NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. In two weeks, thousands of writers are going to dive into their writing caves to write a novel within the month. Writing a novel takes preparation; that is obvious, but there are different types of preparation involved. The level of prep work required mainly depends on the category you identify with as a writer.
Most writers fall into either one of the Plotter – Panster category. Do you already know which group you belong to? Great! That’s step one checked for you. For those who don’t know or are not sure, here’s a quick guideline for each category. (Psst…it’s totally fine to be a mix of both categories, there’s no here or there only rule you have to follow!)
Plotter – a writer who plans out the story, the characters, the settings beforehand, and refer to the outline they already have created for the story they want to tell through their novel.
Pantser – someone who prefers to write everything without much planning, while spontaneously leading one scene to another as they go.
While basic NaNo Prep is essential for both plotters and pantsers, plotters typically spend more time prepping and organizing. Time is a crucial factor for most writers who have a day job and other mortal duties. If you’re a plotter like me with very little time to spare, then here are some tips that will help you successfully prep for NaNoWriMo and leave all the anxiety out.
Decide on your platform or writing tool/application; this is especially critical if you’re attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time. You might already use a platform for writing your regular WIP or blog posts, but sometimes you want to separate your projects based on when or how you will work on them. If you already have an established platform like Google Docs or MS-Word that you are comfortable with, then you only need to create a New Document and ensure it is backed up nicely into multiple sources before you begin. Google Docs is one of the most commonly used platforms for its benefit of having a cloud back-up (meaning less chance of you losing your work during an unfortunate laptop crash scenario!).
I use Scrivener and already have it installed on my laptop; they are also backed up into my cloud account. So, all I do is to create the new project with or without a title. Remember to download the application you’re using to your phone for access on the go.
Once you are through with the registration and other necessary formalities, work on your outline. Most plotters already know what story they want to tell. Writing out an outline can save time plot-wise. If you are writing a novel in a month, you’ll need to have a clear concept of the general arc and purpose of your story from the outset.
I write an outline and a synopsis beforehand to be sure of the plots and the sub-plots that I will include in my story. Not that I have the entire plot sorted in my first draft. The idea is to create a guideline into my vision of the story’s 3 Acts.
If you need a template to help you plan, there is a great resource at Airtable.
Depending on the genre and the details needed in your story, your level of research required will change. For example, if you are writing a crime/mystery novel where you need to kill a character, you may want to research the different methods to do that – with a gun, stabbing them, poison, etc. Depending on the way you choose, you may need to do further research to see the side effects. Example: If you are shooting a person, then how does the blood spray from each angle, this could later become evidence in the investigation or useful to your protagonist as they search for the killer.
Research may also be needed based on the location you choose for your story. For example, if you are writing a Fantasy novel and building a whole new world for your characters, you will want to research on world-building techniques and the do’s and don’ts, decide on names of places, perhaps create a map of the location, etc.
Once you have an outline, it will be easier to make a list of your characters and their roles in the plot. As a plotter, you will want to create a character sketch for each of your characters and document them for easy access during your writing sessions. Some writers create a character profile sheet for each of the significant characters and mini-list for their minor characters.
I use the character section in Scrivener to document the details of my characters. I am also a very visual person, so I create Pinterest boards and/or add pictures to my Scrivener that relate to my characters or their location.
Summarize and Divide Each Act
When writing a novel in a month, you will not have much time to structure your novel into each act. Summarizing and dividing the story into a structure for each Act during NaNo Prep ensures that you do not fall into the Structure pitfall. It is in this stage that you decide on the number of sub-plots, the secondary characters and their contribution to the overall story, the character development for the hero, and other significant characters crucial to the story.
Writing a summary for each chapter also helps if you have the time for it. A quick paragraph to outline what happens in each chapter can help you get straight to the writing during NaNo without wasting time trying to come up with sequences and sub-plots.
One of the essential tools for a plotter is a schedule. I recommend planning your writing schedule during the prep based on when you will have the time to write and how many words you can get in each day. The general rule of thumb to finish NaNoWriMo successfully is to write 1667 words each day for 30 days. However, you have the choice to write more during the start and finish sooner or write slower in the beginning and more towards the end.
Usually, I write about 3-4K words a day during the first two weeks to finish before thanksgiving. It’s my style, and during these two weeks, I do not take on any social engagements or commitments as I need the time to focus on my writing. I inform my family in advance that I will be unavailable for weekend activities and plan sleepovers for my son at my sister’s place, so he gets to have fun. When I cross the 50% complete mark, I reduce to 2000 words a day. Finding a pace that works for you is vital so that you are not bogged down by the need to meet your goals, thereby creating stress for yourself.
The above tips have always worked for me as a plotter during NaNoWriMo. I hope they come in handy for you too. Whether you are plotting or pantsing your way through NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you success and hope you enjoy the process of writing a novel in a month! Do you have any special tips that have worked for you? Let me know in the comments.
P.S: For those of you participating, I can be found as RashmiM909