior to the engagement. DO NOT schedule it in for afterwards; if you fall too far behind you will feel like abandoning it all together. Stay ahead of the game.

  4. Batch cook. Unless you want to survive on pizzas, burgers, or any other fast, fatty food, when you prepare a meal make it industrial size instead of just for one or for the family. Freeze the surplus. You’ll be amazed how grateful you are for not having to shop nor stop to cook.

  5. But when does the novel planning start, I hear you cry. Yes, yes, we’re coming to that. What I want you to do is sit down and do your planning at the time you intend to write during Nano. This is hugely important. This way, you’ll have already primed yourself for writing every day at that time and familiarised yourself with your story world. As with an engine, your brain works best in this endeavour when it has been warmed up and ready to hit 0-60 in five seconds. First thing’s first: create your main characters. Research them. Day dream about them and make notes. Get to know them. Knowledge makes writing a lot easier. Same goes for settings. Research those too. When you know a place inside out, it flows with a lot less effort. Then you can turn to plotting. You don’t need to know every scene before you write it, though some people do well with such an intricate plan. If you are not one for doing so, just try and think of the key scenes, so you have some markers to head towards. You can fill in the gaps in the revision. At the very least, have some idea of where your arc will end up.

  6. Clear your errands. Take care of any important paperwork or telephone calls prior to starting Nano.

  7. Dump TV. If you think you’ll be tempted by your favourite shows, set yourself a schedule to catch up on a binge watch at the beginning of December. Call it your reward for doing Nano – a whole couple of weeks of doing nothing but vegging on the sofa in front of the box. You need to take time out from your manuscript at this point, anyway -- until after Christmas is usually a good idea.

  8. Snacks. If you are a snacker and don’t intend to diet the same time as doing Nano, stock up (and lock it up if you think you'll be tempted to demolish all of it before Nov 1st). Last thing you want is to have to go out for chocolate when you’re in full swing!

  9. Organise A backup buddy. Choose a reliable friend or relative you can turn to for some support. Someone who won’t mind running an errand or two for you if you find your back’s against the wall, like if your child needs to be dropped at a birthday party or something. Or you need emergency chocolate.

  10. Clean. Get it out of your system before November if mess is something that bothers you. Go on, get those marigolds out. You will be living in squalor for a month, so you may as well treat yourself.

  11. Sleep, cuz you ain’t gonna get none in November!

  12. MOST IMPORTANTLY: launch yourself into this endeavour with a CAN DO attitude. You CAN write 1,667 words per day every day. They don't have to be sentimentally moving, nor poetical nor perfect. They can be rewritten with more care in the second draft. You just need to write whatever comes to you to meet your daily word count. The aim at this stage is get the raw material out of your head and into text for now. Don't think of the mountain, just reach for the next ledge leading you up to the peak.

And if you get really stuck, you can contact me on either Facebook or Twitter and I’ll see if I can help move you along.

Next Sunday: NaNo: The Ultimate Guide – WriMo’s Ebbs and Flows

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