The month of November brings many things: "No Shave November," festive Thanksgiving dinners, crazy Black Friday shoppers, and the panic-inducing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. If you haven't participated before, the basic idea is to write an entire novel with a goal of 50,000 words within a month. Sounds easy, right?
LOLOLNO. For the last few years I've tried my best to keep up with the demanding word count while still in college. I finished last year, but just a few days after NaNoWriMo was over. This year, I have decided that nothing is going to stop me from finishing my book on time, and you should feel that way, too. One thing that can help is to start preparing early. Like... now kind of early.
Whether you're a first time NaNoWriMo participant or a well-rounded veteran, preparing for it is absolutely essential. The first few days, and even weeks (if you're lucky) will go well. It usually isn't until you're a couple chapters in when you realize you have no idea where your novel is going or why your characters are just standing around aimlessly that problems begin to arise. Don't worry; it happens to the best of us. To battle that, though, I've come up with a few tips on getting a basic understanding of your novel, characters, and plot — as well as lifestyle changes to start getting used to.
Remember, NaNoWriMo is all about getting words down on the page. It doesn't matter if some of your characters go missing halfway through, or if your plot changes dramatically. Just getting to the 50,000-word goal in 30 days is what you need to keep in mind. If you survive the month and finish, you can always go back and rewrite. (AND YOU SHOULD. THIS IS A FIRST DRAFT, PEOPLE.) And getting the first draft out is what it's all about.
Ready to get started yourself prepared?
One habit you'll need to get used to if you don't already do it is to start writing every day. And I mean, every day. Pick up an empty journal and bring it with everywhere you go, just like with a book. Allow your journal to be your place and your place only. Don't worry about the content you're filling it with just yet. Focus on writing a page or two a day. If nothing comes to mind while staring at a blank page once in a while, try using a journal writing prompt.
Experiment With Ideas
After you've gotten into the grove of writing every day, start throwing ideas around in your journal for this massive novel you're about to embark on. You might already have an idea in mind, and if you don't, just keep working at it. Finding inspiration can be difficult if you're stuck, but there are also plenty of tips out there to get you going. NaNoWriMo also has some incredible advice on everything you'll need to know about starting your novel on their website.
Make A Commitment
By the time the middle of October rolls around, you should have a novel idea you love and are committed to. Having an idea you're already thinking about on the regular is going to help when November hits. The point of NaNoWriMo isn't to start the book early, because it's all about finishing it within the 30 days. Having the idea and concept ready to go, though, is definitely recommended.
Get To Know Your Characters And World
Who is your main character? How old is she? Does she have any tattoos, scars, or oddly shaped birthmarks? What's her favorite junk food? Who is her best friend?
There is an endless list of questions about your main character you'll want to know before getting started. Some things you won't learn until you get to the writing, but start with an understanding of who he or she is, a list of motivations, a robust backstory.
You also want to know a lot about his or her world. Is this a completely fantastical world filled with castles and fairies? Or is it in the cold streets of a realistic city? What time era are you focusing on? What's going on in the world that has nothing to do with your character? Don't worry if you can't answer these questions right now. This is a learning process, and some of these things you might not learn until you start going... or even revising.
Write Out A Rough Outline
If you're a person who creates daily to-do lists, having an outline at your desk during NaNoWriMo will be a savior. Jot down the starting point, events that happen in order, and lead up to the major conflict. I say a "rough outline" because you shouldn't worry about sticking to every detail when you get into the writing. Stories tend to take over and may surprise you. If things get out of control, though, you can always head back to your outline.
Find Your Story Arc
If you aren't a plot-driven writer or reader, and outlines just frustrate you, drawing a basic story arc might be a better option. A story arc looks a little like this:
This way, you can start planning out specific events, sort of like an outline, but keep it less like a list and more like a visual concept. Having something to look at when you get stuck might not seem so needed right now, but you'll be wishing for it just a few days into November.
Create Dust Jacket Copy For Your Book
Creating the summary for your novel is equally as much fun as it is frustrating. Condensing your story down to 150 words or fewer is a massive challenge. However, it will make you realize more than ever the main point of the story you'll be creating. This is one of NaNoWriMo's recommendations when you sign up and begin your novel.
Clean Up Your Writing Station
Whether you're a desk-writer, bed-writer, or just-about-anywhere-writer, make sure your spot is ready to go. Dedicating a space to your novel will not only help you form that habit of writing every day, but will keep you motivated. Once you start your novel, you'll need a quiet and focused space to go to to make sure your book gets finished.
Read As A Writer
When you begin writing in November, having time for reading will be nearly non-existent. So while you can, make sure to read books within the genre and style of your own. As you read, don't just read as a reader. Read as writer. Notice how the writer is revealing characters, how often events happen, and how the author leads you up to the climax. Take notes on your favorite authors and feel free to use some of their tricks in your own work.
Involve Yourself In A NaNoWriMo Community
Online or in-person, NaNoWriMo has a very large, and loving community. I've been to a couple meetings myself. It's an opportunity to share your ideas, receive helpful feedback, and complain to the people who understand you most. Believe me, in the middle of November your family and friends will think you're a little crazy with how often you're writing and talking about your novel. Having a couple people who are in the same boat as you will be immensely helpful.
Yes, it's 50,000 words. Yes, it's going to be difficult. Just breathe. You can do this. Keep the finish line in mind, and follow these tips along with NaNoWriMo's as well. Finishing a novel is one amazing feeling you can't find anywhere else. Keep calm and write on.