So… It's almost November and writers across the world are stocking their fridges scribbling notes. Yes, it's NaNoWrMo time. Natalie Wright, ALLi Member and a veteran, leads the charge.
Last year, I participated in NaNoWriMo (Nat'l Novel Writing Month) for the first time. I penned (most) of the first draft of Emily's Trial in 30 days, and ‘won' NaNoWriMo. Phew! It was exhausting, but also highly productive.
It took me two years to write the first draft of my first book. It took me a month to have a first draft of my second.
What a way to start your new year – with a first draft of your WIP waiting for you on January 1.
And now, a year later, much like the pain of childbirth, and though I do recall telling my husband to smack me if I ever said I wanted to do it again, I've forgotten the agony. As I look on the beauty that the homely NaNoWriMo child became in the ten months following its birth, I bask in the glow of a finished novel.
And from first day of NaNo to published book it only took eleven months instead of five years.
So yes, my indie friends, I’ve committed to doing it again. If you're a newbie, here's a few things I learned along the NoWri Way:
1. Tap Into the Resources on the NaNoWriMo Site: If you’re a NaNo virgin, this is your first step. Pop over to the site produced by the Office of Letters and Light, sign up, spiffify your profile, and then check out the resources. You may want to get connected to a NaNo group in your area for write-ins. If you gather good energy from the collective, then go for it.
While you’re on the NaNo site, make sure you check out Peptalks by writers such as Scott Westerfeld, Nick Hornby, Newberry winner Kate DiCamillo, Karen Russell and NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Batty. These posts provide useful advice and the cheerleading you need to urge you to the finish line.
While on the NaNoWriMo site, you can procrastinate working on my other tips below. You can play with NaNo gadgets to post on your blog or website, donate to the cause, get engaged in a forum or two, and order yourself a NaNo T-shirt. But don’t do all your procrastination on the NaNo site now – save some of it for November.
Before you leave the NaNo site, make sure to come say ‘hi’ to me. You can find me here.
2. Try Creating a Snowflake: If you’re not familiar with the snowflake method of novel planning, please go check out the snowflake method on AdvancedFictionWriting.com by Randy Ingermanson. Randy’s 10-step method for novel planning will help you create a solid story plan without outlining.
A week ago, I was sweating bullets because I had no plot for my NaNo project. It’s the third book in a trilogy, so I have the advantage of knowing my characters, etc. But I’m not about to sit down at a blank screen and let the characters ramble along for a month with no plan. I pulled out the snowflake post and got to work. In the past week, I’ve worked through the first five steps and now have a plot (beginning, middle, end), and a solid idea of each main character’s storyline. Woot, woot!
Even if you’re a ‘pantser’, give the snowflake a try. You can do all of Randy’s suggested steps, or just a few. But no matter what method you choose to plan your novel – PLAN IT! You will thank yourself for this pre-NaNo work on November 30.
3. Don’t Have Time to Create a Snowflake? Then L.O.C.K. Your NaNo Story: If you’re short on time, try the ‘L.O.C.K.’ system, created by writer James Scott Bell. If you don’t own a copy of Bell’s book, Plot & Structure (Writer’s Digest Books, 2004), then consider ordering one now. I’ve found Bell’s book a great resource for getting a grip on novel writing.
His first step is called ‘L.O.C.K.’, which stands for Lead, Objective, Conflict, and Knockout Ending. I don’t want to go into more detail of his advice (and potentially violate copyright), but I think the letters speak for themselves. Approach each of your main characters in this way:
- Describe/define your character;
- Define their objective/story goal (I do internal and external objectives for each
- Think through the character’s conflict (what stands in the way of the character getting what s/he wants – for both internal and external objectives);
- Come up with your ending,what has to happen before the book ends.
If you do this for each of your main characters, you’ll have a rough outline of your novel before you begin. (Incidentally, if you look at both the Snowflake post and the L.O.C.K. system, you’ll see that the L.O.C.K. approach is a shorthand method to get you through about the first three to four steps of the Snowflake.)
4. When Stuck, Get Physical: This tip is one to post on your wall for later – for when you’re deep into NaNo madness and one day you sit at the computer and have nothing to say! I’ve never been at a loss for words, and had never experienced writer’s block. But last year, about mid-way through NaNo, I found myself with absolutely nothing to write.
I took a walk, meditated, ate, drank and stroked my lucky writing totem. Nothing.
Then an idea came to me, born perhaps from panic (or caffeine-fueled jitters). The idea was to dig in and get physical with my MC. I asked my character to describe her setting – from a sensory perspective. I went beyond my writer and artist’s tendency to ‘see’ only the visual and I asked Emily: What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you feel on your skin? What do you taste? I kept her out of feeling/thinking/emotion/reaction and purely in her physical sensations. Her answers illuminated, and it broke me out of my stuck place. Emily – and her story – was back. And the tasty tidbits of sensory description that she gave me helped me create a more rich setting for the story.
So if you get stuck, get physical with your characters, and see what happens.
5. Take Care of Yourself: Remember, NaNoWriMo is a marathon, not a sprint. It will go more smoothly, be more productive, and you’ll enjoy it more if you plan for it. Now that you’ve planned for your story, plan for how you’re going to take care of you (and others you’re responsible for) over the 30 days of November. Let those in your circle of family, friends and acquaintances know what you’re doing. Plan now for how you’re going to fuel your body with healthy food and exercise. Ask for help.
You will be thoroughly engrossed in your story for an entire month. You will eat it, breathe it, and sleep it. It will be both exhausting and exhilarating. You are giving yourself the gift of a full month of literary abandon and intense focus on your story. That’s an amazing gift. Plan now for the help you’ll need to support your literary marathon.
You can do it. Now get to work!
Natalie Wright is the self-published author of the Akasha Chronicles, a young adult paranormal fantasy trilogy. You can connect with Natalie at her blog, Facebook, Twitter and of course on the Alliance of Independent Authors site.