NaNoWriMo Prep: 8 Things to Do Before NaNoWriMo Starts

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It’s that time of year again, when the leaves start to fall, the crisp air bites at your cheeks, and all of the coffee shops are full of the smell of pumpkin… and crazed over-caffeinated writers preparing for the impending storm. Okay, that might be a bit dramatic, but for people like me, this is the month of readying yourself for the battle against a novel that seemingly never wants to be written. Ideas for stories or novels swarm my brain on a regular basis, but as soon as NaNoWriMo is in arm’s-reach, it’s like they go into hiding.

There are millions of things we suddenly remember while NaNoWriMo is in progress that we wish we would have thought about before–or, at least, that’s the case for me. So I took it upon myself last year to keep a little ongoing list of all the things that I should have done before NaNoWriMo started. Here are some things you can think about or start working on now to have a more productive November.

Find Character Inspiration and Names:
We all know the struggle of character naming in the heat of the moment. Even if you are a “pantser” at heart, you know the time that building a character can take away from your word count. So why not do some minimal planning and figure out your characters before you have to stress about them?

Create/ Brainstorm your Cover Art:
If you are anything like me, you know the pain of going onto the NaNoWriMo forums and seeing all the beautiful cover art all ready in the signatures of all the eager and prepared Wrimos. You try to ignore them, but in the back of your mind, every sentence you write is backed up with an unbearable longing for your own cover. For me, it was my greatest downfall and distraction in the first week of last year’s festivities, and I will definitely be working on mine before November this year.

Research your Genre and Take Note of Any Applicable Conventions:
This is a great thing to do, especially if it is your first time writing within this genre. Knowing the conventions or other common features of your genre will really help you get in the groove, and it’s one less thing you will need to research when you get started.

Do the Math, Plan Your Numbers for the Month:
If you are a student or work full-time, you will need to work around your life’s schedule to win NaNoWriMo. The lovely word count tool on the website will try to tell you that you need to write roughly 1600 words a day, but for some people that’s simply not doable. So go through your schedule, find the best writing days, and try to amp up your word count on those days. This is also good if you suffer from chronic stress and need to give yourself a little break once or twice a week from novel land. If you need a few days off, just calculate that into your weekly numbers and make sure that you can make up for them on another day. The biggest part of NaNoWriMo is keeping a steady pace and making sure you take care of yourself and life outside your novel, as well.

Book Some Days Off for Catch Up or Damage Control:
This one kind of ties in with the last tip. Slipping and falling behind is pretty easy to do–life happens and you can’t expect the world to stop for NaNoWriMo (not yet at least). If you can afford to do so, I highly recommend keeping at least one day near the middle and end of the month dedicated to catching up. I personally keep a few days closer to the beginning of the month to get ahead so that I can focus on all my duties as a Municipal Liaison, and that works best for me.

Figure Out Your Goals and Rewards:
I’m a big believer in setting goals and planning rewards for when goals are achieved. If you are someone who finds themselves unmotivated often, then you should definitely set multiple short-term goals and rewards, such as for every 10,000 words written. But if you just need that one big push to get to the end, give yourself one big end goal and work towards that. Every year my reward is a winner shirt for the year and a big celebratory dinner with all the friends that had to put up with crazy-NaNoWriMo-me.

Prepare Your Inner Editor:
I want to talk more about this in a later post, but for now, I am going to explain what you can do to get ready for your novel frenzy month. Any seasoned Wrimo knows that the biggest word count killer is your inner editor. That little voice in your head that moves your fingers to that backspace button, makes you read back 8 pages, or convinces you to delete whole chapters. You need to start training yourself to fight against that little voice. I have some tips and tricks to help you beat it once and for all, but right now, you can start by practicing the ever so simple mantra “write now, edit later.” It will seriously change the way you write anything and everything. There are settings for you to turn off your word-processors editing tools if that helps you at all, but just start practicing, I promise it will make a huge difference.

Clear Your Workspace and Computer of Distractions:
Nothing is better than a well-organized workspace. All your references in order, the perfect little spot for your coffee… it all helps everything flow better when things are in place. I always make sure to clean up my computer while I’m in the cleaning mood. I hide all the distracting files or games in a folder and flood my desktop with motivational quotes and inspirational images or references. It’s really helped me out when I am looking around for something to distract myself.

How do you prepare for NaNoWriMo? Will you be trying any of these tips this October? Let us know!


Mazie-Bishop

Mazie Bishop is a fiery 23 year-old writer and journalism graduate from Canada. She is self-published and also has several poems and short fiction pieces published in various anthologies and magazines. Currently, she is in the process of writing her second novel, and is in the outlining stages of a quarter-life memoir. You can read about her little crafty adventures, read her work, and gander at her photos on www.theselittlepieces.com.

