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9 Ways to Prepare for the National Novel Writing Month

October 4, 2010

It’s time to start wrapping our heads around the monumental task which lays ahead of us in November (and I apologise in advance for those writers choosing not to participate in the literary madness of NaNoWriMo). Below is an article I wrote last year to prepare for NaNo.

I’m interested in creating supportive internal and external environments to facilitate writing during NaNo. To me, writing is the easiest thing about NaNoWriMo – just sitting there and putting the words on the page, because the month of November is no different to any of the other 11 months of the year where I don’t live in a vacuum. None of us are the proverbial boy in a bubble in November (though it would be nice to be sometimes).

Like me, you have to juggle existing responsibilities and find time to write. You have fears, weaknesses and you get stressed? You may have a family, probably have a job of some description, as well as social committments. On top of that you also have 1667 words to put down every day.

The good news is, NaNo is lots of fun, is most definitely worth it AND you have October to anticipate and plan. You have time to consider how you can best facilitate November to get to the 50,000 words.

This post outlines nine areas you may have not even considered important to your NaNo campaign – but believe me they are. I suggest you take time out over the next nine days and answer and explore the questions posed at the end of each section. Team up with some other WriMos – compare answers and share coping strategies

1. Expectations

Our expectations have a great impact on us. Putting them down on paper can be a powerful exercise. It’s also a good place to start to conceptualise NaNo as a real life experience and not a fantastical (good or bad) idea that’s been floating around in your head.

  • What do you expect to get out of your NaNo experience?
  • What do you think will be the easiest part of NaNo?
  • What do you think will be the easiest part of NaNo?

If you’ve participated in NaNo before you might also like to reflect what has been the easiest/hardest part in previous campaigns.

2. Strengths and Weaknesses

Old hands and newbies alike will benefit from taking this inventory (also those not actively involved in preparing for NaNo!) Being able to play to your strengths and negate the impact of your weaknesses is important for any project you involved in – but first you have to know what they are.

  • What are your strengths as a writer?
  • What are your weaknesses as a writer?

If you have participated in NaNo before you might like to focus in on what you love about NaNo and aim to incorporate or focus on that during November. Being reminded you do NaNo because you love writing might be enough to salvage a (perceived) bad day because – well, you’ve been writing!

3. Knowing your habits.

Knowing you habits can help you create an environment most conducive to putting down large amounts of words a day. This includes what stops you from writing as well as what eggs you on.

  • When do you write most efficiently/effectively? (This includes time, location, atmosphere, emotional and mental state and other things like music.)
  • What are your biggest distractions?

You might also be interested in going through previous articles posted here about knowing your process!

4. Creatively Primed – Keeping the well topped up

Different people gestate ideas at a different pace. Some stories come to you quickly, others can take days, weeks, months or even years to brew and mature. Knowing how to maintain your creative energy and a creative space will help to keep your story following no matter what.

November is not the time to come down with a mortal case of writers block.

  • What facilitates/supports nurtures your creative life?
  • What drains/stunts/blocks your creative life?

5. Stress

No one will disagree November presents numerous challenges to each writer and with each of them comes the possibility of stress. Knowing how your stress manifests and how you cope positively and negatively, will enable you to plan ahead to deal with it.

  • What stresses you out?
  • How do you deal with it in positive ways?
  • How do you deal with it in negative ways?
  • What do you think might cause the most stress for you this year?
  • How might you negate it?
  • What helps you to relax?
  • How can you incorporate something relaxing into your every day routine during NaNo? ( you may find it is something you can do which support your creative well and keeps the stress at bay!)

6. Time Management – Sharing November

My 1667 words a day have to share me with my parenting duties, maintaining a house, running a publishing project and finding time to be with my partner. For me NaNo is about being super organised – double checking my diary, writing lists so I get everything when I goout, creating menus for a week and only grocery shopping once, falling back on the simple routines which make life easy. In essence I make the most of every minute of every day.

If you isolate a time when you write best, do everything in you power (if it is logistically possible) to write then.

  • How would you break down a normal day – between work, family time, hobbies, community work etc? Where does writing currently fit in?
  • Where are you intending to fit it in?
  • Is there a time best suited to writing?
  • How will you (and those you live with) support this time slot?
  • Is there a fall back time?
  • What little routines can you develop before NaNo begins to support your writing?

7. What’s in you calendar for November?

Few of us can just pack a bag and go to NaNo Land for November. We have jobs, families, friends and other commitments which are no easily put on the back burner. Knowing what else is going on in November will assist you to make it over the line. Obviously not everything can be accounted for (I learnt this when my partner was taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack three days before NaNo finished in 07) but knowing, anticipating and planning with give you some breathing space and negate the worst of the nasty surprises.

