Tuesday, October 23, 2012

3 Tips to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo (Nat'l Novel Writing Month) for the first time and penned the (most of) the first draft of Emily's Trial in 30 days, and 'won' NaNoWriMo. Phew! It was exhausting, but also highly productive. And now, a year later, much like the pain of childbirth, I've forgotten what I vaguely recall as a bit hellish and I've committed to doing it again! 

Why? Because now I've got the paperback of Emily's Trial, my NaNoWriMo novel, staring at me and I know that I wouldn't have met my promise to get it to readers in the Fall of this year if I hadn't poured out the first 50,000 last November.

I learned a few things from the experience last year and I'm sharing:

1. Stock Your Freezer! For thirty days, you need to sit your butt in the chair, strap your fingers to the keys, and type your heart out. If you want to 'win' NaNoWriMo, you need to hit a word count of 1,666.66 words per day (but who's counting). And if you're an American, you'll likely take off at least one day for Thanksgiving feasting, football and elastic waistband wearing. So if you account for 5 days off in November (Thanksgiving + one day each weekend), you're word count just went up 2,000 words per day, six days a week. For those of us who are more sporadic-prolific than plodding along each day and meeting a word count prolific, this is a lofty goal.

For you NaNo virgins, take this piece of advice - seriously. Cook your pants off now, and fill your freezer with ready-made meals that you can pop into the oven. Last year, I did not prepare for this and gained 8 pounds in one month! Okay, Thanksgiving was in there with pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and ladles of gravy. And sure, I munched Halloween candy like like a whale sucking in krill. But both myself and my poor family succumbed to food out of boxes and bags far too many days last November.

You're getting ready for a writing marathon, not a sprint. You need to prepare you mind - and body - for day-in and day-out writing.

When you're engrossed wholly in your story (as you must be to make NaNoWriMo work), you are not going to want to think about 'what's for dinner?' If you fill your freezer with homemade food, you can pull it out in the morning before you set to work. And you'll have the leftovers for lunch the next day.

I took my own advice and did my own day-long cooking marathon last weekend. I created seven dishes in about six hours and stocked my freezer.

Ingredients at the Ready - Time to Cook

Really cooking!
One Recipe, two meals. Boosh!

My freezer is now full of healthy soups, stews, casseroles and a few comfort food dishes, all sans MSG and mega doses of salt. Now all I have to do is add some steamed veggies or a salad. How easy is that? No more bags or boxes.

2. Playlist Created & Writing Tools Gathered. For some of us, a 'soundtrack' for our novel is imperative. I've done this from day one of my writing. In fact, my idea for a work in progress, H.A.L.F., came straight from a song. And songs inspire scenes and imagery. If you haven't tried this before, give it a test. If you use iTunes, I've found it very helpful in creating 'soundtracks' for my novels. Use Genius and the sidebar to find tunes that are similar to a few of your inspiration songs.

My playlist for my NaNo novel, Emily's Heart, includes Mumford & Sons, Parachute, Christina Perri and Snow Patrol (among others). I play it while I'm driving, brushing my teeth, pissing away the afternoon on the internet. The songs create the mood of my novel and many of them represent emotions of certain characters at various stages of the work. 

While I write, I do NOT listen to my soundtrack, opting instead for ephemeral, mediatative music. I don't want someone else's words in my head :-) But the soundtrack is essential to help me stay in the mood of the story even when not writing.

Other tools and essentials? For me, plenty of black tea, a fresh Moleskine, lined notebook, Dr. Grip pen, some strong coffee, a good bar of very dark chocolate, Scrivener, and all ringers off on all phones. (Sorry mom, I'm not even taking your calls when writing.)

My office and iPhone are ready for NaNoWriMo:

3. SnowFlake it, Outline it, Think it, Breathe it, PLAN IT! I'm not going to lie to you. As I write this, it's only ten days until NaNoWriMo 2012 begins, and if you haven't already planned what you're going to write, you better get crackin! Best practice would have been to start planning probably 2-3 months ago. True Confession: I haven't outlined my project yet. I haven't snowflaked it either. I've got ideas and notes written in notebooks and some character stuff in Scrivener. I know the big picture idea of what needs to happen. BUT I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT I'M GOING TO WRITE ON DAY 1! I'm scared.
Don't let this be you during NaNoWriMo - PLAN!
The good news: It's not too late to get a clue. If you apply yourself each day and put in as much time now as you plan to put in during NaNoWriMo, you can have a decent outline or other type of plan for what you're going to write.

Last year, I used the Snowflake method to plan Emily's Trial. It worked pretty well. I was glad to have done that work before I sat down to write on November 1. But about 25% in, I was lost. I was trying to follow my plan, but it didn't feel right. And I'd created a much more detailed plan for 'Act 1', but a very sketchy plan for the rest. I had writer's block for the first time in my life. 

