National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. From November 1 to November 30, writers everywhere will make a concerted effort to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words. This year I hope to be among them.
Last year I didn't officially participate, but instead used to the time to write like the wind on a novel that was already in progress. One is intended to write a new novel during NaNoWriMo, not do further work on a work-in-progress. But even though I was continuing and not creating from scratch, I found the concentration on daily word count and sheer speed helped me hurdle some mental and creative blocks. One year later, that novel, now expanded to 85,000 words, is currently in the hands of a freelance editor in preparation for taking it to market.
A common criticism of NaNoWriMo is its emphasis on speed and accumulation of word count over quality of prose. True, much of what I wrote in haste during November 2011 turned out to be schlock that had to be discarded or rewritten. But there were enough little gems that found a permanent place in the story to warrant doing it again. Only this time, I'm adhering to the rules by writing a brand-new novel, a sequel to the first.
Are you planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year? If you are, here are some things you can do in October to prepare for a productive experience, culled from founder Chris Baty's book, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. (Even if you're not participating in NaNoWriMo, some of these ideas are useful for anyone preparing to launch a writing project.)
Schedule the time. Much of the success of NaNoWriMo is simply due to the fact that it encourages participants to place a high priority on writing in their daily lives, even if it's only temporary. Look at your calendar and see when you can commit to writing: before or after work, at lunchtime, on weekends. Baty has said that November was chosen because the weather is often lousy, there usually are not a lot of other fun things going on, and many people get a nice four-day weekend toward the end of the month. Persuade someone else to cook Thanksgiving dinner and you're golden.
Choose a place (or places): At home, at a coffee shop, at the library . . . use October to scout out possible writing locales so you can hit the ground running on November 1.
Plan your story: While you aren't supposed to start actually writing until November 1, there's no reason not to think about your characters, plot, and setting ahead of time. One writer has said she uses October to plot out her story on index cards, then uses the last week of October to spread out the cards and move them around until they're in an order she likes. Then in November she just needs to follow the cards like a road map to her finished novel.
Do some research: As you plan your story, you might come across areas that need further research. What was L. A. like in 1910? What might kitchens and food be like in 2135? Use these last few weeks of October to check out these details so you won't have to break your pace in November.