The leaves are turning, the temperature is falling, I even saw some snow yesterday driving home through Wyoming. All in all, it would appear that autumn is upon us. And that can mean only one thing:
It’s time to prepare for National Novel Writing Month!
I’ve talked about NaNo before, in my post on the importance of building a community of writers. I’m a big fan of NaNo and the positive pressure it provides for writers. Attempting to write 50,000 words in the month of November is a challenging yet achievable goal, and the NaNo organization provides a lot of tools to help writers accomplish it. Local liaisons, planned write-ins, timed word sprints, and more. If you haven’t looked into NaNo before, I highly encourage it.
I am now officially inviting you to join me in this 50,000 word-marathon.
My NaNo Goal
My goal this November is to finish the novel I started back in 2015, the first time I actually won NaNo. In fact, both times I’ve won (written 50,000 words), I’ve been working on this same novel. I feel it’s about time to finish it off.
Friends, I am going to be real here. I’ve never finished writing a book. I’ve started several, and I’ve done tons of research on plot structure and writing satisfying endings. But there’s a reason I’m a professional editor instead of a professional writer: I like working on other people’s work more than my own. I’m too close to my own writing. And this is why I like NaNo; it forces me to keep writing anyway.
Planning or Pantsing
Writers typically fall in one of two schools: planners or pantsers. Planners, well, plan. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants, making things up as they go. I think I actually prefer the term “discovery writer” but pantser has the nice alliteration. The first two times I won NaNo, I proceeded as a pantser. I made pretty much everything up as I went along. Characters, names, setting, plot (ish). And in a sense, it was great. I wrote a total of 100,000 words, after all. But the book still isn’t finished. And it suddenly occurred to me that I might be wrong. Maybe I wasn’t a discovery writer.
Maybe I’m a planner. Considering my personality and school experience, I’m surprised it took me as long as it did to realize I might be a planner. Every essay I wrote in college started as an outline that I then expanded into a full draft. My academic writing was more like Michelangelo’s experience with marble: Layer by layer I get closer to the final product. So why had I never written an outline for my creative writing?
Well, that’s my goal for the rest of October. I’ve been reading through what I wrote the last two times and making notes on where I want the plot to end up. I’ve started writing an outline for the book as a whole. By the end of this month, I want to have a complete outline of the plot. More than likely I will stray from the exact outline as I write in November, but at least I will have a strong idea of where I’m going.
Preparing for NaNo
So what can you do to prepare for NaNo? Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, preparation now will make the month itself smoother. At the very least, decide on your basics. Characters, setting, genre. Give some thought to POV and grammatical tense. If you’re a planner, try writing your plot in outline form. Consider filling out a character sheet for each of your main characters (including the antagonist!). Do some worldbuilding. Fill your mind with the world and people you want to write about so that by the time November comes, they’re ready to spill from your brain onto paper (or your computer screen).
And join your local NaNo community! If you’re in Fort Collins, come say hi; I’ll be at as many write-ins as I can manage. Let’s do this!