It’s halfway through October, and all round the world, writers are preparing for the massive writing festival that is NaNoWriMo, or national novel writing month, the challenge that sees them aiming for a grand total of 50,000 words on a new project within the 30 days of November.
I have to confess that I’m one of them – each year for the past few years, I’ve bashed out a first draft of a novel during November, and then spent the rest of the year working on it. Each year, the draft I finish is a little more polished than the previous year, and I get a little further through editing. Eventually, my aim is to have several novels all nearing the finished product at around the same time, and then start publishing.
But how do you prepare for such a project? And should you be starting before 1st November anyway?
There are two types of writers, when it comes to nano – known as the planners and the pantsers. In fact, these are just two ends of the spectrum, and most people sit some way along the route between. Planners will plan out their story in great detail, world building, character building, plotting out their story. J.K. Rowling has released sheets showing how she planned out the Harry Potter stories in detail. Pantsers will fly by the seat of their pants, starting with a basic idea (or even less than that), and just seeing how it develops. Stephen King is a great proponent of that approach.
This is where I find Scrivener comes in handy: I’ll work out the rough outline of my story, often dividing it into three parts, corresponding to the three act structure. I’ll budget out the words for each part, and create sections for each scene I think needs to happen. The index cards hold a rough summary of the action for that scene, and I plan on between 1000 and 2000 words per scene.
Then when I get to November, I aim to fill in at least one scene each day, providing a structured journey from beginning to end but with flexibility should the story develop in an unexpected way – if your characters don’t rebel at some point in your story and do something you hadn’t planned, then maybe they’re not real enough!
The important thing when tackling nanowrimo is to remember that the aim is to create a first draft of a novel. It is not to create a polished, well-written manuscript that’s ready to send off to agents and publishers. There’s lots of work still to do once that first draft is finished.
Nor should you be worried if the story doesn’t achieve all you hoped for it. That’s what the rest of the year is for. The aim is to bash through your story, become completely involved in it and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Once you’ve finished, you might be able to work with what you have, or it might mean pulling it apart completely and restructuring. Whichever level it’s at, you’ll have had 50k words’ worth of work put into it, and you’ll have a much better idea of what the story needs.
So enjoy your nano prep and enjoy your writing – just be prepared to keep working on it for the rest of the year!