NaNo Prep season, that is!
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Emador, it’s September. Fall literally just started today. NaNoWriMo isn’t until November. And who PLANS NaNo anyway?”
I’m a big planner. I just printed out 14 weekly calendars so I could plan my assignment due dates, research, and readings through December 8th for my Master’s program. Now, if my writing skills could only match my organization skills, I’d be golden.
For those of you who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it is when people write 50,000 words (the general minimum for a work to be considered a novel) within the span of one month (November). Granted, it’s not for everyone – some people even denounce it as a “waste of time.”
In the link above, Miller brings up one or two valid points amid her ill-informed generalizations of NaNo participants (p.s. don’t waste your money on how-to books for writers. Everything you can find in them – and more – can be found for free online if you know where to look). However, there are those of us who enjoy writing for the sake of getting our story (even if no one reads it) out of our system and the camaraderie that comes with doing it with friends and strangers. I’m lucky enough to be a part of a group who not only participates in NaNoWriMo in November but also Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July.
There are basically two schools to approaching NaNo: “plotting” and “pantsing.” Pantsing is just flying by the seat of your pants – opening that Word document on November 1st and starting a story and seeing where it takes you.
Then there’s plotting – where some people either get a general sense or an idea beforehand or they write full-blown character descriptions and plot outlines before November 1st to give themselves a roadmap for the month.
I use NaNo prep season (which could begin anywhere from August 1st to October 31st, depending on who you talk to) to give myself a chance to get in the mindset of my novel. My brain is a crock pot – I need to absorb information and just let it sit for a while. I need to think about the characters – who they are, what they want, what they will do. I need to think about the setting and context – I usually write historical fiction, so this is my time to do research and learn what I can about the time period. I will also use the time to read historical fiction set around the same time. Sometimes just a sentence or a detail an author throws in off-handedly will give me an idea for a while scene or plot point.
I also use the time to make notes – notes, notes, and more notes. I use an old-school composition binder for every project. Inside I’ll write any preliminary outlines, ideas, research details, family trees, character descriptions, plot points, bits of dialog, printed out maps taped inside, sometimes entire scenes. It’s basically a reference book for my project. Below are a few photos – obviously nothing plot-involved is included, but it gives you an idea of how I use the notebook.
The “1812” on the cover was just a note for me since my story takes place during the War of 1812.
Historical context for me – mostly “big picture” stuff that was going on prior to the start of the war.
Maps I printed off the internet. I have these as computer files as well, but if I just need to reference something quickly as I’m writing, it’s helpful to have these handy.
When NaNo actually comes, depending on how much I’ve planned, I open up Scrivener and create a separate folder for each chapter (if I’ve outlined enough). Sometimes it’s just a few folders with the general scenes and plot points I have planned. Then on November 1st, I start writing. Sometimes I will start at the beginning, sometimes I will start in the middle – it all depends on what I feel like. The most important thing to me is to have something in every scene that I look forward to writing – that helps me when I need to get some of the more boring stuff out of the way (most of the boring stuff gets cut on Draft 2, but it’s a good process for me to get it out anyway).
Editing and revising is SO much easier and more enjoyable for me than actual writing, so NaNo provides me a good opportunity to give myself plenty of material to edit and revise.
How do you like to prepare for NaNo?