So, you want to write a novel?


This post first appeared in October 2012…it’s been updated.

It’s just a few days before NaNoWriMo starts. National Novel Writing Month.

Fifty thousand words in 30 days. Why do I do it? How do I do it? How can you set yourself up for success?

How to prepare

This is the marathon of writing challenges.

Like a marathon, the key to success is in the preparation.

Decide how you will be writing your novel.

I use the Scrivener app. Here’s why. I love how it sets session targets. I especially love the corkboard- so much that I might just manage a separate post on it.

In the past I’ve used word, and kept my own tallies. If you enter your word count daily into the nano website, you can stay on track.

Have a back up strategy…and use it

The astrologer in me will tell you that Mercury will be retrograde and computer related issues tend to happen over these few weeks. Be paranoid. I back up to a hard drive and also dropbox- just to be sure.

Carry a notebook and pen with you at all times. I use a moleskine. It makes me feel like a real writer.

Have coffee- or wine- on hand. I tend to subscribe to the “write drunk, edit sober” theory… not that I take this literally, but you get the idea.

Set your targets

Dig your calendar out from wherever it is languishing and mark in your writing days for November.

How many days a week can you seriously write?

5 days?

7 days?

This will determine your daily target.

I don’t have a free weekend between now and Christmas, so this year I’ll be aiming to write 22 of the 30 days- giving me a session target of 2272 words.

I go to bed an hour earlier and write there. It works for me. Quite often I dream what happens next.

Expect life to get in the way

Be realistic and don’t expect life to stop- it won’t.

There will be some days where you can sit down uninterrupted at the keyboard and others where you’re clawing 5 minutes here, there or anywhere.

If you really want to do it, you will make time.

I recall finishing my first nano experience in 2009 in the airport at Perth.

As well as the normal demands of home and my full time job, the relocation project I was working on for Perth (and managing largely from Sydney) had blown wide open.

2010 was much the same, although this time the relocation was in Hong Kong and the final chapter was finished at that airport.

On both occasions I carried my notebook with me and scribbled during coffee and lunch breaks.

Back in my hotel bed each night I’d transpose my scribbles into real words.

Somehow the word total grew.

Run your own race

I’Il go hard the first week of the challenge and, despite the session targets I set myself, usually end the first week well ahead of schedule.

This is good because I tend to hit my personal wall at about the 25,000 word mark.

The middle 2 weeks are hard.

Most stories are abandoned somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 words.

The story is often in the saggy doldrums- enthusiasm is waning and the end is still a long way off.

The efforts of the first week get me through the middle two.

When I get really stuck, I jump scenes- sometimes writing the end first, other times writing another scene that has jumped into my head. It works for me.

Others choose to stick doggedly to their daily target- you won’t know which you are until you start.

What if I don’t have an idea?

Ideas come from so many sources. That’s what makes nano so great- it allows you to explore an idea and determine whether there is really a 85-100k novel in it.

My effort in 2009 was largely semi autobiographical. It was 50,000 words that will never see the light of day (heaven forbid), but needed to come out of my head. Nano was the best time to do that. If you’re feeling like to want to participate but need to clear some space in your head first, I’d urge you to use this years Nano for precisely that purpose.

Once those words were out, other ideas started to flood in. I now have a board full of potential stories- most of which consist of a single line.

Plotter or Pantser?

If you like to know where you’re going to go with the story and how you’re going to get there, you’re probably a plotter.

If you’re starting with the germ of an idea, maybe a character or two, and just seeing where it leads you, you’re a pantser.

Perhaps you’re a combination of the two?

I’m definitely a pantser.

Last year I started with an opening line, wrote the first chapter and then skipped straight to the end and worked backwards. I also mucked around with writing particular scenes around the Moon.

The idea I have this year is no more than a playlist of songs that I’m going to pop a story around.

My point? Nano is a great time to play with something different. If you’re a plotter, why not give yourself the freedom to see what happens? If you’re a pantser, why not experiment with a different technique?

Don’t edit

Even if you’re a Virgo, resist the urge to edit.

The point of this exercise is to get the words out.

And finally…

This is meant to be fun, so try not to be too hard on yourself, or do the analysis paralysis thing. Just write.

There’s no judgment, or right or wrong. There are just words.

So- who’s with me? If you’re entering, buddy up with me- my nano name is astrojo…hope to see you on the forums!

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

2 thoughts

  1. As you know, I’m in the ‘don’t have an idea’ stage. I might have to do something semi-autobiographical myself. (Did you see that I’ve formally signed up?!)

    1. I didn’t see…but glad you did. I reckon if you get that vaguely semi auto stuff out, you’ll open the floodgates.

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