Friday 30 October 2020

Preparing For NaNoWriMo

 As I write this, it's the afternoon of October 30th. In just under a day and a half, depending where you are in the world, you could be starting to write a 50,000 word novel.

Well, the first draft of one, at least. Why would you? Because you've always wanted to, perhaps? Because you like challenges? Because it's a great community to be a part of? Or, as Mallory is famously said to have responded when asked why he wanted to climb Everest, "Because it's there."

(I'm not quite sure where I'm going with that last one. Do I mean "Because [NanoWriMo] is there?" Perhaps that's it. I started off thinking "Because [your novel] is there." Except the whole point is that it isn't. Yet, at least. But I digress...)

For whatever reason, you've decided to do NaNo. The rules are quite clear - you can't start writing until November 1st, in whatever time zone you're in. What you can do, however, is prepare.

Of course, preparing will take different shapes depending whether you see yourself as a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in between. (Personally, I vision myself as roughly in the middle, lurching disastrously towards one method whenever I get especially frustrated with the other one!)

One thing you can do wherever you lie on that spectrum, though, is sign up for the NaNoWriMo forums. If you want a community of supportive writers to cheer you on, give you advice, and play games with, they're hard to beat. That said, if you're easily distracted, as I am, they can also be a temptation to join in word game threads, check out other people's awesome ideas, and generally do anything other than working on your 50,000 words. So it's definitely worth thinking if you'll find them a help or a hindrance! If all else fails, consider setting yourself a scheduled time, or times, to check out the forums every day.

Of course, you may already have a crowd of people you know doing NaNo. If you're on Twitter, for example, it's well worth searching the #NaNoWriMo hashtag - I'm always thrilled when I set my search results to show people I follow and find out that there are friends of mine doing it, who I can check in with and give mutual support to. (Admittedly, this is partly because pretty much everyone I know is very aware of my short attention span, and has no qualms about pointing it out to me if I seem like I'm concentrating on not writing.)

Another thing you may want to do is check out some writing advice books. While you could comfortably spend the entire of November - and indeed, every other month until NEXT November - reading books on how to write well, rather than putting it into practice, I'm going to highlight two that I think are especially useful reads for the next day or so.

Lawrence Block's Telling Lies For Fun & Profit has been my go-to for writing advice since I first bought it (which, according to Amazon, was back in 2013.) This is partly because Block is my favourite novelist of the last few decade - a prolific purveyor of outstanding crime fiction, ranging from the hard-bitten Matthew Scudder books about a recovering alcoholic PI, to the far more gentle series starring Bernie Rhodenbarr, perhaps the last of the gentleman burglars. However, it's mostly because he offers very good advice. The book is a collection of 47 columns originally written for Writer's Digest, covering subjects like "What to do when the words have to come" and "Writing faster without sacrificing quality", both of which are particularly useful to people doing NaNo, as well as great advice on plot, characters, writing style, and various other things. This is definitely a book for people in it for the long haul, in many ways - but the chapter structure makes it very easy to look at specific advice, and as something to dip into during NaNo, I think it's hard to beat.

My cover-to-cover read, though, would be Libby Howser's Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books For Faster, Better Writing. In a little over 150 pages, Howser gives a focused and useful guide to finding the story core of your book, creating an outline based around character arc, theme and pacing, and explains how to develop this into a novel. While Howser is at pains to state that her method is "one way to approach story out of many possible ways," it's one that's perfectly suited for NaNo.

Are you doing NaNo? Have you done it before? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me at @yayeahyeah!

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