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  • Karina Sokulski

NaNoWriMo 2019: Preparing to Prevail


I get asked often by my fellow writers what my "secret to success" is when winning NaNoWriMo every year. I'll jokingly answer "an inflated ego I'm not ready to deal with yet" before answering the question more seriously. National Novel Writing Month, as we all know, is a thirty-day writing challenge in November that requires preparation and dedication from the writer that accepts the challenge. It's a mixed batch in any circle who does and does not accomplish writing the fifty thousand words in thirty days when November comes and goes. That first win is special. I remember mine and being both proud and astonished I was capable of writing as much as I did--especially since what I worked on then is what I'll be working on this year. The novel I plan to publish has always been the subject of NaNoWriMo challenges since that first win. Now knowing that, you can probably imagine why my wins come every year. I've been working on the same project since 2015 but didn't actually win until the following year. Still working towards getting that first win after an attempt or two can dim a spirit. Thankfully many NaNoWriMo victors--present company included--are always eager to share their methods of winning every year so fellow writers can do the same. If you follow this list of preparatory measures before November comes, you should have no trouble getting through the month.

Know what your goals are

This one probably sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how often this step gets overlooked while preparing for NaNoWriMo. What is it you're trying to accomplish in the thirty days? What's the goal fifty thousand words will help you reach? If you can't answer either of these questions in a sentence or less, you'll need to take a step back and figure out your goal. I've always made it a point to set my goals around a precise aim to finish a section of my book. For example, I've divided my first novel into three sections to adhere to my loose use of the Three Act Structure. Between last year's NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo in early April, I finished section one of my novel. Now I'm working on section two. Will fifty thousand words cover the entire section for me? Probably not, since I like to word vomit excessively and will more likely find myself with fifty thousand words that cover only one-third of the section. Even so, I will have accomplished my goal. My goal this year is to make progress on my book. It's broad but still clear what I want to do.

Your writing habits

It's no secret that NaNoWriMo is intensive from day one, especially with a work schedule. Before November comes around, take a look at your writing habits. You have to write every single day, and if you want to break down fifty thousand words in exactly thirty days, that's one thousand six hundred and sixty-seven (1,667) words per day. Are you writing daily? How long do you spend writing every day? Dedication is a major factor of winning a NaNoWriMo challenge, so if your writing habits aren't currently reflecting a dedicated practice; you'll need to make some changes.

Luckily with October being around the corner, there's still plenty of time to rework your writing habits. Part of preparation is getting yourself into a daily writing routine that will make writing every day in November seem less overwhelming. Start dedicating at least an hour at home when you return from work to write. Write anything that tickles your fancy, just spew out words or practice writing a nifty little writing prompt you Googled a second ago. Start getting into the practice of doing this every day, Monday through Sunday until November comes. Doing so will train your endurance to write for a select amount of time every day. Extra tip: Daily writing prompts are a great way to get your inspiration churning. They can be Googled, or you can find writing prompt journals at your local book stores.

Quantity over quality

At this point, the phrase has become a mantra to me. The best advice I've ever received came from a series of writing classes I've begun attending recently where I learned the phrase, "Write dangerously and edit carefully." This phrase will especially apply to NaNoWriMo. Don't worry if you're spewing out run-on sentences or dozens of fragments. That's what editing is for, just let it all out because submitting your fifty thousand words doesn't come with a grammar check.

Extra tip: Strikethrough is a font option in most (if not all) word processors that work as a great editing tool. The feature is true to its namesake in the way it will draw a horizontal line across all selected text. This is a great way for you to highlight sentences in your writing that you either want to rewrite or delete when you return to edit later.

Get the word out

Privacy when writing from home is an absolute must. Be sure to tell your family that you'll need to not be disturbed during your writing time. I always set aside an hour a day in November to write while my husband graciously accepts that I've closed my office door. I'll go as far as to play a soundtrack I constructed around my book or browse my favorite ambient mixers that drown out the world and up my focus time.

