It’s official – NaNoWriMo season is upon us. How do I know this? Because emails are popping up in my inbox, blogs I follow have started to make plans to prepare and the NaNoWriMo hashtag is becoming more active.
I find NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those not familiar) a great tool by which to start novels and see if they really have any ‘va-va-voom’. This year will be my third year. I did begin the process believing that at the end of November I would have a semi-readable first draft that I would then be able to polish up and send out for publication.
I now know – since I began editing that first ever NaNo novel (NaNo#1) – that what I really got at the end of November was a huge chunk of a book I really wanted to write. NaNoWriMo gave me the chance to explore the idea I had, create characters that intrigued and formed the habit of sitting down and actually writing something everyday.
There is some controversy about the benefits of NaNoWriMo, about whether authors hold it in contempt or if publishers can value the work produced in such time constraints. But, what I’ve discovered is a really great, intensive way to test an idea for a novel in only 30 days. Not only that, but for the entire month of November I am not a solitary writer. I’m cocooned by the thousands of other writers who are taking part, cheering each other on, empathising with my struggles and celebrating the art of writing together.
In short, I think NaNoWriMo rocks.
With only 48 days to go until writing begins, how might one prepare for this challenge? Planners will be in full swing for November already, pansters might just be shrugging and shaking their heads.
But, regardless of if you’re a planner or pantster, here’s a few techniques that I’ve found useful to start the process:
Build a Character
Physically or emotionally, start with a character. Imagine someone in your mind – what do they look like, how do they feel, how might they react to a certain situation? Where do they live, what do they do, why might they feel alone in life?
This is a great way to begin visualising someone that you have to spend an entire month (and possibly longer) with and decide on the basics of characters that will appear in your writing in November. It also means that when November comes and you’re furiously typing away you won’t have to stop and think if your protagonist has blue eyes or a limp or even a habit of chewing her lip.
[Aside: this is how I began NaNo#1 – with a character called Madeline appearing in my mind as a petite, red head who believes she should die an early death because of the pain she has caused others in life]
Explore Goal, Motivation and Conflict
Begin by considering what someone might want and why they might want it. Then come up with the biggest potential hurdle you can put in their way.
For example, someone might want to be a novelist because they want to prove to all those bullies in school that they have taken their experiences and used them to become successful. But what happens if this individual is then involved in a car accident and becomes a quadriplegic? They can’t move, they have to write their novel using only their eye movement, letter by letter. (too reminiscent of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly ? Probably)
By examining Goal, Motivation and Conflict you can identify the key aspects of the story you are trying to write and what is most important to your characters too.
Start with a Concept
Jot down a simple, plain ol’ idea. Play the ‘What if…’ game. Give yourself the time to let your mind wander and, in that time, wonder…This is where my story for NaNo#2 came from. I was walking the dog in the rain one day in a particularly sombre mood and I wondered ‘what if I was the one making it rain’? Controlling the weather has been done before so it’s not a new concept, but I considered what would happen if you could only control one element (rain, wind or sun). This then led me to the idea of having twins with different powers – controlling differing elements. Expanding my concept I then added a fourth ability – to encourage growth from the earth – and created a world where these powers were being used productively, but the individuals who had them were being mistreated.
This method is fun because you can take one concept and play around with it until you find something you’re really excited by. Mind-mapping concepts can demonstrate how differing concepts can also overlap, giving you a layered approach to your storytelling.
None of these methods will necessary provide an outline for a novel, nor will they determine if your idea is one that will hold the test of time. The one downside of beginning the preparation for NaNoWriMo so early is that, by the time you get to November, the idea you had may have dulled and you’re no longer excited enough by it to want to spend an entire month intensively working on it.
On the plus side, putting in some early prep does mean that you can get to the meat and bones of your story before you start writing, so that you are more prepared when the going gets tough (around week 2). It also means that you might have enough basic material to develop your ideas as you write, meaning that week 3 doesn’t feel so daunting!
What are your feelings about NaNoWriMo? Going to give it a try? How do you prepare and what tips might you give to those with less experience than you?
Let us know in comments…
I’ll be blogging more about preparing for NaNoWriMo as we approach November, so if you want to stay informed consider signing up to the blog in the sidebar. Or if you prefer snappy, short tips follow me on Twitter