Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Preparing for #NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month has a special place in my heart. It was the impetus that sat me down in front of the computer every day in November when I thought I had something better to do, and made me spill those 1,500 words out on the digital page.

Some days were more effective than others. The beginning was easy; the middle, long and dragging; the ending (the last 20,000 words) took me two days to write, and that was even after I'd reached the 50,000-word goal and the month was over. Just because you reach 50k doesn't mean the book is done!

It's one of my favorite manuscripts now. It's the one I'm still revising and planning to take to agents later this month. And I might not have ever finished it if it weren't for NaNoWriMo.

Accountability. As I see it, the biggest benefit of NaNoWriMo is the built-in accountability. Every day you're supposed to log in and record your current word count. The website calculates how many words you wrote that day, and displays your totals on a really nifty little chart.

My progress from 2012, when I finally exceeded the daily goal.
I can't describe how satisfying it is to punch that number in and see your project grow and grow, gradually climbing toward that 50,000-word goal.

Community. You and I are not the only ones trying to write a book in a month. The community both on and on Twitter bursts into full bloom during November. The #NaNo hashtag is a surefire way to find other people doing the same thing you are--and I probably grew my follower count by 150+.

We become each other's cheerleaders. We shout our victories and others applaud. We talk incessantly about our projects. We start living and breathing writing for one month. It's much easier to sit in front of the keyboard and write when it's become your whole world. (You may find yourself sitting at your desk at your day job, thinking about nothing but what happens next. That's totally normal! And it's awesome!)

Preparation. The key to successfully completing NaNoWriMo is having an idea in advance of what you're getting yourself into. A lot of folks pants it; that's fine. If you're a pantser, and you know that's your style--go for it.

I'm more of a planner, but not to any extreme. I won't go into a project without at least having a starting image and an ending image. (I could write a whole post about this--and maybe I will someday--but I do this primarily because endings and beginnings are so important; they should have adequate contrast and parallel in order to feel satisfying to the reader, and so that's where I start with planning a novel.)

But the most effective preparation I did for last year's NaNo was this: a writing sample. The rules of the game are pretty clear: it doesn't matter if you've already started writing the manuscript, as long as you write 50,000 words by the end of the month.

Which is actually quite freeing. I was able to sit down weeks before November 1st and start playing with the style, tone, and voice of my upcoming novel. What did I want this manuscript to sound like? Who were my heroes? I wrote both character introductions--both of which I ended up scrapping before going live. I wrote sample sections from later in the story; important events that would need to happen sooner or later. It was a great exercise.

Finishing. I didn't finish my manuscript by the end of the month, though I did hit the 50,000-word goal. Because, frankly, 50,000 words is not a finished product. Maybe--maybe--if you're writing middle-grade, sure. Okay. But for 90% of us? You'll need to keep going.

The great thing about NaNoWriMo is the state of mind it creates. You get used to writing 1,500 words each day, or playing catch-up if you didn't meet your goal the day before. You become a total boss at finding bits and pieces of time to write whenever you can.

So you'll still finish, even once you've passed the November finish line.

I hope you'll be participating in National Novel Writing Month with me!

Read more of Kiersi's writing advice on her blog, The Prolific Novelista, or follow her on Twitter at @kiersi.


  1. I'm doing it this year! It's my first time and I can't wait. I've been thinking about outlining and looking at the calendar and I hope to have a good outline before November gets here. I am really looking forward to diving right in and meeting other writers. Getting excited!

    1. Awesome!! This is your first time? Oh boy. I'll be watching your blog closely. Last year was my first time and it was so wild!

  2. Great post--and timely. Thinking about doing it this year! Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Kristine! I hope you'll join us this year. It'll be a ton of fun!

  3. I did NaNo for two years (2010,2011) and have found that it doesn't quite work for me. I am a slow writer and tend to average a little below the NaNo speed when I'm at my best writing pace. I also want to write longer pieces than the 50k NaNo minimum. So I've devised a system that works best for me that I call ExtendoWriMo, writing 90k in the months of October and November. This year's draft is coming along pretty well, and I'm looking forward to the halftime boost that I get when so many of my friends start their NaNo on November 1. Good luck this time around!

    1. I like that idea! I'm also thinking of doing a revised version in which I can still channel all the energy of November...

  4. I found you on twitter, you lot seem awesome, I'm going to hang around.

    I am so doing it this year, that's if my brain decides to focus on just one plot and give me names for my characters. I've redecorated my blog and I'm going to use it as my motivator.

    I've even found some other writers near me, so even if I don't win I'll still make some new friends ( that will ever happen.)

  5. I've always been interested in participating in NaNoWriMo, but I'm afraid I'm too busy this year. Plus, I don't have a new project I can tackle. My problem is I have too many started that need to be finished. lol But maybe next year. :D