It's starting to look a lot like autumn, and you know what that means? It's NaNoWriMo time. In other words: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the annual novel writing contest that takes place throughout the month of November. Out of all the fall contests to participate in, it's one of the most rewarding — and mind-bogglingly difficult. If you're not familiar with the contest, the goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month, resulting in a first draft of a novel. November may seem far away, but it'll be here before you know, so here's 10 ways to prep for NaNoWriMo.
As a NaNoWriMo lover and participant for the last six years, I've only ever once completed and won the challenge. Even though I went to college for creative writing and try to write every single day, I still find this competition incredibly difficult. It doesn't matter if you've won the contest multiple times or this year will be your first go, it's always a new experience and one you'll have to start preparing for. So what are you waiting for?
One of the trickiest things about writing a novel in a month (if that isn't already difficult enough) is staying motivated and focused. By taking certain steps to plan ahead — but not begin your novel because that would be cheating — is the best way to go about it. From deciding on your novel idea and starting the habit of writing each and every day, here are the 10 necessary steps to take as you begin preparing for the most exciting and exhausting challenge of your life:
1. Start Using A Journal
If you're new to NaNoWriMo, or writing in general, you may not have a journal yet, and you'll definitely want to get one ASAP. Keeping a journal on you at all times pushes you to write more and will get you into the habit of writing often. Journaling is great for your mental health, so it's a good habit to pick up no matter what. And even if you're a veteran and have 20 or more journals packed full of original ideas, you should get yourself a new journal because you're going to be writing A LOT while preparing for NaNo.
2. Schedule A Time To Write Every Single Day
Whether you like to scribble down your words before the sun has fully risen, or you're more of a night owl — find a time that works and stick with it. Getting into the habit of writing every single day months before NaNo is going to save your life. Seriously. One of the biggest reasons people drop out of NaNo or don't finish is because going from thinking about a novel versus actually writing it every single damn day is like expecting to pass a rocket science test with flying colors without ever once cracking open a science textbook. Trust me, it won't work.
3. Set Yourself A Fun Weekly Writing Goal
Writing a novel within a month is bound to have its ups and downs. It can feel like chore work if something in the story isn't working or if you aren't having fun with it anymore. This is why it's important to set yourself fun writing goals and start doing it now so you get into the habit of it. What do I mean by fun? Challenge yourself to write a completed short or flash story every day. Try out the Ernest Hemingway process by writing 500 words a day and no more — even if you end mid-sentence. Try drawing your characters instead of writing details about them for a week. Whatever it is, make sure it's fun for you. Keep it going once November starts.
4. Join A Writing Club Or Team Up With Another NaNoWriMo Participant
NaNoWriMo offers an online community so you never have to leave your home. But, if you're the sort of person who wants to get out and write at your local cafe with living breathing humans around you, there are tons of groups around the world that meet up to write together. Having support during the insane month of writing 50,000 words is absolutely needed if you want to survive. Trust me, when you have someone you can run to when your character has fallen off the grid or your plot has somehow been thrown into a blender, you won't feel so alone. In fact, every other writer is probably going through a similar experience, and helping each other out is all a part of the journey.
5. Make A Story Outline Or Create An Inspiration Board
If you're the type of person who loves to outline everything, detail by detail, it's a great idea to start doing that with your novel. Having a plan ahead of time will save you from those dire moments when your muse has taken the day (or week) off, or when your story keeps veering so far off course you can't recognize it anymore. However, if you're like me and can't outline anything for the life of you, I've found creating inspiration boards is a great alternate option. These can range from decorated poster boards with your characters drawn out to notecards plastered on the back of your door explaining significant moments, quotes, or ideas you have. Having some sort of reminder like this will keep you motivated all throughout November — and it's good to do it now while you have some free time.
6. Test Out Your Novel Ideas By Writing A Synopsis And First Chapter
Settling on a novel idea is honestly one of the hardest parts about writing a novel. If you're going back and forth on ideas, or can't seem to nail one down, try writing out sample first chapters and a synopsis for your book. If you have too many ideas, this may help you decide which one to write.
7. Get To Know Your Main Characters
Don't get caught on November first without knowing your main characters names. You don't want to be stuck with a John Smith and Jane Doe, or worse, let it keep you from writing until you find the perfect names. It's also a good time to understand their quirks, likes, dislikes, and morals. What's their biggest fear? How old are they? What's their unique phrase they'll come to be known for? Ask yourself and your characters questions now so you'll know by the time November strolls in.
8. Learn How To Shut Your Inner Editor Off
This. Is. So. Important. I've let my inner editor destroy my chances at winning NaNoWriMo one too many times. It's so hard to turn off that little voice that corrects every little error, tells you that your ideas suck, and that none of my writing makes sense. Letting this little voice stop you from just writing whatever comes to your mind is the exact opposite of what NaNo is all about. This challenge is not about writing the most perfect novel in the world; it's about finishing a first draft. The editing and rewriting comes later.
So how do you turn off your inner editor? Practice. Practice. Practice. When you're writing in your journal and you hear it, find a way to tune it out. Whether that's listening to inspirational music, mediating before writing, or writing out a letter on why you shouldn't listen to your inner editor right now but promise to get back to her later. Find something that works and you'll be good to go.
9. Research Things Now And Write Later
Start doing your research now. Every novel requires some sort of research, and research takes time. NaNoWriMo is all about moving fast, so if there's any research you can do now, get it done. You'll probably have to do some as you write, too, and definitely as you edit. But if you've got the basics, you'll be better prepared.
10. Read As Much As You Possibly Can
The fast pace of NaNoWriMo makes it hard to do much reading. Books are a main source of inspiration, and right now is the time to read as much as possible. It's also a good time to read some books on writing. There's Stephen King's On Writing and Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic that'll get you into the writing spirit and even supply writing prompts to get you started. Above all, read the books that you love to start preparing for one wild month-long writing ride, and you'll surly be crowned a NaNoWriMo Winner.
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