Nanowrimo is coming! Whether or not you’ve participated before, it’s a wonderful chance to focus on your writing. It’s fun to commit yourself to writing 50,000 words in a month. It proves to you that you can do it, and that writing is just about adding more words everyday.
The problem with Nanowrimo is that, after it’s over, you’ll probably have a whole bunch of words, and some good scenes, but a pretty broken story.
And it’s really hard to edit and fix a story after you’ve written it. It’s so much easier to go into it with a plan, to make sure you structure your novel well.
I’ve read tons of books on plotting, and my favorites are Plot Perfect, Story Fix and Story Grid.
I particularly love the last two because of the way they deal with the subject of plotting: sure you can write what you want, but if you want your book to sell then it has to satisfy readers, and you cannot do that if your book isn’t structured the right way.
And yet most authors still resist plotting and story architecture, preferring to write from the seat of their pants and worry about editing later (either paying someone else a great deal of money, or spending months and months trying to fix their broken rough draft).
Before you go into Nanowrimo this year, make a simple plan.
Here’s the image Larry Brooks uses – I find it the clearest and simplest.
You should also check out “Write from the Middle” – another great book on plotting. Start with those. Make a map and know exactly what scenes you’re going to have for those major (and necessary) plot points. It will not only make Nanowrimo so much easier, but when you finish you’ll actually have a book that might be publishable.
Write or die
Another tool I like is “write or die.” You set a time limit and word count, and if your fingers stop typing the screen goes red and a big spider pops out. (You can change the settings, using either punishments or rewards). But it keeps you writing instead of thinking. If you’ve plotted your scenes, you shouldn’t have to stop and think. If you don’t know something, add a (?) and skip it, you can do your research later. Write or Die also has a “story prompts” feature, so if you don’t know what you want to write for Nanowrimo, use the feature and they will suggest some ideas!
I like this simple iphone app: I set it for 40 minutes, (or 1:40) and just hit “Start”. It’s easier to commit to a set amount of time than a set word count. Commit to writing a certain amount every day. Sometimes the hardest part is just sitting down and opening up the file. It might take a few minutes to get back into things. But then you get absorbed in your story, and often when the timer goes off you don’t want to quit.
Caffeine makes you smarter. Coffee however can give you muscle cramps and headaches. You might want to try caffeine pills or energy drinks. I like sugar free hi-ball. If you do drink coffee, make sure to drink a lot of water too.
Even if you don’t do it normally, make sure to go for walks in November. Taking a break and giving your brain free time to work on your book without focusing on the next sentence will allow the answers to come to you. Often the greatest steps forward happen when you’re not actively writing. Give yourself the space for epiphanies by taking long walks. It’ll also help your brain function better.
Make a group
Part of what makes Nanowrimo so much fun is that you are doing it with lots of other people. Be active on the website and see what others are doing. Make a local group and see if you can meet and work on your books together (at the very least, a weekend coffee to talk about your books and stay on task).
After you finish your story, hopefully you have a good rough draft. If you’ve plotted properly, you just need a lot of cleaning and revising. You can check out my free course on self-editing if you need it.