Every year in January, I put together a list of goals for the new year. Usually, they range from the attainable (this year I wanted to read 25 books and watch 25 new movies) to the potentially unattainable (I also wanted to run a marathon, which was unfortunately canceled because, 2020). And this year, on the harder end of that spectrum, I said that I wanted to write a novel.
Now, I don’t really have any creative writing experience, but I do love to read, and I wanted to learn more about how books are created. So, I thought, what better way to learn than by writing one myself? Plus, I had a whole year to figure it out. How hard could it be?
Well, as I am sure many people can relate, 2020 was not a particularly creative year for me. The stress of the pandemic and the state of the world has not been incredibly conducive to getting my author juices flowing. And now, here I am, with 2021 getting closer and closer, and still no novel.
In 1999, Chris Baty came up with the idea to get a group of people together and have everyone attempt to write a short novel (50,000 words) in a single month. Since then, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has taken off, with people all over the world attempting to complete an entire book in November.
No one saw this year coming. There was no way to plan for the personal challenges we all faced. 2020 dealt out a lot of disappointment, putting so many dreams and aspirations on hold. But, as I learned more about NaNoWriMo, I realized this was one thing I could cross off my list before this year is finally over.
Okay, so I am going to write 50,000 words in November. Now what?
As excited as I was to have this goal, I really felt like I needed a plan. So I did what I always do, I found a book to lead the way.
Chris Baty, the mastermind himself, wrote No Plot? No Problem! A Low Stress, High Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days and seriously, its been a life raft in the stormy seas of NaNoWriMo prep. It made me feel like this thing was not only possible, but something I could actually have a lot of fun attempting.
So over the last month, I have been doing everything I can to feel prepared without actually writing anything (you can’t start until November 1st). Here are some of the things I have personally found helpful.
Tell people your plan, but not your plot
Accountability is important (and a big reason why I am publishing this piece). By publicly announcing your intentions, you have suddenly created both a cheering section and outside expectations you want to live up to.
The problem is that the minute you tell someone “I think I’m going to write a book,” their immediate next question is “Cool, what are you going to write about?” I have personally cycled through a few potential plots in the month or so leading up to November. But once I share an idea with my well-meaning but opinionated friends, they start trying to make suggestions.
If you are going to write a book in a month, it has to come from you. It has to be something you are personally excited about. And unfortunately, sometimes hearing other people’s opinions can turn you off from even your favorite ideas.
So tell as many people as you can about your plan, and get excited to update them on your progress. But don’t feel like you have to justify your project by sharing your perfectly crafted story outline. That part can be just for you.
Learn something about story structure
I can usually come up with cool concepts pretty easily but then I have no idea how to turn them into an actual story. So learning even the basics of three act structure has been extremely helpful.
There are tons of videos on Youtube of authors explaining their process, or professors teaching story structure. If you are looking for somewhere to start, I personally really enjoyed Brandon Sanderson’s writing classes. He does a great job of covering all the basics, while also being engaging and fun.
Research the world you want to inhabit
It’s good to start thinking about what the world of your story is going to look like. If you are creating a totally new one, maybe now is the time for a bit of world-building. If you are writing about the past, maybe research different elements of the time period that might inform your story.
Or, if like me, you have chosen something contemporary, find a way to learn a bit more about how it works or what it’s like. Personally, I want to set my story in the world of professional sports, so I have been watching some behind the scenes clips to get a feel.
You could also pick something you already know a lot about but you definitely don’t have to stick to the things you feel like you are an expert in.
Too much research can be overwhelming, but a little bit will give you that extra burst of confidence to get started.
Outline, or don’t, whatever works
There are so many different ways to prepare to write. Some people like to outline the whole thing (planners), while others prefer to simply jump right in and explore (pantsers). Turns out, I am more of a “planter.” I have a very loose structure I want to stick to, but other than that, I plan to just see what comes to me.
Whatever way works for you is totally fine. You are not doing anything wrong if you start out on November 1st with no idea, or if you come in with tons of notes and a full map. Whatever is going to make you feel both comfortable and excited is the right way to go.
Set up your routine
It might seem silly, but I got myself a new sweatshirt at the NaNoWriMo store. I hope that when I put it on, it will help me get in the zone. I have also set aside a couple one hour time slots each day to ensure I dedicate a solid chunk of time to my novel
All this to say, it’s good to have some kind of plan for how to actually get this thing done. You don’t need a ton of time, but you do probably need more focused time than you might expect. Try to think of some fun ways to get yourself in the right mindset to sit and write.
Make it fun
The most important thing to remember: there is no correct way to win NaNoWriMo. If at the end of November, you have written 50,000 words, then you are a winner, simple as that.
Everyone has their own reasons for doing this. For me, its about proving to myself that I can. Like that marathon I was suppose to run this month, if I can do this, then there really isn’t anything I can’t do.
But most of all, I want to have fun. I want to enjoy this challenge as much as possible, and I hope, if you are trying it, than that’s at least part of your goal as well. Because honestly, this is a lot of work if you are not also enjoying the process.
So, here I go! By the time you are reading this, I will hopefully already be on my way. And in the interest of accountability, I will be back a couple times in the next month to update you on my progress and let you know what I’ve discovered (will probably be something along the lines of … this is a lot harder than I thought).
So good luck to everyone attempting this along with me. One way or another, we will all be authors by the end.