Editor’s Note: Each year, nearly 500,000 writers all over the world dedicate themselves to completing NaNoWriMo, a month-long sprint to write 50,000 words. This year, author and first-time participant Lou Paduano will document his experience. This is the first installment of his journey.
National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, around since 1999, now hosts millions of projects in a month-long sprint to reach a target word count of 50,000.
As many of you know…that’s a lot of words.
Despite NaNoWriMo popping up on my radar each year, this is my first time taking on the challenge.
I’ve never considered NaNoWriMo as an opportunity — and I don’t say that to sound dismissive. For me, writing was always something I did anyway. Write a book in a month? How about write a book EVERY month!
NaNoWriMo: More than just a challenge
Despite having the drive to write each and every day, though, this time, I took the leap when NaNoWriMo came around. For me it was more than just the challenge set by the site; it was a challenge to hit a difficult deadline and put writing first for one month.
Taking on a project of this magnitude always goes a little (okay, a lot) smoother with solid preparation.
How to prepare yourself to reach your NaNoWriMo goals
In order to make the most out of the experience, I wanted to hit the ground running.
To make that happen, here are five things I did to make NaNoWriMo a less stressful and (hopefully) more rewarding experience right from the start:
The “pantsers” in the audience are cringing right now. The plotters are cheering my name.
Each side has merit. But I’m on the side of the plotters, because there is no way to tackle a project this size without some direction.
Whether your plot notes are single sentenes or whole pages, break down chapters and sketch out dialogue to help stage each scene. Having that spine prior to sitting down to write each piece gives you something to fill in rather than having to pull every detail from the ether.
Outlining and organizing, of course, isn’t easy — but it’s safe to say it’ll help you stay sane later.
2. Draw out your character arcs
Alright, you caught me — this is more outlining.
But instead of plot, let’s get character centric. After all, focusing on the development of your characters is incredibly important to the overall narrative being told.
Figuring out the arc of each of the principal and secondary players on both sides of the field is crucial to making this draft a success. Not only does it help you become aware of your characters’ overall motivations throughout the work, but each arc provides an entry point into every scene either as a tension builder, background information or a direct action.
You can find a more advanced breakdown of developing character arcs in Janice Hardy’s NaNoWriMo prep article.
3. Make space in your day-to-day
I am a stay-at -home dad with two beautifully time consuming toddlers…not exactly conducive to my month-long sprint toward draft completion. I have one word for this: BABYSITTERS.
For me, it’s toddlers. For you, it might be your day job. Or your freelance clients. Or other family obligations. No matter the personal responsibilities, NaNoWriMo will be a heck of a lot harder if you don’t plan to make space around them.
I spent October planning for what I’d do with said toddlers during November. For each week, I pulled in family for babysitting duties to free up an extra four to six hours of work time (instead of my standard nap-time sprints and late-night adventures).
Ask for help. Switch up your writing space. Accept that your routine might be disrupted.
There are a million distractions in our lives. We all need exactly one million less for November, so it’s up to us to do what we can to prepare for them.
4. Prepare your research
There are always questions lingering after the outline phase.
The science or the rationale for certain actions needs to be clarified. Simple facts need to be double checked.
Setting up a system to track your questions, then figuring out some, if not all, of the answers leads to less time spent bombing around the Google machine when it comes time for drafting.
5. Choose your entry point
Do a final read-through of everything you have so far: Outline. Character arcs. Research.
Then, figure out where to start.
Getting started tends to be the hardest part — so take the path of least resistance. For me, that’s never chapter one. Look for a chapter that is screaming to get written. It could be the last chapter.
Whatever chapter has been hiding behind your eyelids every night for weeks, that is where you want to start first thing November 1.
Snag a quick victory amid a mountain of challenges for yourself. It’s what will keep you going.
What I’m working on for NaNoWriMo
During this particular NaNoWriMo challenge, I’ll be drafting The Medusa Coin, the sequel to my first novel, Signs of Portents. 50,000 words won’t be enough to cover the tale being told so I’m shooting for 85,000 as my goal for NaNoWriMo.
Go big or go home, right?
You’ll be able to follow along with my progress here (week one is below), as I chronicle my word counts, the mid-month challenges, the bribery I’m using (yeah, I said it) and more.
Week one results
Thanks to preparation based on the steps above, here’s what I was able to accomplish in week one of my first NaNoWriMo challenge.
- Word Count – 4,154
- Notes – Hit the ground running ACHIEVED. Definitely a smart idea to have a babysitter in place for opening day.
- Word Count – 2,021
- Notes – Really thought I could squeeze an extra chapter in during nap time. It’s like the kids know I have work to do!
- Word Count – 2,067
- Notes – Figured out a character’s motivation halfway through the day. Thought I had this all mapped and plotted but definitely like a surprise every now and then, especially if it makes the rest of the draft easier.
- Word Count – 4,701
- Notes – BABYSITTER DAY. Cranked out an extra chapter and planned out the weekend so I have a starting point first thing Saturday morning. Also achieved my first reward for the month – a NIGHT OFF.
- Word Count – 6,218
- Notes – It was Double-Up Day at NaNoWriMo where authors are encouraged to double their word count. I wasn’t looking to participate, but I opened the day with a much longer than expected chapter and the day rolled on from there. I doubt I’ll be seeing this number again this month but, man, it felt GREAT.
- Word Count – 5,306
- Notes – Big day today. Not the word count, but a chapter I decided to draft. One of my cast didn’t make it out alive. There were tears involved. Mostly mine. Always rough to lose a friend, even if only imaginary.
- Word Count – 2,038
- Notes – The work week returns! I knew I’d lose some momentum but, holy hell, is it difficult to crank out a chapter during nap time. Especially now that the lighter side of things are out of the way and I’m into the more involved, more detailed chapters of the draft. Work days are going to be rough.
Are you climbing this mountain with me? Let me know in the comments below. I’ll see you at the top.