In about two weeks NaNoWriMo begins. You probably knew that; there are posts about NaNoWriMo, and NaNoPrep all over the Internet. This will be my fourth year of NaNo, and I’ve done Camp several times, too. In 2010 I led a group of high school students through NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. I haven’t won every year I’ve tried, but I always have fun.
Over the years I’ve put together strategies for #NaNoPrep, and I thought it was time to share.
• Have an outline. It doesn’t have to be detailed, though mine tend to be. Even a vague list of key points will serve as a guide to keep you moving forward. If you are a pantser, try to develop at least a paragraph long summary of the story as you see it. Note any actions, decisions, or other plot points that must happen to develop the story.
• Make a scrapbook. Pictures help when it comes to description. Try to find photos of your main setting (or someplace similar) during the season in which your story takes place. Look for pictures of people with your character’s features and coloring (also known as “who would you cast when the novel becomes a movie?”) Character photos are especially helpful for consistency of description. Significant objects in the story are also good to include in the photo album, especially if it’s something unfamiliar.
• Make a playlist. Music is as vital to writing as caffeine. Here are my thoughts on playlists.
• Pay attention to your pantry. Some wrimos prepare and freeze 30 day’s worth of food prior to November, so that all they have to do is heat and serve, others put together lists of 30 minute meals, to minimize their kitchen time. Others live on sandwiches. Take a few minutes to consider the matter. If you work, are a student, or are a working student, then it’s probably a good idea to get at least a few meals in the freezer, whether you make them from scratch or just hit the grocery’s freezer aisle.
• Consider the snacking situation. While a caffeine boost can be a good thing, too much can be a problem. It can make you jittery, cause headaches and anxiety, and act as both a laxative and a diuretic. Too much chocolate can have the same side effects, along with higher blood sugar levels, and with continued over-use can contribute to weight gain. When you’re writing, drink water; save the coffee or tea for breaks. Substitute fresh or dried fruits and veggies for some of the chocolate. (My chocolate consumption: 1 snickers bite size candy for every 500 words written, and 1 extra for reaching the day’s goal. Round up to the nearest 500.)
• Discover your average writing speed. Don’t guess about this, based on the memory of the last few things you’ve written. Sometime soon, sit down and write a piece of flash fiction. 1000-1500 words. It can be about anything; fiction or non-fiction. You can work from an outline if you’d like. Don’t edit as you go. Leave the misspellings. Leave the abandoned thought. Just write. Time yourself. Don’t worry if your number seems low; you aren’t competing, you’re researching. If you aren’t convinced that you’ve found your true writing speed, do the exercise again, on a new topic.
• Consider your daily word goal. 50,000 divided by 30 is 1,666 words a day, and you’ll have to add an extra 20 somewhere. Or you can write 1667 words a day, and be 10 words over goal. But take a minute to consider: If you live in the US, you have to decide what you’re going to do about writing over the thanksgiving holiday. Traveling, family time, and increasingly, retail jobs all tend to infringe heavily on writing time during the holiday. Another schedule might work better than writing 1667 words every day. Knowing your writing speed will help you decide your daily word goal.
• Schedule your writing time. Extra writing time isn’t going to spontaneously happen during November. Decide how you’re going to make the time. Getting up earlier to write seems to be popular strategy, but I’m not a fan of anything that involves getting out of bed earlier in the morning. Writing through lunch is another popular tip, but I can’t type with my hands full of pizza, so it doesn’t work for me. For me, it’s a matter of sacrifice. I only allow myself a short amount of time per day for all my social media and news updates online. I quit television for the month. I limit the amount of fiction I read. I put all of the knitting and crochet away until December 1st. That gives me a block of time every day in which to write. (There are exceptions to this. I follow the #NaNoSprints hashtag all month on Twitter. I watch “my” college football game every Saturday, so I don’t get banished from the state. I do needlework while I watch football. I read short stories on break at work.)
• Know your writing requirements. I write best from 10 pm to 4 am, so when I can I write on that schedule. I don’t do well with distractions, so my best writing happens in my room, with the door closed, and music playing to filter out the rest of the world. I don’t write in coffee shops, and I don’t expect much from write-ins. Knowing the environment that keeps you most productive is key to winning NaNoWriMo.
• Learn to silence your inner editor. This is tough for most of us. The easiest way to do this is with total commitment. For the month of November, don’t worry about spelling, grammar or readability in anything you write. For most of us, this simply isn’t feasible. School and work require that we spell and punctuate; that our work be structured and logical. After years of wrestling with auto-correct and rewriting phrases as I go, I finally found a method that works for me: in my writing program I adjust the font color to the same shade as the background and turn off auto-spell. I admit, I cheat. My background is white, but I adjusted my font to a very pale gray. The text is almost invisible against the white background, and with auto-spell turned off there are no red lines underscoring my spelling errors. Once I got used to writing this way, my writing speed increased. This is something else to practice before November gets here.
These are just a few ideas that get me through NaNoWriMo each November. Hopefully some of them will be helpful to you.