Planning is Key to NaNoWriMo Success by Christopher Alexander
NaNoWriMo candidates and participants, congratulations for joining NaNo and for committing yourself to the race. And for those who may be new to the game, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and as a participant, your goal is to write a novel in 30 days.
The thing is, it may sound a little spooky, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t focus on the end date. You really have to go through this experience in order to get the feel of what it is to be a writer; writing.
Whether you write casually and want to take a crack at this awesome event or you want to make a serious attempt at getting a book done, NaNoWriMo will put you through the wringer.
It’s a lot like running a marathon—you’ll need a game plan, focus, and know which battles to win or lose in order to win the war. Of course, following NaNo, you will need a long rest and something you enjoy doing to reset your stress level back to zero and continue with whatever you were doing before NaNoWriMo shook up your world.
I’ve done NaNo twice, and the first one left me very intimidated of the concept of having a deadline for any kind of project (I call all my works “projects,” as they’re always being tweaked and some don’t make the cut). The reason behind that is probably what I think is one of the most important things I failed to do during my first NaNoWriMo event: plan.
I think that the first week and the last week (week four) of the month are the most important ones. You have to start strong to carry through the “down time” of doing your daily activities in your daily life, and then end strong to finish your novel.
Since you really can’t plan for NaNo (seriously, you cannot have done any “pre” work besides outlining beforehand; it takes away from the point of NaNo), you really have to be willing to roll with the punches. If a character turns out to be mean and you wanted him to be the good guy, go with it because you never know where it can take you. That change alone could end up being a 10,000 word arc, and then you would only need 40,000 more words. See, it’s also important to be optimistic!
If you go against the grain with what your characters are leaning toward (yes, they’re people too), go with it; it makes writing a whole lot easier, and it can feel more organic to the reader than a forced, type-casted character. You will waste precious time and creative energy, of which you will need every ounce to finish writing. Remember, you are timed with a month-long time limit, so think about the long haul while focusing on what’s right in front of you — your potential NaNo manuscript.
And I say that you’ll need all that energy to make it through to the end because this isn’t a “write when you feel like it event”; it’s really about relying on yourself to be able to manage your time to write a novel (by NaNoWriMo’s definition, a novel is a manuscript that is at least 50,000 words) in 30 days. This includes factoring in time for school, homework, work, families, and all that other stuff you normally do.
Don’t be timid or feel like I’m discouraging you; if you know what to expect, you will be better prepared to take on this amazing event. And trust me, you have to believe in yourself; it is very crucial that you do (remember, I said to be optimistic).
For me, planning means that you’re mentally ready and just waiting to pull the trigger and go for your project. But with NaNo, it also means that if you get hit with a curve ball (e.g., your friends want to go see a movie, that paper you have for Nineteenth Century Lit. class has to be done, etc.), you will need to pick and choose which of these activities are most important. I made it through my second NaNo successfully because I had a HUGE head start—my laptop loaded Word at 11:50 p.m. on October 31, and I started writing at 12:01 a.m. on November 1, while I even had company. Before I went to bed, I had already written 10,000 words. That start saved my butt in order to make it through to the end of the month (as an English major, I have a lot to write and read apart from NaNo, and that jumpstart was more important than I realized at the very end!). What a relief it was to finally enter in my work at the end of November and see that my word count had met the criteria for NaNo.
Another thing to keep in mind is that we live in a world that’s very technologically evolved (although we’re still stuck too far in the past to be Cyber Punk, sadly). There are many applications to help us get our writing done. There are programs available for desktops and laptops and mobile devices. Whatever you choose, just be sure to ALWAYS save your work and send yourself an e-mail with it before you leave the application. You never know when the power may go out or the application might crash (Hey, nothing is perfect). Check out your respective application stores and see what pops up when you enter “text editors,” “NaNoWriMo,” “writing,” and other things that may make writing easier for you.
Remember, NaNo doesn’t care if you write your work on scratch paper or on a napkin at Denny’s, but it does have to go on the computer to be entered into their word counter at the end of the month. Go with what works best for you, even if it isn’t the flashiest thing ever. Being able to say you wrote a novel in a month for NaNo trumps the lack of flash in writing (but make sure there is flash in your writing) your manuscript, and gives you the boost of confidence you need to continue your work outside of NaNo and be on your way to calling yourself a published writer.
Best of luck, NaNonians, and remember: plan for the fact that life doesn’t like plans, and that if things get really hairy and crazy, NaNo comes around every November. Keep in mind that you will need to be optimistic and go with the flow of your characters; in the writing world, they are “The Force.”
Christopher Alexander is a fiction writer who has been writing since elementary school and reads whenever he isn’t writing. He is currently working to wrap up his first book, Confidential Confessions that is scheduled for 2012. His 2010 NaNoWriMo piece, Dual, is scheduled to be released in late 2012. You can find him on Twitter and his website.