Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved. ~ from the NaNoWriMo website
On November 1, hundreds of thousands of writers from around the world will begin National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a crazy journey to write a 50K novel in thirty days. If you’ve never participated in NaNo, you might think such a thing is an impossible feat, but it is possible and you can do it (I’ve done it twice).
But writing a novel in thirty days is not something you just dive right into, even if you use the pantser method. Planning is the key to ending up with a useable first draft instead of a manuscript made up of the phrase “I hate NaNoWriMo forever” scribbled 10,250 times.
I’m a pantser, I dive right in when I write. If you’re like me, you have an oh-so brilliant idea for a story and one or more interesting characters to populate it. If you don’t already have a vision of where the story starts, use October to think about your story world and where your storytelling will begin. Visualize the setting. Who are the characters and what are their goals? If you’ll be writing in a sci fi or fantasy world, what are the rules of this place (and/or its magic), the politics, religions? Make notes – remember nothing has to be set in stone. Doing as much pre-thinking as possible before you sit down to write will save time during NaNo and multiple your word count. You might even venture into the darker planner/plotter side and jot down ideas for scenes, perhaps even the ending of the story.
Since I’m not a major planner when I write, I defer to those writers with more experience in this area. Janice Hardy suggests the following six steps when planning your novel, whether or not you’re doing NaNoWriMo (see the complete article here with links to more posts about planning your novel).
- Is your goal to complete a 50K novel or the first 50K of a longer one? Answering this question first will help with pacing and plotting.
- Write a pitch line or several sentences of what the story is about. Clarifying the central conflict of the novel will make it easier to plot and will give clear goals for your protagonist (and antagonist).
- List the major points of your story (Hardy calls these set pieces): the opening, inciting event, first major crisis, midpoint reversal, and the second major crisis, point of no return, climax. These can be vague or set guidelines of where your story needs to go.
- Write a rough synopsis. This expands on steps 2 and 3 and will give you more of a guide to where your story is heading.
- Write a rough outline (Hardy considers this optional). Detailed or not, it will help break the novel into manageable pieces over the 30 days of NaNo.
- “Write down any other ideas about the novel…think of it like an idea bank for later.” Snippets of ideas could become scene sparkers or come in handy in other ways you can’t foresee.
If you follow Janice Hardy’s six steps in advance of NaNoWriMo (or any other novel project), you’ll have a good overview of the novel you want to write – and “don’t worry if it’s vague as long as you can see a story unfolding there.”
There’s a protag with a problem, a series of attempts to solve that problem, a conflict keeping them from their goal, stakes if they fail, and a resolution to the problem. If you have that, you have a much better chance of avoiding writer’s block during the month and actually finishing the novel. ~ Janice Hardy
Does writing a novel in 30 days sound so impossible now? If you’ve put off writing that novel you’ve always wanted to write, make this the year you follow through. Sign up for National Novel Writing Month at NaNoWriMo.org and begin planning your novel now. And if you’re still not convinced it can be done, check this list of WriMos who have gone on to publish their NaNo manuscripts (like Sara Gruen and her Water for Elephants).
Are you doing NaNo this year? Why or why not?
Janice Hardy has more in-depth articles about planning for a successful NaNoWriMo in the following posts and in her archives: NaNoWrMo Prep: Planning Your Novel’s Beginning and NaNoWrMo Prep: Planning Your Novel’s Middle.