Strictly speaking, there isn’t anything you need to do to prepare for NaNoWriMo (though signing up always helps). Being able to sit yourself down on November 1st and just start writing is one of the virtues of the event. But if you’re like me, the notion of sitting down to that empty page and blinking cursor is one of the most terrifying (literary) prospects imaginable. I firmly believe that my success in NaNoWriMo so far has been the preparation I’ve done in advance of November, so if you think that you’ll likely find yourself in the same boat, then October is the month for you to get your head start.
That head start can be anything short of actually writing the novel (remember, that starts at 12:01 a.m. on November 1st!), but here’re a few things I’ve done in the past and will be doing this October.
Outlining Your Story
I’m not really into outlining, but I’ve found that having a framework to guide you through NaNoWriMo is crucial given the time constraint under which you’ll be laboring. Brainstorm the overall plot arc of your story, write up character dossiers, and even quick outlines of your chapters. The amount of detail you need is up to you and what works best for your creative process. Some of us need to have all the ducks in a neat row before writing the first sentence; others just need an idea and an empty canvas on which to chase that idea to its conclusion. Most of us fall somewhere between those extremes. Figuring out where you fall and what you’ll need in order to succeed in November is what October is for.
Making a Game Plan
Along with planning the novel itself, planning how you’ll handle the task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days is also important. 50,000 words split into 30 equal pieces is around 1,667 words per day; if you’re very disciplined, you can plan on hitting the 1,667 mark and then calling it a day thirty times, and you’ll be done on time. If you’re like me, though, you’ll have some days where you’re on such a roll that you’ll want to keep going, and end up with way more than your daily goal, and, inevitably, other days where you’re so busy with life and other exigencies that you can’t even add a comma before the next day arrives.
To the extent possible, note the days in November when your schedule will be most likely to bottleneck: work deadlines, midterm exams, etc. Mapping out where you’re most likely to be swamped will help you to figure out how many days you’ll need to designate for catch up – that is, days where you can reasonably set the bar at the 3,000, 4,000, or 5,000 word mark and make up for (or in advance of) days where you won’t get many words in edgewise.
Locking and Loading
My last “Gearing Up” tip is all about the gear: make sure you have the tools you’ll need to succeed at NaNoWriMo, and check to ensure that they’re all in working order so that you’ll be ready to hit the ground running on November 1st. Depending on your preferences, you may not need much: a bunch of scratch paper and a writing implement is all you need to start writing, and many NaNoWriMoers do pen their novels by hand. (Admittedly, though, doing so does make word counting a little bit harder.) For those who will be doing their writing on a computer, make sure its running smoothly, you have a word processor that you’re comfortable with and can rely on, and, perhaps most important of all, be prepared to back up your files! It’s best to keep your backup copies on a separate drive, if possible, or even a cloud storage system.
(My preferred cloud storage is DropBox. It syncs automatically and is great for keeping files up to date across several computers. It even has useful apps for iOS and Android that allow you to access and edit your files wherever you go. If you’d like, you can click on my DropBox affiliate link to sign up for your own account [doing so gives me an extra 250mb of storage space, up to a max of 5gb, and once you’ve set up your own account, every friend you sign up gives you the same bonus as well].)
The point of locking and loading is to iron out any potential technical issues that might stand in the way of completing your 50k.