Finding Balance: Why I Shouldn’t Have Done NaNoWriMo This Year

With 5 days left in the month, I crossed the 50k finish line and nabbed my NaNoWriMo 2014 “win”.

I use the term “win” loosely, because – and this is a horrible confession for me to make – I truly feel like I shouldn’t have participated in NaNoWriMo this year.

In the past, NaNoWriMo has done wonderful things for me. It’s bolstered my confidence in my ability to write every day and it’s produced interesting and impressive pieces of writing. And above all, it has connected me with other writers who are just as enthusiastic about writing as I am.

However, this year NaNo went a bit south for me. While I pounded out those 50k words, dutifully writing nearly every day this month, I did so for no other reason than to get the 50,000 words done with.

I’ve hated everything I’ve written this November – and sure, that may just be my inner-critic talking, but going off past experiences, this manuscript is so far from saving (even with some heavy editing), that I feel I truly wasted my time writing what turned out to be a mere shadow of what someone might call a “novel”. It wasn’t at all what I had envisioned for the story or the characters. After all is said and done, I feel like I took a promising idea and mutilated it.

But here’s the thing: it’s my fault that I feel this way about this year’s NaNoWriMo experience. I knew, going into November, that I had next to no free time. That doing NaNo would mean less sleep – which leads to less energy and creativity – which leads to less fruitful writing. And instead of saying to myself: “Maybe I should sit this one out and focus on creating a smaller amount of high-quality writing”, I raced head-long into the gauntlet that is NaNo.

The result has been a month filled with stress, frustration, and negative self-talk.

As a disclaimer, I want to say that this post is in no way meant to discourage people from taking on the NaNo challenge. It’s only to make the point that sometimes you need to be honest with yourself about your limitations. By all means, take risks and push yourself with your writing. But don’t lose sight of your own mental, emotional, and physical health. Make sure you have the time – or can feasibly MAKE the time – to take on a month-long novel-writing marathon, before you sign up.

So I learned something valuable this November: If you know with certainty that you are too busy to churn out a sloppy, yet satisfying 50,000 words, take a break from the writing craziness and focus your efforts on creating what you can.

I’ll be wearing my NaNo winner’s shirt come December 1st, but I’ll be feeling like I did anything but win.

~

How did your NaNoWriMo experience measure up this year? Hopefully better than mine! What did you learn about yourself and your writing? Tell me in the comments below!

NaNo Prep: Making the Most of the Last Week of October

The clock is ticking. Only one week to go until NaNoWriMo. Just 7 days standing between you and your next novel.

Are you ready?

If not, here’s a last-minute guide to help you make sure you’re prepared for the month-long writing marathon.

Get your outline in order if you’re a planner
Get that outline cleaned up. Finish naming your characters and sketching out your villains. Clean it all up to make the writing process smoother once November 1st rolls around.

Start cooking ideas if you’re a pantser
Even if you prefer writing by the seat of your pants, it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about your story. Get a few ideas bouncing around you brain (What genre are you writing? Who is your protagonist?) and let them simmer over the next week.

Tell your friends and family that you’re participating in NaNoWriMo NOW
Seriously, send out a mass text or a Facebook post. Make an announcement with a mega-phone. Tell everyone you know that you’re doing NaNo. This not only keeps you on track (there’s nothing worse than a judgmental look from your significant other followed up with “why aren’t you writing?”), but it also lets the important people in your life know you’ll be busier than usual for the next month.

Set your daily word count goal now
How many days do you want to write each day in November? Do you want to do the standard 1,667 words per day? Do you want to write double that each day and be done by mid-November. Do you want to write less during the week and more during the weekend? Figure it out now and then stick to it come November.

Sign up for the Writember Workshop
Need help staying on track during November? Our very own Faye Kirwin is running a workshop that will keep you writing. For more info or to sign up, click here.

Get your playlists in order
Take some time to hand-pick your music before NaNo starts. Doing this will keep  you inspired through the month AND it saves you from creating more and falling into a pit of procrastination when you should be writing next month.

Create your Pinterest inspiration boards
Pin to your heart’s content. If you’re constantly looking for visual inspiration, create a board full of inspiring photos or quotes that will keep you writing through November.

Stock up on the snacks
Or coffee, tea, alcohol, etc. Make sure you’ve got enough of your favorite munchies to fuel your writing…at least for the first couple days of NaNo!

Pre-write your November blog posts
Or at least outline them. Instead of having to break from your NaNo novel to write your weekly blog post, get it done now.

Get pumped with pre-NaNo sprints
Head over to our Twitter account for sprinting throughout the week and get the creative juices pumping!

~

What do you have left to do to prep for NaNoWriMo? Let us know in the comments below!

