Do you think you can write a novel in a month?
That seems like a big task, doesn’t it? But there’s an entire group of writers who will be joining forces as we write 50,000 words in the month of November, and have been doing it for years! If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may be aware that I’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo for a long time, and even wrote parts of all my books during NaNo and Camp NaNo.
My books all run around 120,000 words, so I usually manage about half a book[ish] during the event. That equals out to 1667 words daily, though I often write more on some days so that I can write less on others, or skip some days entirely. Time management is the key to staving off burnout, though the first part of any story is when I tend to crank out the most words quickly because I’m excited and into it.
I love writing with a goal. I’m a very goal-driven person, and I also respond well to gamification – and you can earn badges on the NaNo site for your profile! I also love watching that number count rise. Staying focused can be difficult but the structure of NaNoWriMo really sets me up for success, and I love that.
I also love the idea of writing in community, even though writing itself is rather solitary. There are so many group sprints, discords, and groups on the NaNo community board that I can join. I also host sprints and offer encouragement on my Discord for those who want my special brand of cheerleading.
How I do it.
Generally, I’m a plantser. This is known. But this year, I’m working – at least this is the plan – on a short story, rather than a full-fledged novel, and that means that I’ve changed my usual ways.
My process has been this:
- Start with writing down the basic story idea. [I’ll give you that at the end of this post]
- Create character sheets for the MCs and antagonist that includes things like motivations and goals.
- Write an opening paragraph or two that establishes the start and feel of the story.
- *new this year!* Write a basic outline that includes the major beats.
- Research, note taking, details that will show up in the story.
- Photos for inspiration, to be added to mood board or mock cover art.
Getting all those steps out of the way before I start writing makes for much smoother sailing. Adding the outline step feels weird but honestly, I’m more ready this year than I possibly ever have been! It’s a map that I can use or ignore at will, but it at least gives me the basic path for where I think the tale will lead me. And it allows my brain to work in the background on the storyline without fancifully taking it places that I know I won’t actually be using.
My brain likes to do that a lot.
I write in Scrivener, and for NaNo I use the NaNoWriMo template, which will auto-update my daily wordcounts to my account on the NaNo site. I’ve already got my chapter structure set up, too, with basic notes in each folder to remind me where I should be, beat-wise. My character sheets live there along with the outline and a page for links and resources from my research that I’ll be drawing on as I write. I picked up Scrivener after my first NaNo “win” because they offered 50% off to winners, and it was the best decision ever. The organization and customization it offers is right up my alley.
Other folks use programs like Plottr or Atticus or even Word, and they all have pros and cons but do the job. I think trying out different ones is a good way to find the one that matches up best with your needs.
I still recommend Caveday for a focused writing space, but right now I’ve been doing a lot of sprints on my Discord, The House of Three Ravens, as well as some other writing community Discords. I don’t need a camera open or mic on for that and I can run one any time I like!
Another thing that I do is send each finished chapter – unedited – to my #1 alpha reader, my partner Christopher. I let him read through and get his general first impressions of where the story is going and if everything makes sense and is keeping him interested. I take note of any plot points or details that he’s got questions about or isn’t clear on, and use that for my first edits and adjustments. When I’m writing fast and loose having that grounding but supportive read through is essential! I also find that his questions can help me go more in depth in character arcs or find places to add details that he’s suggested.
It’s the ritual, dummy.
That’s what I tell myself when marvel at how much I get accomplished during NaNo. Ritual, and structure.
My usual plan is this: have lunch, and make sure all my distractions are managed for the next few hours. I get a snack and brew a mug of tea, then put in my earbuds and select some music suited to what I’m writing. Usually that’s the soundtrack I’ve put together for the story, though not always. Then I minimize everything but Scrivener and start writing, usually at 3pm. I’ll write for about 1.5 – 2 hours and in that time hopefully hit my word goal.
I like to reward myself by getting up and doing a stupid dance. You can use your imagination for that, I’m not making a video.
If you’re interested at trying your hand at NaNo, let me know! I’m ready to offer advice or just cheer you on loudly.
Now… do you wanna see what I’ll be writing?
Two lonely people meet through an online bulletin board and send each other longing emails filled with stories and poetry. Slowly one begins to sense that something’s not quite as they assumed…
And now I’m off to make last minute adjustments to my outline! I’ll give you the next update in the upcoming episode of Magic All Around podcast, coming soon!