How did I break past it? I broke out of the narrative and did a Q&A with my character about setting. What do you smell? What do you see? Hear? etc. This was an incredibly useful technique for moving me past my blockage. And the details revealed helped me to create a richer setting - and helped me see what Emily was feeling at that moment in the story.

But you know what's even better for combatting writer's block? Having a plan! Another resource I recommend is using Scott Bell's Plot & Structure. For commercial fiction, I've never come across any book better for helping me plan a novel. Go through it chapter by chapter and use Bell's structure to think out your whole novel before you begin.

Food Ready. Workspace cleared. Playlist Created. Plan of Action. Boosh!

You can do it. Now get to work!


  1. I like the idea to pre-cook and to listen to music to keep you in the mood (I actually developed a playlist for my first novel, albeit mostly after the fact).

    I don't plan or outline my stuff much (if at all) before I write it, though. My first novel had no plan past the first two chapters! I didn't even know how it was going to end until I was almost done with it. And I don't write in order, either; I write scenes as I think of them, then eventually start piecing them together.

    This probably means I have to spend more time editing later, but that's okay with me. I feel like I get to know my characters better because I spend more time with them. But if you hate editing, it's probably better to plan first!

    1. Thanks for the comment Keri. I find that I plan it, then meander away from the plan quite a bit, then find my way back! I found that planning more for the last novel made the editing easier and faster, which meant I could get the book out to fans faster. I'd like to start getting two novels published per year, instead of one.

      But in the long run, however you get it done and whatever feels good - do it!

      Thanks for stopping by today :-)

    2. Hi Natalie, although I do not have the time to devote to NaNo, I am going to follow up on your recommendation re Bell's Plot and Structure book. I am on the verge of finishing Book Two in my trilogy and have written both books as a "Pantser" but, now I feel the need to be more organized (and to do so is a bigger challenge for me that NaNo would ever be!) Good luck in November. :-)

    3. Glad to know you're finishing book 2 because I can't wait to read it! I've been an outliner and a pantser. I find that I like to have at least a broad brushstroke of a plot and detailed character studies before I begin.
      Thanks for stopping by and for commenting :-)

  2. There was a fellow author to whom I occasionally bumped into at book signings in Colonial Williamsburg. I called her Dr. Goose. (A history Ph.D. with a Mother Goose kind of air.) She wrote historical-fiction, as do I, and often talked of this NaNoWriMo business. She indulged her grey cells every year and encouraged me to do so. To date, I cannot find the wherewithal to do so :D (She also travels to Spain and France each year to walk some pilgrimage. I am not ever going to France to substitute a religious walk for shopping and dining! She's clearly a saint of some sort.)

    Like you, I write very sporadically. The thought of a schedule or having to do anything specific every day makes me shudder. I tip my hat to you, Miss Natalie. You're a better bear than I!

    I do have to say though, that your release of "Emily's Trial" alighted a sharp fire under my beach bum to get back to work seriously on Book IV in my "Savannah of Williamsburg" series. (Researching and outlining for a year, no actual narrative yet.)

    I love the high of a release date and my natural, innately Only Child-jealousy of your release date manifested itself in the following conversation betwixt Me and Myself.

    Read as: (Myself) Snow White, (Me) Liz Lemon.

    Myself: "How wonderful for Natalie! I'm so happy for her! It's all so exciting! What a gorgeous cover, to boot!"

    Me: "Stupid Savannah Squirrel. Why don't you do something? You've done nothing since 1735. Why don't I have a new release date coming?"

    Myself: "You must finish another book to have another release date."

    Me: "I know that!"

    Myself: "Well, you shan't release Book IV if you simply research. Start writing and challenge yourself to finish Chapter One."

    Me: "Why are you so mean to me?! Ooh, I hope I win that arm band!"

    Bonne Chance in November! ;)

    1. LOL Jennifer - I can relate. Research, research then take notes, take notes. Delaying the most awful part of writing - writing the first words! But methinks 'Myself' has something there! Get to it m'lady and have fun back East. And best wishes on winning that armband.

  3. Wishes have nothing to do with winning the arm band ... why do you think I'm going to Salem? :D

  4. I like your blog post. Keep on writing this type of great stuff. I'll make sure to follow up on your blog in the future.
    ISDN Configuration

    1. Thanks Sandy, and glad you liked it. And thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment :-)

  5. Absolutely useful! I may have missed the part where I full the freezer with homemade stuff, but my daughters are old enough to cook. I made them my deveoted partners!
    Thanks and have great Nano!!
    With great respect! A.

    1. So glad you found it helpful :-) And best wishes on your NaNo! Thanks for reading and commenting too ;-)


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