NaNoWriMo Prep: Becoming a Pantser

A Pantser is Born
I’m VERY excited for NaNoWriMo this year. I’m sure we all are, but I’m excited because something new has happened. Something weird and strange and entirely out of character for me. You guys: I think I’ve become a Pantser.

It wasn’t until I read Cristina’s latest post that I began to identify what had been taking place during my NaNo “prep” – for once I wasn’t really prepping at all. I wasn’t outlining and I wasn’t picking out character names or world building. I wasn’t doing any planning. I was just…ready to wing it come November 1st.

Metamorphosis
Did you guys know that scientists STILL don’t fully understand HOW a caterpillar turns into a butterfly? Seriously, they don’t. Sure they go into their cocoons, but researchers can’t quite pin-point the details of how a little worm becomes a fragile, winged creature. I’m serious (hear more about it on Radiolab if you’re interested)!

My current transformation from Planner to Pantser kind of feels like a mysterious metamorphosis, too. I’m not sure when it started happening, or HOW, but I’ve noticed a huge difference in the way I’ve been approaching NaNoWriMo this year.
For those of you who don’t know, I’ve always considered myself to be a die-hard Planner. In past Octobers, I’ve always meticulously outlined and set up blank files in Scrivener for each and every scene in my yet-to-be-written book. And up until recently, I always regarded Pantsers as a different breed of writers. A wilder, more spontaneous kind.

But now I’m here, on October 11 – less than 20 days from the start of the biggest writing event of the year – and I have done absolutely zero planning.

Old Habits Die Hard
Okay, so I’ve done a little bit of planning. Shhh, don’t tell the rest of the Pantsers!

I do have a concept for my NaNo novel, and I have a main character in mind. I’m not running into NaNoWriMo entirely blind – I’m not that courageous! At least not yet. But these ideas haven’t touched paper.

Sorry, I don’t think you guys understand how big of a deal this is for me: I haven’t written ANYTHING down. Nothing. This coming from the woman who writes down things like “charge phone” on her to-do list just to have it written down.

Aftermath
I’m excited to see how NaNo goes with my new pantsing approach. But I’m also terrified. Will I run out of ideas or inspiration one week into November? Maybe half-way through? Will my story be full of plot holes and will some characters have no names? Will some have names I use interchangeably because I can’t remember who is who? Will my story make any sense? Will it be any good?

I’ll admit, I swaddled myself in a pretty thick blanket of panic the other day when I realized I had next to nothing prepared for NaNo yet. But I remembered by days as a Planner (aaaahh the good ol’ days) and recalled that having an outline didn’t make me feel any better about my NaNo projects. It never guaranteed that my writing itself would be good. Or that the story wouldn’t develop a bad case of plot-holes. Everyone has these worries. It’s part of being a writer.

So I’m embracing my new-found urge to start writing from scratch on November 1st. Maybe it’ll be a huge mistake. But maybe it’ll be wonderful.

~

Are you a Planner or Pantser (or a mix of the two)? Tell us about your NaNoWriMo Prep – or lack thereof –  in the comments below.

Harnessing the Power of Camp NaNoWriMo

I’m starting this post off with an apology.  To my fellow word sprinters and writers: I’m sorry I’ve been so absent over the last month! If you haven’t noticed my radio silence, it’s because Faye and Cristina have done some a wonderful job of keeping the site and word sprints running while I’ve been MIA.

Now, I have a hundred excuses as to why I haven’t written a Sprint Shack post or hosted any word sprints in the last few weeks, but none of them are really good enough. When you love writing, you shouldn’t let anything get in the way. So I wanted to return to Sprint Shack with a short post about the power of Camp NaNoWriMo and getting yourself back into the writing game.

Over the last month, I’ve managed to barely keep myself on track with the short fiction posts for my personal site and meet my Write Chain goal each day.

But because of all the other things that were happening in my life, I began to resent the fact that I was sitting down every day to write. I had a million and three things to do – I couldn’t afford to be sitting around for an hour each day, writing a bunch of fiction.

So my writing suffered. My heart wasn’t in it, and I could see that my stories were forced, my writing unimaginative. I missed loving to write. I wanted to look forward to that hour of writing like I used to. But I didn’t know how. And the more mediocre my writing became, the more unmotivated I was to write, and the more my writing suffered. It was a vicious circle.

When the end of June rolled around and I began to see tweets about Camp NaNoWriMo, I wondered if I should even bother signing up. But after some contemplation, I realized that if I gave up on Camp NaNo, I may as well give up on my writing.

So I set my word count goal low and spent the first week of Camp NaNo putting off actually starting my new novel.

After 7 days of no progress with my Camp NaNo project, things were looking bleak.

But then I logged into my NaNo account and checked out all the messages left in my cabin’s chat section.

