If you’re thinking of getting involved with NaNoWriMo this year, you might be wondering where to even begin. Maybe it’s the first time you’ve taken part, maybe you’ve done it before. Whatever the scenario, undertaking the writing of 50,000 words in 30 days is no mean feat! I’ve done it once before and I’m planning to take part again this year. So with that in mind, I’ve put together this guide to NaNoWriMo prep.
Some people are really organised when it comes to NaNoWriMo. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people. However, there are some things I’ve learned in the last few years about ‘plotting’ and ‘pantsing’ when it comes to preparation. In this post, I’m going to look at some of them and hopefully help you work out how to approach your own NaNoWriMo prep plan.
It might be that you don’t think you need to do any preparation for the writing challenge. That may well be the case, but it never hurts to gather some preliminary ideas and information before you even start writing. Let’s jump in and look at some tips for where to start.
NaNoWriMo prep: when to begin
The obvious time to begin prepping for NaNoWriMo is the month of October, or Preptober as some in the writing community refer to it as. Lots of writers tend to block off these four weeks as a research and preparation period. You can, however, start preparing for writing at any point in the year before November 1st!
There are no hard and fast rules regarding time frames for writing prep. In fact, it’s a good idea to collect your ideas, information and research as a year-round process. Carry a journal or notebook and jot down ideas as they come to you. Get inspired by your surroundings, take photos and scrapbook them ready to refer back to in November. Journalling can really help you reorganise your ideas into coherent plans, especially when you feel you’re struggling with writer’s block.
What should I be doing in preparation for writing?
Really, there are lots of things you can do to help get yourself ready to write. There are those of us who can sit down at the keyboard on November 1st and just start creating. However for many of us, the blinking of the cursor on that blank page can be intimidating to say the least. One of the best things I think you can do to prepare for this scenario is to form a daily writing habit.
Daily writing practice
Now, I don’t mean you should be aiming for NaNoWriMo style writing in the weeks leading up to the event. But, doing a little writing each day can help you form a habit! Even if it’s a few lines here and there, spending 10 minutes a day writing something, anything, will help you form a creative pattern in your mind. Some ideas of things to get you started with this might be:
- Short poems
- A set of writing prompts to refer back to
- Descriptive sentence work
- Story beats as ideas
- Character profiles
- A journal entry about your day
- Compiling lists of exciting vocabulary
The point here is that it doesn’t really matter what you’re writing, as long as you’re doing a little bit of it each day. That way, the practice of wrtiting a chunk of your novel each day won’t come as such a shock to the system come November.
It sort of goes without saying, but one of the best bits of NaNoWriMo prep you can do without a huge amount of effort is reading. Try and take some time to read as widely as you can in the months before and after November. The more you expose your imagination to new worlds and ideas, the broader your own will become.
In addition, you should try to develop the skill of reading critically. This will help you to hone your own writing craft when working on your own novel. There are lots of books and online resources you can use to help you develop this skill. Stephen King’s On Writing, for example, gives great insight into his grasp of the craft.
Essentially though, look at sentence structure, composition of dialogue, vocabulary. How does one writer create scenes and characters, and how does this differ from another writer? Read widely and critically. It will help you improve your own work.
You can make a start on plotting the points of your novel ahead of November. For many people, this is actually a really good idea. Having a defined structure for writing, no matter how loosely or tightly-defined, can help you achieve the end goal of actually finishing your book.
One resource I’d recommend to help you start structuring your basic plot is a book called ‘Take Off Your Pants’ by Libbie Hawker. The ‘pants’ here refer to those writers amongst us (like myself) who tend to fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to writing. Instead of doing that, Hawker encourages you to create a simple plot structure that will help you to actually get your book written.
Having a solid plot with carefully planned-out action points can make a real difference. It’s the plotting that will ensure your story doesn’t turn into waffle halfway through. I’m hoping to incorporate more plotting into my own writing this year!
Character and world-building
These are two things you can absolutely start doing in advance of writing and probably should do, in fairness. In order to have a rich, deep understanding of your characters and the world they inhabit, you need to spend some time building them. Learn about who they are, what makes them tick and what makes them struggle internally. You want to create characters that your reader will root for, dislike, actually care about. That way, they’re much more likely to stay engaged with your story.
Make your characters believable by building them biographies and backstories. Ensure they’re well-rounded and carefully thought out. You can use a range of resources to help you do this, which I’ll link in my next post on character building.
The same goes for the world your characters will live in. Do some research, make a plan. Draw diagrams of your story’s locations and map out timelines for your fictional world too. The more effort you put into this part of your NaNoWriMo prep, the easier it will be to create an immersive, engaging world in your actual novel.
Other important parts of NaNoWriMo prep: environment
Another thing not to overlook when preparing for NaNoWriMo is your physical environment. Do you have a space for writing set up in your home? If not, now’s the time to create one. You need to carve out a little area for yourself where you can work, undisturbed, for at least an hour or so each day. You’re far more likely to succeed in your writing challenge if you set this environment up in advance!
Make sure it’s light, comfortable and non-distracting. You could spend hours on Pinterest or Instagram looking for writing den inspiration if you wanted to, but essentially all you need is a quiet, uncluttered, comfortable area with as much natural light as possible.
Ensure that your family or whoever lives in your household is in the loop about NaNoWriMo and understands that you’ll need time to work on it throughout the month. Undertaking a writing challenge of this level requires discipline, and not just from you! Make sure that the people around you can respect and enable your need for writing time. It will make a huge difference in your ability to actually get this done.
Creating a schedule
This may work for some people more than others, but you could set yourself a writing schedule. If it helps to commit one to paper, feel free to do Otherwise, work out when your most productive and creative time of the day is and set that aside in your mind as your daily writing time. Many people are liklier to achieve results when they stick to a preplanned schedule, so if that’s something that works for you, by all means create one ahead of November 1st.
Bringing it all together
By now you may have a few more ideas for how you can start your own NaNoWriMo prep. Whether its putting together a scrapbook for your ideas or committing to a daily writing practice, you can do it! The most important thing is that you just make a start. As cliche as it sounds, you need to just grab the bull by the horns with NaNoWriMo. Jump in and make a start today!
What are your thoughts on NaNoWriMo prep? Are you planning to take the plunge this year as well? If so, let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you. Also, if you have any tips on how you go about your own NaNoWriMo prep, please share them with us in the comments too!
As always, you can catch up with me over on Twitter, and don’t forget to check out some of my other NaNoWriMo posts if you’re looking for ideas and inspiration. If you’ve found this post helpful then please do give it a share or a pin on Pinterest. Good luck with your writing!