Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NaNo: the Plan, or not to plan?

nanowrimo_bannerT’was the week before NaNo and all through the house… (with apologies to Clement Moore). Actually it is five days and counting until the start of National Novel Writing Month 2009. So that begs the question; are Wrimos all settled down or are they scurrying frantically to get those last minute preparations done before the stroke of midnight Saturday?

The real answer is both, and neither, which includes everything in between. There are some who need a full outline and characters a map and a day by day schedule of what they plan to work on. I have known some that have done nothing until November first when they log-in to activate their NaNoWriMo account and then start writing the first thing that pops into his or her head.

This will be my third NaNo. By conditioning I am a planned writer but I have learned to let go of so much control and allow the story to unfold. I also think my age and life stage influence my tendency to be a planner. However, most of my preparation for NaNo has to do with other stuff that supports my ability to get through the month in one piece.

Last year I did not reach 50K words because I did not have the emotional stamina to write for such long periods about something I was inventing; but the writing I did do on last’s project was helpful for maintaining some resemblance of normalcy in my life. So if you are in a transition and think that means you can’t do NaNo because you have too much chaos that might not be true.

My preparations fall into five categories: story, social, calendar, materials, and media; not in any particular order.


Under the rules of NaNoWriMo there can be no prewriting of the actual text. I have, however, found it helpful to know a handful of likely main characters, a timeframe, and a starting location. The first day or two feel less like a time warp even if I discard or change them later.


NaNoWriMo is a community as well as an activity. The first Wrimos realized they would not have made it if it had not been for belonging to a group during the first NaNo. My social preparations include letting my family and friends know I’m doing NaNo. Some are supportive and others think it is nuts, but I tell them to communicate that while my November is busy they are still part of my life.

I also reactivate my NaNo account and connect with my local group and my online buddies. I met such a great group of women my first year who were so funny and have continued to be so supportive despite all our quirks and warts. We now have an online writers group at LiveJournal. I would not have made it the first year and likely would have taken last year’s failure much harder if I had not been connected to this group.


I set up three calendars. I know it’s a bit anal but it reduces confusion even if it sounds confusing. I built blank calendar pages that I can put in my notebook in Excel. The first is my personal calendar of things that I have to do in November and the days I have to do them. Then I fill in my non-NaNo writing deadlines on another calendar. Then consulting those two calendars I can fill in a rough schedule of NaNo writing deadlines on the third calendar.

While the NaNo rule of thumb is 1,667 words a day to reach the 50K for a purple bar I need scheduled blank days. I plan 25 days of 2,000 words a day which gives me 5 back-up or catch-up days.


Okay, how much stuff does one need to write 50K words in a month? Well if you’re just doing it, and don’t plan to get a word count check or print out the certificate at the end, then you only need a lot of pens and notebooks. The rest of us need and/or want a few extras, such as:

- a computer and internet access because it’s convenient

- back-up storage devices because having the only copy of a work in progress stuck on a crashed hard drive isn’t funny

- paper, pens, and pencils because sometimes stepping away from the computer is inspiring

- a mascot because you're going to spend a lot of time alone in your writing space

- munchies like teas, hot cocoa, chocolate, and something special because writing consumes a lot of calories

- media like music to write by or a few movies for inspiration or procrastination

So how do I stack up?

While, in its listed state, my preparations look complex in actuality they are not. I am probably in the middle of the middle of Wrimos I know. There are some who have full 2-inch binders stuffed with character interviews, maps and street names, plot treatments and even chapter by chapter outlines. There are some who have been on cleaning and cooking blitzes for the last week. I have never done those things even when I hosted Thanksgiving Dinner in 2007 and had houseguests.

That said, I have never been able to try Chris Baty’s suggestion in No plot, No Problem to prepare nothing and just show up and start writing every day for 30 days. I doubt that I ever will.

So, what’s your style? If you did NaNoWriMo would you be a planner or a non-planner?


Melissa Donovan said...

I love hearing about how different people approach NaNoWriMo. When I did it in '08, I just had a few characters. There was a man, a girl, and a wolf, and they came to me at night when I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep. The story didn't materialize until NaNo actually started and then I was off like a rocket!

Deb said...

Wow that's a brave start. I have trouble with wolves because the image that comes up is the scene in Doctor Zhivago; and that was chilling.I think I read that you will not be joining us this year and you will be missed. Be sure to check in now and then.

Margaret Cloud said...

Boy, you sure do have to go through a lot to get ready to write, I have great admiration for writers and their preparation, it must get nerve racking at times. I did write a story a few years ago and was going to send it in but did not have the nerve.

Deb said...

@Margaret - All this preparation is related to getting through the month on NaNo. My regular writing deadlines to not require all this advance prep except to get the informatin I will write about.

And, you should let somebody read your manuscript and give you a more objective opinion of its merits for publication. Writers tend to be their own worst critics.