  • How many days do you have at your disposal to write in November?
  • Based on your commitments, how many words a day do you need to write to have 50,000 at the end of November?
  • How can you be organised to fit everything you need to do every day?

8. Treat Yourself Kindly

I’m not necessarily keen on the idea of positive reinforcement, but there is something to be said for treating yourself after a job well done. Rather than making it the reason to do it (or the bribe), view it as a way of thanking yourself. Have your milestones and celebrate as you make your way through November.

  • What can you do every day to assist you in making your work count?
  • What will your milestones be?
  • What treats do you have in mind?

9. Support

While we like to think of ourselves as islands, because writing by nature is a solitary task, we’re actually not islands and we don’t necessarily perform well in isolation. We need support and encouragement – particularly when times get tough. While it is important to have friends who know what you’re going through and came empathise with you, it is also important to have those close to you supporting and encouraging you. After all they are the ones on the coalface when things get weird or when you have to say no to something they might really want you to do.

I make a contract with my family every year because without their support I can’t attempt 50,000 words in 30 days. The first year I promised to make sure the housework was up to date and dinner was on the table every night – and if this happened I could take one whole day off over the weekend. While November was the most organised of months in our household, I wasn’t able to ask for the time I had promised to me on the weekend.

  • What sort of support/help might you need?
  • Where would you find it?
  • How do you ask it?
  • What contracts might you need to make with family and friends for the month of November?

I encourage every writer doing NaNo to find an online or local group to join. You might even considering creating a support group of like minded writerly friends in the lead up to brainstorm ideas and narrative arcs.

Jodi Cleghorn is staring down the barrell of the biggest week of the year. This coming Sunday – 10/10/10 – Chinese Whisperings releases The Yin and Yang Books. But before then there is a ridiculous amount of work to completed. You can find more of Jodi’s musings at Writing in Black and White or Twitter.
  1. October 4, 2010 12:13 am

    Thanks for this Jodi, I hadn’t really considered a lot of these points!

  2. October 4, 2010 3:01 am

    We all think about the mechanics of writing 50,000 words – in terms of plot, characterisation etc etc… but not much about what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of those 50,000 words. And every year is different.

    I know exactly what I want from my experience this year and I’m going to really create some strong boundaries to honour it.

  3. October 4, 2010 7:49 am

    Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned from participating. This year will be my first try at NaNoWriMo!! I’m excited, but a little (okay a lot) intimidated. I never would have considered several of these points. I’m going to work through these questions today. It’s good to know I can count on Write Anything and the amazing writers here for support.

  4. October 4, 2010 11:41 am

    These are all great points Jodi, but for me number 9. Support is perhaps the most important. Writing is important for me but so is my family. I’m lucky to have a family that understands my need to write and participate in NaNo. So what’s in it for them? I can’t shut myself away from them for the month, nor would I want to. Being away from my family to write would hinder my creativity rather than help it. One of my plans for this year is to match, hour for hour, family time with writing time. As an example, if it takes me three hours to bang out my daily 2000 words, then that’s three hours I need to spend that day with my family.

    I’m ChrisChartrand if you would like to be writing buddies.

    Jodi, is Write Anything going to have a group on the forums this year?

  5. October 4, 2010 3:34 pm

    I like the idea of tackling your expectations and preparing yourself mentally. And realistically appraising the time you have available. Like preparing for a marathon, you have to plan to succeed.

  6. October 4, 2010 7:29 pm

    Laura: you are most welcome. When we all undertook our first NaNo we got similar support so its paying it forward. I can assure you there will be lots more to come over the month of October.

    Chris: yes we will. Karen has set it up in the past so will need to ask her how its all done. The forum section of the NaNo site does my head in. But as soon as its set up we’ll let everyone know.

    Roz: I had no idea how important expectations were to getting over the line. This year I’d like to actually enjoy the life of a writer… that is, I’m taking on no new editing work and have offered a hand to do some website building with a project I’ve been involved in over the last few weeks, but that’s it. Last year there were too many balls trying to be held up in the air and its just didnt work (well I got over the line but it felt like a hollow victory given I didn’t manage to establish a good work ethic, which had been my goal as well as the 50,000 words)

  7. October 5, 2010 8:35 pm

    Thanks for bringing the Write Anything NaNo forum up, Chris! It had totally slipped my mind.

    I made a Write Anything Group page, if you’re interested:

    See you on the forums!

  8. October 7, 2010 9:16 am

    Hope your partner was ok 😦

    I’m looking forward to my second NaNo this year 🙂


  9. October 8, 2010 6:22 am

    This is a fantastic way to do a quick stocktake of where you’re up to before NaNo. I’ll be using it, and I’ve linked to your post from my blog.

  10. October 12, 2010 1:04 pm

    Such a helpful article! I’m getting ready to do NaNoWriMo for this first time this year and want to be prepared. This was a huge help. Thanks!

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