• Azalea Forrest

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2020!

Ah, October.

The month of skeletons, pumpkins, and general Spook.

It’s also the month of NaNo prep!


NaNoWriMo is the annual National Novel Writing Month (of November), and the goal is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Some people write more, some less, some work on one project, others work on many! But the end goal is the same: that you’ve got more words after NaNo than what you started with.


I’ve been taking part in NaNo for the last three consecutive years (and won!) and participated for the first time back in 2011. I also took part in Camp back in April of this year. You can join groups on the NaNo site itself to encourage each other, or to even have a little friendly competition, and there are regional groups you can join as well that tend to have meetups in public spaces in town that you can join too. Although, during Covid, there won’t be any meetups this year.


NaNo is kind of a big deal! 50,000 words are a lot in just thirty days, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of writing part of a novel (or a whole novel in my experience), in just one month. But if you go in prepared, it’s definitely achievable, and even if you don’t manage your personal goal, or the NaNo 50k goal, that’s okay!


What’s most important about NaNo is getting any words down at all. That’s x amount of words more than you had before. In my earlier days of NaNo, I would get so hung up on how a chapter felt that I would keep going back and edit. I couldn’t help but cringe at the words, the self-critic was in full force, but going back to edit isn’t really going to help you write that daily goal, whether it be 1200 words or 3000 words, more, or less. I’d get down my goal first, and then if I wanted to go back and edit I could, but usually I would just finish the chapter, or the scene, and then start the next chapter the following day. This way I don’t get burnt out, and I always remind myself that I can go back and edit later! And as for the self-critic, it’s never as bad as you think it is. Giving yourself space from your words will help you keep going and help you edit even better than you would if you were to go back immediately after writing the words.


The #1 tool I’d recommend using for NaNo is an OUTLINE. Back in 2011, I did not use an outline, and my story suffered. Sure, I got my 50k words, but the story wasn’t finished by any means, and it was trailing so far off center that I had to shelve the story, and I haven’t gone back to it since.


There were many times where I would try to start a story, before I got into NaNo, and I had no outline then, either: I hated outlines, I didn’t understand them. I only knew about the web and snowflake, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around them. My stories never got beyond a chapter or three. Now I use bullet outlining, and I can write as much or as little as I feel is necessary. If I want to do a little pantsing of a chapter, I’ll just write a sentence or three, but in reality I can write as detailed of an outline as I want. Ever since I started doing this, I’ve been able to finish every story I’ve started.


Of course, it can be difficult to start an outline if you don’t have a world and some characters!


Starting up a new story can be daunting, and everyone starts theirs a little differently. For me, I usually think of the characters first. I’ll come up with an idea for a character, usually the MC, and think about who they’d be friends with, what their goals are, what their jobs are. I love filling out character sheets, like a questionnaire a character answers in first person, or however you want to fill it out, but just jamming out anything that comes to mind is a great way to get some interesting details about your character too. (It’s also called discovery writing!)


After that, I’ll delve into the world. Where do they live? What kind of creatures are there, or is it more modern? Maybe they've all been wiped out. I write fantasy, so I generally have a lot to think about.


Some people worry about what the theme is, and while that can be important, sometimes that doesn’t come until later, so personally I try not to worry about that until after I've finished the first draft, unless it’s already jumped out at me. Like with my Apothecary WIP, I already knew I wanted the dominant theme to be about mental illness in a medieval-esque fantasy setting, so I circled everything around that. But when I started writing WIL, I had no idea: I focused on discovery writing, finished my outline, and found the theme within the characters well after I'd written the first draft. There's no wrong way to figure it out.


Finally, you can start working on your outline. I don’t always plan out how many chapters I want to write ahead of time. I’ll start writing scenes I want to include, and then place them into chapters after: I always try to write randomly, but it almost always winds up in chronological order anyway, haha.


I prefer writing around 3,000 words per chapter, and that way I can gauge if I have enough chapters or not to get to 50k or higher. For A Bitter Drink, I specifically wanted to write a 75k novel, so I had to plan out 25 chapters. 3k words per chapter is only a preference, so do what works for you, and while the end goal might not be as much as you wanted, you can always add more when you’re editing. Or maybe you have the opposite problem? Nothing editing won’t eventually fix. ;) ABD is well beyond 75k now!


Definitely keep up with all your notes: I try to keep my Google Docs organized so I can find what I'm looking for when I get stuck on a scene or a description I forgot about. Once you’ve got all this together, make sure you’ve got an account on the NaNo site. Put in a placeholder name for the title, or the title itself if you’ve already got it, put in what genre you’re planning on writing, and then it's mostly a waiting game until November 1st!


There’s an entire collection of great resources on the NaNo site, like writing sprint timers, general tips, words of encouragement, and of course the groups you can join for solidarity. Definitely spend some time perusing the site to get familiar and to hopefully find some brilliant advice, or keep working on some worldbuilding and even thickening up or rounding out your outline.


I focus on outlining a lot, but if you really want to just pants the whole thing, going in with no plan or maybe just a small plan, you’re absolutely welcome to. Some people write better that way, and more power to them. :)


I've got my NaNo outline prepared, and I'm excited to start this new project. But despite all of this advice: there's no right or wrong way to participate in NaNo. You don't have to start a brand new novel, you don't even have to write the rest of a novel: you could just focus on editing, or work on a graphic novel, or some other writing-related endeavor. I don't find there's anything wrong with tweaking the goals to fit your needs. Some people spend Camp NaNo or Actual NaNo just working on worldbuilding and outlining for a later date!


Just try to get any other important tasks finished first so you don't find yourself scrambling in November: it's a busy time for many, and the last thing we'd want is to feel overtly pressured and like the fun's all been drained out because of our other obligations. And if life's just too busy, there's always Camp, and there's always next year. NaNo isn't for everyone, and that's okay too.


Happy NaNoing, and good luck!


Are you participating in NaNoWriMo 2020? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about your projects.

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