Extra tip: Ambient-Mixer.com is a constant favorite of mine because you can make your own focus environment for free. They also have a blog on the home page whenever NaNoWriMo comes around with hundreds of sound environments users (myself included) have made for people to use. Youtube.com also has many sound environment videos with animated settings to play on the corner of your screen. I'm subscribed to too many channels to list here, but have a search and pick your favorites.

Or just head out

I personally prefer to write from my office with a closed-door, but many writers will prefer attending a write-in. Every year NaNoers will host write-ins at libraries, cafés, bookstores, etc. and invite any other writers to join in. Write-ins will sometimes be an entire day, just an afternoon or an evening after work. They all vary but provide the benefit of a community of writers trying to win the same challenge you are. Though I'm a loner when it comes to my writing, the write-ins I have attended always provided free advice, encouragement, and the sound of other fingers slamming at keyboards. Attending write-ins are a great way to keep you motivated and enjoy camaraderie too. Extra tip: If you haven't already, go to nanowrimo.org and make a free account. On your homepage, there's a box titled, "Home Region" that allows you to locate write-ins happening in your area.

This section of your homepage also allows you to connect with other writers near you and connect as online "writing buddies." Forging a local and online writing community for NaNoWriMo can be a huge help when it comes to winning your challenge.

Snax, S-N-A-X, snaxs

Or if you'd prefer the traditional spelling of S-N-A-C-K-S, that's fine too. I always do a grocery run that last weekend before November's start of little snacks and boxes of tea for my writing sessions. Sometimes having a steaming cup of lavender honey with a saucer of butter cookies perks me right back up as I'm working at my word count. We all munch on the other side of the keyboard when we're trying to get work done, and having a little snack on your desk will definitely make sitting longer at the keyboard more comfortable. Extra tip: Around Christmas time last year, I happened upon a mug warmer in a stocking stuffer display and bought it on a whim. Now I dedicatedly use my mug warmer every single day and love that I can let my tea or coffee sit while I write. The best part about purchasing a mug warmer for your desk is that these nifty little devices are pretty inexpensive and super convenient.

Rest Up

Here's another one that probably sounds obvious but is also overlooked with how stressful NaNoWriMo can sometimes be. I'm an insomniac. So when I have a sleepless night and try to force my writing the next day, I end up writing ten words or less and start watching videos of foxes stealing dog toys.

(They're like playful little hobos! :3)

Don't try to force yourself to write all night and resume the next morning; this has been my best method for running out of steam early in the month. Pace yourself and stick to the word count per day method to see you through. (And don't be ashamed of staring at the foxes.)

Clean or clutter your desk

I know how that sounds. Clutter can be distracting, especially if you're trying to find your notes that are probably tucked under that very heavy encyclopedia at the far end. On the other hand, organized clutter exists, and specific items in this clutter are essential for your work. I'm admittedly a little of both where I like to keep order on my desk but also want to keep my tools on hand. My tools include my journal, my thesaurus, book on writing fantasy worlds, and character sheets I need to flip through. There are just some materials I need to physically look through rather than pull up on my already overpopulated computer screen. Extra tip: Take a small inventory of the items you know you will need to stop typing for. When you've figured out which items those will be, clean off your desk of the unnecessary clutter and make a place for your NaNoWriMo tools to rest while you work.

This about covers the advice I have to offer but still have one more tip under my sleeve. If you've already set up your NaNoWriMo account, be sure you've subscribed to NaNoWriMo's newsletter. In their September newsletter, they released a complete handbook to prep for NaNoWriMo this year. The download is printer-friendly and has dozens of exercises I've already started. If you missed out or haven't set up your account yet, here's a link to the NaNo Prep 101 Workbook from September's newsletter. An added bonus to the link I provided is that it looks like the entire page has been filled to the brim with worksheets made by fellow NaNoers to help your planning. From what I see, these downloadable worksheets range from plot to character development among other interesting outline exercises. NaNoWriMo is on its way, but October is your month to get ready. Good luck with your preparations and happy writing!

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