Karina M. Sokulski
NaNo Prep: Make it Official
Declaring your project is the first step. Declaring you're participating in National Novel Writing Month involves planning, organization and creative determination. Whether you're utilizing November to continue a lengthy project or are feeling spontaneous this year, make sure you know your plan. Note that this checklist makes heavy reference to NaNoWriMo.org's NaNo Prep 101 page because the resource is just so dang helpful. As part of NaNo Prep, let's dive into a checklist of what steps any NaNoer should take before November arrives:
Pick Your Project
You can't write during NaNoWriMo if you don't know what to work on! If there's a book you're already working on writing, consider dedicating an entire month of non-stop progress. If you aren't currently working on something, maybe now's the time to start brainstorming. Some NaNoers use this month to make huge progress on manuscripts they've already been working. Other NaNoers use this month for a "spontaneous creativity challenge." As the name implies, some people use NaNoWriMo for the sake of challenging themselves to tap back into their creativity. This often involves the writer undergoing a commitment-free project to explore new genres, craft or simply rekindle inspiration. Consider how far you could go writing a completely new story and skip the stress of long-term commitment. Whether you already have a project in mind, want to try something new or just undergo a creative work out, picking your project is your first step.
Set Up Your NaNoWriMo Account
I'm always advocating using NaNoWriMo.org. Their online software lets you plug in your NaNo project, enter word counts, join forums and connect you with writing buddies! It's a tool that never fails to get me through November. Speaking of forums, there's plenty of NaNo forums that offer file sharing and updates on in-person and virtual write-ins. NaNoWriMo.org offers every writer an entirely free opportunity to connect with a writing community. An opportunity you really should consider if you're wanting to join NaNoWriMo this year.
Announce Your Project Online
Sometimes, challenging yourself doesn't feel real until you declare it to the world! Or your most trusted loved ones. Which ever suits you best! The point of this step is to declare that you'll be joining the NaNo community, especially if you're interested in joining any online groups. You'll see dozens of Discord, Facebook and Zoom links posted in the forums inviting NaNoers to join. If you're worried about writing accountability during November, join a writing group! Some groups expect their members to meet up daily or weekly. Other groups set up a mass email that blasts out constant reminders to write. Self-declaration and communal encouragement go a long way!
Develop Your Story Ideas
If you're serious about participating in NaNoWriMo this year, then the work starts now. The work, of course, is developing your story idea before the actual writing begins. Note that you cannot begin your 50K word count until November 1st, at 12:00 am! Even so, you want to have a clear idea of what you're doing before NaNoWriMo officially arrives. You can skip this step if you've already chosen your project or know exactly what you want to work on. Don't panic if you have no idea what you're writing! It's October and you have the entirety of this month to figure it out. It doesn't sound like a lot but we've been blessed with a month that is thirty-one days long.
Remember how I mentioned file sharing in the NaNo forums? There are plenty of forums you can engage with, and worksheets people have posted to help you come up with a project. Turns out, you're not the only one who may have creative mind-block when it comes to prepping for NaNoWriMo. On my personal Freebies page, I have plenty of free downloads to help develop your story and characters. If you're having trouble choosing a single project, don't worry. I've met NaNoers who couldn't come up with a single idea, so they simply didn't. I've encountered NaNoers who instead chose to get more creative with their 50k challenge. Some decided to write 50K's worth of poems, short stories or (get this) story starts to commit to later. If you're really struggling to commit to one project, then don't. Sometimes the mind knows best, and your mind might be telling you this is the year to be spontaneous.
Compile a Game Plan or Outline
I'm going to link my Freebies page again. I've got several free Excel spreadsheets that make plugging in your plot easy. They even come with a questionnaire to help you assess what you're inputting across acts one, two and three. I never begin my NaNoWriMo project without an outline. Maybe it's my ADHD or my general dislike for having to log word counts. In my normal writing time, I go by the hours I log, not how many words I get on the page. NaNoWriMo, however, is the one occasion I force myself to make the exception. Following an outline helps me quiet the lingering anxiety of having to think about word counts.
