Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo

Prep ideas and resources for the writing blitz of November

Next month is National Novel Writing Month, the annual November contest to produce 50,000 words in thirty days. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, as it’s known for short, three times in the past, each time “winning” by making it to the 50,000 word goal. Once those 50,000 words equated to a complete first draft of a novel that I later revised, polished, and sent off for publication. The other two times, the 50,000 words weren’t sufficient toward finishing a draft, so even though I “won” the contest, there was still substantial work to do before having a novel written.

I haven’t participated in several years due to other obligations, many of which were writing related, but I decided to undertake it again this year because my list of book concepts is outpacing my current ability to get them all drafted. (This is one of those things they call a “good problem to have.” I’m blessed with never having writer’s block.)

This year, I’m doubling down on a concept from five years ago, updated to reflect contemporary understandings of sexuality and gender identity. My story draws on a silly game show premise, though I won’t tell you which game show.

It’s not this one.

Because it’s a romance novel, one of the couples recruited to participate aren’t really a couple, and of course as a result of the game show experience, they become one. Everyone lives happily ever after.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, their website has a lot of cool pre-writing resources to help brainstorm story content, such as character worksheets and plot outlines. You can find them in the Writer’s Resources section.

Since my novel was previously planned, I won’t be using these materials to prep, but I do think they are great tools for newer writers or those who don’t yet have a concrete story outline and characters. I’m a plotter, and I follow a specific beat sheet for my novels. “Save the Cat!” is probably the most well known outline guide for screenwriting, and it’s now software. The Save the Cat! website has a novel writing section that includes beat sheets for famous novels. A beat sheet helps writers keep track of major plot moves and when they should happen in order to keep a story tightly written and well-paced. Author Jami Gold has a similar treasure trove of beat sheets and worksheets, including downloadable templates. I use Jami’s downloadable Excel sheet to plot out my romances. The benefit is that it will automatically calculate how many words each major movement in the story should be and at what word count certain plot elements should happen.

The other major part of preparation for an event like NaNoWriMo, in which writers have a designated period of time to write a designated number of words, is knowing when to write. The 50,000 word count averages to 1,667 words per day over the thirty days. For some writers, that might be a full day’s work. I find that if I’m well prepared, know the story outline, and have the characters living in my brain already, 2k per day can easily come flowing out of my fingers on the keyboard. The hard part is finding the time to do it. My first year, I was like a bad college student who put everything off until Thanksgiving and then backed out of plans to celebrate with friends, so I could have a marathon writing session. I didn’t enjoy that very much. The second year, I pledged to write every morning before beginning other work. Within two hours, I’d have my word count for the day and could relax knowing I was on target for the monthly goal.

This year, I have a carefully calibrated spreadsheet in which I keep my schedule. Tasks are color-coded by category: administrative tasks like answering email are highlighted in yellow, research in blue, and writing time in orange. Each hour is planned out. It gives me relief to know when a block of time is over. For instance, if I’m not in a writing groove, it’s helpful to know that I’m not expected to write until I drop. Or, if I feel eager to write that day, it makes a treat to know that once 11:00 rolls around, I get to write for three uninterrupted hours without feeling guilty I’ve neglected my email. I’m tweaking this schedule for November to include NaNoWriMo-only writing time.

We’re just about a week away from November, and while I’m very excited about Halloween, I’m looking forward to this month of drafting. How about you?

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