These people were so excited. They were writing and loving it! They were complaining about blocks and joking about ways to get over them. They were supporting one another and giving updates on milestones that they’d reached with their projects.

It was infectious! I couldn’t help but want to join in. And so I did – I began writing. And not out of a sense of obligation, but from a place of curiosity. I wanted to see what I could do. Even if it ended up being horrible, I wanted to write the story that had been taking up space in my head for weeks.

Since then, I haven’t been able to stop. I’ve been writing like crazy and loving it.

I realize that what I was missing was the camaraderie. I’d used the excuse of being too busy and then sequestered myself off from the freedom of word sprints and encouragement that comes from interacting with the wonderful community of writers that I used to be so involved in.

All I needed was to realize that I wasn’t alone. Everyone feels this way about their writing at times. Everyone thinks they’re no good and that they don’t have time to spend writing below-par stories. Yes, writing is inherently a solitary pursuit. But it doesn’t mean we have to go it alone.

I’m feeding off this positive energy of other writers during Camp NaNo and using it to fuel my own writing.

If you’re in a writing rut, I recommend jumping into Camp NaNo or joining in on some of our Twitter word sprints. Let go of the excuses and enjoy writing again.

~

Are you guys participating in Camp NaNo this month? Tell me why you’re NaNo-ing in the comments below!

Write What You Want; How I Won (But Really Lost) Camp NaNoWriMo

I lost at Camp NaNo this year, guys.

Well, technically, I “won.” I have my word count validated and the winner’s goodies secured. And in all fairness to myself, I did write the 20,000 words I marked down as my goal (after a slight adjustment to my word goal that I felt was necessary to keep my morale going). But it’s not like my past NaNo victories because I don’t feel like I won.

It’s not like last November when I reached that final word of the month and did a triumphant air-punch, then popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate. This month I hit my goal, validated the word count on Camp NaNo’s site, and then shrugged and continued on with my day.

How I Did Camp NaNo This Month

It’s not that I’ve become disenchanted with NaNoWriMo’s quantity-over-quality approach to writing. I still think that participating in the various NaNo events is the single most wonderful thing I do for my writing.

But this month was not a typical month in the life of Taylor. This month was challenging – and while I thrive on challenges, I find that my writing suffers while I’m focusing on other areas of my life that are in flux.

So instead of sitting down at the computer each day and opening up my Camp NaNo project with the enthusiasm of a child who wakes at 6am on Christmas morning, I met my writing with a sense of disdain and self-loathing. I’d churn out a thousand words just to be done with my project for the day so I could tend to other areas of my life.

And after a week of writing, I realized that I didn’t even want to be working on my Camp NaNo project. I had a million other stories in my head that I would have rather started writing. But I’d already committed myself to the project and decided to just push through to my 20k words.

What that resulted in was a bunch of limp prose and poorly formed plots.

Essentially, I feel like I wrote a bunch of crap just to “win.”

When I look at what I produced this month, I’m in no way proud of it. This isn’t even a story I look at and say: “It needs a lot of work, but with some intense editing and revision, it’ll be good.” No, this is something I look at and say: “I can do absolutely nothing with this.”

How I Should Have Done Camp NaNo This Month

Looking back on this month, I’m tempted to say that I shouldn’t have even done Camp NaNo at all. That I should have focused exclusively on the other areas of my life that needed tending to. But I’m of the belief that a disciplined writer sits down and writes every day, even when they don’t feel inspired to do so. Even when producing each word is as painful as pulling teeth.

But I’m also of the belief that when you’re inspired and truly interested in your writing, the quality of your work skyrockets.

I guess what it comes down to is this: there are times when you need to push through with a piece and times when you need to let it sit and bake a bit more.

Thinking about it, I probably should have stopped partway through Camp NaNo and focused on other stories that I was more inspired by rather than focusing on this one for the sake of winning.

Sure, I can get the “Camp NaNo 2014 Winner” badge and cash in on some of their other goodies now, but at what cost? I spent hours this month writing something I hated and that I doubt I’ll ever come back to.

Technically, I won Camp Nano. But I feel like I lost it.

What I Learned From Camp NaNo This Month

While it’s important to stick with projects when they get difficult, you have to be in touch with your inner writer and gauge what the best use of your time is. If I had switched gears part way through Camp NaNo, I may not have come out of it a “winner,” but I probably would have come away with a piece of writing I was proud of and wanted to continue working with.

So my writing advice today boils down to this: while goals are important, don’t let them run or ruin your writing. Write what you want to write. Write something because it you love it. Write something because it makes you want to get out of bed early and stay up late to get more words down. Write for yourself, not for the “win,” and you’ll come out ahead.

~

How was your Camp NaNo experience this month? Did you win? Lose? Not even participate? Most importantly, what did you learn? Tell us in the comments below!