So, we’re well into the second weekend of September. Which means NaNoWriMo draws near. I know it still feels early, but if you’re planning to participate now is the perfect time to start thinking about your project! Below you’ll find a list of four things I do before I dive into my writing. Addressing these early can help you spend more time on prose and racking up those daily word counts.
1. Start outlining.
If you’re the type of writer who doesn’t work from an outline—George R. R. Martin calls you gardeners—then you can ignore this step. However, for the rest of us, now is the perfect time to get an outline complete. They don’t have to be long, nor are they some hard-and-fast document you need to follow to the letter. Instead, it’s a good way to get yourself thinking about the project as a whole and get your thoughts down on paper. It’ll give you a feel of your plot, your characters, and make the other three steps easier. Personally, I found outlining critical in finishing manuscripts. Consider reading my post on my own planning, I go into details on how I outline, how I use my outline when I write, and I even share an excerpt from the outline for The Stars Were Right.
2. You should be researching.
In my early attempts at writing this is often one of the biggest slowdowns. I will be working along and come to a part in my story where I need to spend a little time learning. This would lead from article to article, from book to book, and I’d end up spending more time distracted by the research instead of writing.
To avert this I have begun noting things I should research in advance within my outline. That way I have a nice list of subjects before I go into the library or start looking for books on Amazon. If you’re someone who doesn’t outline, consider the themes/genre/style of what you want to write. I bet you could come up with a list of topics to research in no time.
It’s never too early to start researching and I know you’ll find it exceptionally helpful for tackling a challenge like NaNoWriMo. Removing that extra distraction of having to look something up can mean a world of difference on those tough days.
3. Get to know your characters.
Now is the perfect time for you to start getting to know your characters. There’s a million and one ways to do this. Some folks have worksheets, others have systems, some writers create D&D characters and use those as a base. There’s no right or wrong way. Just find a way that you’re comfortable with and allow yourself to explore those characters.
Think of this preparation as sketching. You really just exploring an idea. Nothing you come up with will be permanent. I often find that I want to write a character a certain way, but when I start telling their story they take me in a completely different direction. That’s okay (and part of what makes writing fun!) What’s important is being comfortable with your characters so when you’re telling their story you can do it to the best of your abilities.
4. Work out those ancillaries ahead of time.
Finally, think about anything else you need to include, especially those things that might get in the way with your writing. Often, especially for genre writers, these are things like maps, lists of slang-terms, glossaries, location lists/descriptions.
I cannot tell you how many times I had distracted myself from writing to go draw a map or design a logo for a faction or write a timeline of history. I once spent half a day coming up with the ranking system for a military that I never once used in my story. (I wrote a post about that as well.)
When you’re trying to hit 40k words in a month you need to keep focused on your words. 1400 words a day isn’t insurmountable but it can be overwhelming. Any extra distractions you can remove will help you focus on hitting those numbers.
* * *
I love NaNoWriMo. I am a big supporter of its mission, and it’s what got me interested in writing in the first place. It’s a great experience for any writer, aspiring or otherwise, but it can also be a little daunting. I think you’ll find—as with most things in life—some early preparation will make the whole experience better. Good luck!