It's that time of year again. The time of year when aspiring novelists get all worked up about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This will be my fourth time participating in NaNoWriMo. Everytime I participated in the past I started out of the gate happy, shiny, and optimistic. Sometimes I kept that enthusiasm going for two weeks. But then I'd let doubt creep in and I would inevitably get off track. I skipped last year. But this year I am prepared to rise to the challenge armed with a detailed plan nearly six years in the making.
When my dear friend, Deb Smouse, asked me how I was going to approach NaNoWriMo this year it occurred to me that sharing my plan might be helpful to other NaNoers (both old and new) so it won't take them six years to create a workable plan, too.
Create an Outline
I've typically been a pantster (someone who writes without an outline). I'd begin with my characters and a basic story in mind. Then I'd see where the characters would take me as the story developed. I loved the little surprises my characters would deliver, doing or saying something unexpected. Yet inevitably I'd write myself into a corner. My solution? Step away from the story for a few days. I'd lose my momentum and once those few days turned into a few year (and counting!). The result? I ended up with three incomplete works in progress (WIP).
Then I heard author Kimberla Lawson Roby on an internet radio show talk about her writing process. She uses a very structured outlining process which includes writing a synopsis of each chapter before she begins writing. I decided to give outlining a try. It helped TREMENDOUSLY. Even if I don't follow the outline exactly (because sometimes my characters have a mind of their own) it gives me a great framework and I am able to work more effectively. Now if I get stuck, instead of "sitting it aside" for a few days (which in one case turned to a few years and counting) I now take out a sheet of paper or a notebook and start mapping out the scenes. It works every time! By utilizing the outlining process I was finally able to finish one languishing WIP and then another.
Flesh Out Your Characters
The last time I participated in NaNoWriMo my friend, Shon Bacon, introduced me to her wonderful Writer's Boot Camp in preparation for NaNoWriMo. The Boot Camp consisted of several questionnaires that forced me to really get to know each of my characters and story in depth. It asked lots of questions about each character - what they do for a living, what they like, what is their motivation, etc. and an overview of the storyline. The Boot Camp really helped me to understand each character and their motivation.
Writer's Cafe Software Writer's Cafe software is the perfect complement to the outlining process. I discovered the software a couple of years ago. Both times I started using the software about a third of the way through a book I was writing because I started to lose track of details like the last names or physical traits of some minor characters. This time I will use Writer's Cafe from the beginning rather than trying to dig through a partial manuscript to find those details and plug them into the software.
Know What Time of Day Works Best for You
About three years ago I stumbled across Lisa Coffey's website What's Your Dosha where I learned a little about Ayurveda and Dosha types. Ayurveda is India's 5,000 year old "Science of Life." It teaches the art of living in harmony with nature. Your dosha is your mind and body type. After taking the Dosha quiz and watching a few of Lisa's videos I discovered something I would never have believed about myself - I work best very early in the morning - as opposed to late at night, when I was doing most of my writing.
Getting up earlier to attack my writing before moving on to other tasks was a sacrifice initially (though I have now come to enjoy an earlier start to my day). But I remembered something writer, Connie Briscoe, said when I went to hear her speak at the Cleveland Public Library in Downtown Cleveland a few years ago. She said when she first began writing, while she had a full-time corporate job, she got up early in the morning to do her writing before work. She said she wanted to give her best to herself. Everyone else would get the rest.
Discover what time of day works best for you. Write when you are at your best and feeling most creative.
Create a Workable Schedule
Writing is one of those things that doesn't happen unless you make the time to do it. Particularly when undertaking what seems like a huge challenge it is important to create a feasible schedule. One that you and your family can live with. I'd love to say that I will write every single day. And who knows, maybe I will. However, I know myself (and my other obligations) enough to admit that I probably won't write every single day. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a new novel during the month of November. That is 12,500 words per week or about 1,667 words per day. I am creating a four day per week schedule with a goal of writing 3,500. (3,125 words minimum).
Write or Die
Sounds harsh or dramatic at the very least. However, Write or Die is an excellent productivity software for writers that helps you stay focused and keep writing for a designated period of time. I've typically been able to write around 1200 words in 48 minutes using this software. Three sessions (2.5 hours) and I've got my goal for the day. You can use the web version of the software or the newer desktop version.
Connect with others in the writing community who will be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. No-one understands the craziness of NaNoWriMo unless they've tried it before. They will sympathize with you, encourage you, and give you a much-needed kick in the pants whenever it is necessary. There is also the element of healthy competition. When you see how much your friends have written you will likely put down the television remote and get to your computer so you won't be left behind in their dust. In the end you can all celebrate your success together.
Just Do It
The prospect of writing 50,000 words of a new novel is daunting. No-one is more aware of that than me. However, if you're an aspiring novelist looking for something to kickstart your writing NaNoWriMo is a wonderful project. Whether you finish or not, whether your book ever gets published or not, at least you'll be writing. Definitely a step in the right direction. It took me six years to work out this system. Hopefully the fourth time is the charm. If you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I'd love to connect. My NaNo profile is here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/666743. Feel free to share your plan for NaNoWriMo below.
"Hi Hilary, This is Kusum Choppra from India.
I read about your ability to create characters and their settings but not knowing where to take them. I once had a similar problem...an entire chapter with 4 intriguing characters in a…"