It’s October, which means all of my artist friends are filling my social media feeds with beautiful pictures every day and I am insanely jealous of their talent because the best I can manage is a wonky looking paint-a-long picture done to the (brilliant, lovely) Art Sherpa‘s instructions. But for writers, the month of October is NaNoWriMo Prep Month. National Novel Writing Month is writing’s own monthly creative festival, which takes place each year in November. Instead of a picture a day, we’ll be aiming for that magic number of 1,667 words written per day, with the goal of a 50,000 word novel draft by the end of the November.
I am at this point a veteran WriMo, having been a NaNoWriMo participant nearly every year for over a decade. Unfortunately, this year things are just Too Much in my non-writing life to deal with trying to draft a new novel at the same time, so I won’t be fully participating. I do, however, enjoy the cooperative reinforcement of good daily writing habits, and so will be working on some low stress, not-for-publication work just for that, probably aiming at a much easier 1000 words a day.
I have, however, repeatedly “won” NaNoWriMo, and can offer some advice to any new WriMos on how to prepare for November:
Sign up on the Website and Fill Out Your Profile
Go to NaNoWriMo.org and sign up, fill out your profile. Add me as a writing buddy if you’d like. I’m on there as MeadhbhDhommnail. Familiarize yourself with the forums, as they’re extremely helpful when you need a bit of encouragement or get stuck. Enter your novel for this year, and donate if you can afford to do so. Your money goes toward the NaNoWriMo young writers programs to educate the next generation of writers. I always try to send a bit their way, even if it’s only $10. It adds up. You can also participate as a fundraiser, getting pledges from friends and family as you write for the month. (If you can’t afford it, well, I certainly understand. I’m a working writer too.) There are also some good preparatory resources you can find on the website. And calendars. I always love finding the perfect desktop calendar made by graphically gifted WriMos to get me through the month.
Stock Up On Easy Meals
You don’t want to have to spend time cooking or wading through the grocery store during November. NaNo is a good time to give your crockpot a workout or try once-a-week cooking. Casseroles are your friend, things you can eat for a week. You’ll also want lots and lots of snacks, healthy or not as your diet requires (and do not, please, try to start a diet just as you’re doing NaNo, you’ll set yourself up for failure, of the diet, at least). If you have the freezer space, make-ahead-and-freeze meals are a great thing to do during October so all you have to do is pull it out and bake. If you’re a caffeine addict like me, stock up on plenty of coffee in advance. Nothing is worse than running out when you’re in the middle of writing. I would, however, avoid the bourbon. A hangover in the middle of NaNo is the WORST THING.
Prepare Friends and Family
This is an important one. Your people need to know what you’re going to be doing and why it’s important to you. Let them know and ask them for their support. You’ll need it, and it makes things a lot easier when your family are willing to help you with things like chores that you don’t have time to do for that one crazy month.
Decide if you’re a Pantser or a Planner
There are two types of WriMos. “Pantsers” take a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to writing their first drafts. For most of my life, this is exactly what kind of writer I was. The more I plan a thing, the less I want to write it. If you’re a pantser? Well, this is your cue to sit back and relax and wait for November 1.
The older I get, however, the more I have become a “Plantser.” I have to be careful not to plan too much (and thus ruin the impetus to “discover” the story), but I’ve found it helpful to at least know the beats of my story before I start, so that I don’t get lost in the murky middle of my first draft. So, I at least make a rough sketch, perhaps not a fully formed, paved highway to follow….but more of a little deer trail half obscured by the weeds. Still visible, but I have to work to look for it.
But for Planners, October is the month to do that planning. Feel free to get all of your planning (or plancrastinating) done before November 1. Plan out your plot arcs, your character development. Research any obscure information you might need so you have it on hand and don’t have to look for it. Make a beat sheet or an outline. Have it done beforehand, and you’ll be able to devote November to the actual writing of the thing. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in the planning phases, though. Even the most well planned out novel still has to be written, and you won’t have time for those things in November.
Whichever you might be, spend October getting ready to write, and be prepared to turn off your inner editor for the month of November. NaNoWriMo is all about getting that first draft written. You can always make a first draft better, but you can’t do anything to make something better that hasn’t been written at all.