Some people are "pantsers," meaning they write by the seat of their pants with no outline. In my college years, I definitely fell into this category. Now, I've evolved (or devolved depending on how you look at it) into the "planster's" way of life. A planster, if you don't know, is a half-planner-half-panster. I'm not a full on planner like some of my NaNo writing buddies who have entire spreadsheets, geographical maps and ten page biographies on their characters. I also don't go into my stories blindly anymore. Not entirely. Now, I like having a basic roadmap. I have a chicken-scratch timeline that tells me when plot points need to happen and allow myself the liberty of filling in what happens in between. This is a system that works for me, but every writer is different. Maybe you're a planner, where you need to spend a lot of time on organization. If so, get planning! If you're a pantser who's ready to let their imagination run wild, let it ride! If you're a planster like me, download my aggressively planster spreadsheets and get planning.
Organize Your Writing Life
Here's were we discuss organizing your writing outside of the actual writing. The key to writing is to not allow yourself to get interrupted. Everyone's schedule will look different no matter who they are or where they live in the world. I've won NaNoWriMo several years in a row, each time with various different schedules. I'm especially proud of my 2017 victory because I managed to finish with college and two jobs on my plate. I understand busy. Nowadays my schedule offers me more leniency so managing when I allow interruptions and when I don't becomes easier. To win NaNoWriMo, you need to organize yourself so you can allow yourself time to write on a daily basis. One trick NaNoers have come up with is breaking your 50K word counts down to writing 1,667 words a day. 1,667 x 30 = 50,010. Ten extra words at the end if you use this method! The best way to do this is to do the following two things: first schedule a time in your day to write. Second, tell your loved ones about your writing time. Whether this focus time is taking place after or before work, before bed or breakfast, let your loved ones know you need alone time. It helps to determine whether you are a morning, afternoon or evening writer. If you've never considered this idea before, take a look at your current writing habits. I, personally, am an afternoon writer. Fresh after lunch and with a cup of tea, my inspiration bursts between 1:30 pm and 3:50 pm. For whatever reason, my ADHD brain can think of nothing else but writing during those hours.
After you've done that, look over your weekly schedule and see if your usual writing time is doable. If you're finding conflict with finding ways to fit time to write during your week, head to this scheduling quiz created by NaNoWriMo. This nifty little quiz will propose a customized plan based upon your answers but the tried and true method of 1,667 words a day remains my personal favorite.
Collect Your Favorite Writing Tools
Writing tools include (but are not limited to): pencils, pens, external hard drives, USB drives, novels that inspire, writing prompts (online or physical), sticky notes, music playlists, sound environments, research (bookmarked online or from notes). Again, think about your writing habits. What do you have on or around you when you write? What are you listening to when you write? What do you do before you start writing? I can't start writing without a cup of tea standing on my mug warmer. I put on a sound environment on my screen plus lo-fi music in the background. Whatever tools are involved in your writing process, have them ready and within reach for November.
Set Up a Game Plan for Managing Your Time
Back to scheduling. Now that you've determined a doable schedule for daily writing, it's time to set up the commitment that comes with it. Every cellphone has a "Do Not Disturb" function. Alternatively, you can also use "Airplane Mode" during your writing sessions to really block all distractions. Plenty of apps on your computer's corresponding app store help you block notifications (like social media). The app of my choice is called 1Focus and the premium subscription is .99¢. There's free version, of course, but I was so impressed with the software's ability to schedule distraction-free zones I subscribed. If you're not looking to test apps at this time, check out virtual write-ins and when they're meeting. Plenty of NaNoers host rooms during evening, after work hours for the NaNoer with an eight-hour shift.
Compile Your Focus Grocery List
Yes, you read that right. I'm so serious about this one, I'll be publishing a blog post on this topic next. Brain snacks and beverages keep me at the keyboard longer. Snacks like almonds, dark chocolate or popcorn are actually great snacks to eat when you're trying to focus. Think of snacks you eat while working through your day and stock up on them for November. The same goes for beverages. Coffee wakes me up in the morning and a nice hot cup of tea wards off that awful three o'clock crash. Green tea's a great choice for focus in the afternoon, though I'd also recommend any fall-themed teas that have apple and cinnamon in their blend. Having a snack or beverage ready for your writing sessions will also alert your brain that it's time to write. My brain always clicks into writing mode the second it hears the kettle whistle.
October's our official countdown to NaNoWriMo and All Hallow's Eve the night our fingers itch eagerly at the keyboard. Now's the time to finish up your preparations, gather your tools and stock up on your focus snacks. NaNo Prep will conclude with a shopping list of focus-inducing snacks and beverages provided by yours truly before I, too, await for November's arrival. Good luck with your NaNoWriMo preparations!