So, will you be participating this year? I skipped last year due to immense stress at work, but I'm very excited for this year!
For those of you who are new to the concept of NaNoWriMo (or even those of you looking for some hints!) here are some tips, tricks, and tools for the insanity that is November!
Outline, outline, outline.
I've attempted NaNoWriMo three times, and completed it once. The key difference between my first two (unsuccessful) attempts and the third, successful attempt was outlining.
You don't have to be all fancy with the Roman numerals, letters, and numbers like your grammar-school teachers probably insisted on (or at least mine did), but some kind of sketch of what should happen is a good idea. In my case, I knew what the critical events were for the story I wanted to tell, and I wrote them down as a timeline. The details changed a little during the writing process, but the overall plan remained the same.
Spend some time NOW getting to know your characters.
We all know that it's not cool to start your novel-writing before November 1. But that doesn't mean you have to go in blind as to who's going to show up! You should have at least your main protagonist and your main antagonist in mind. Spend some time learning about them. Not just the background info - where she grew up, how he got his job, the last time she had her heart broken - but also little individual tics. Does she bite her nails? Does he have a signature phrase? Does she have an emotional blind spot that can be exploited for extra plot bits later?
What do your characters like to eat? How do they tend to keep up their relationships? Is her room messy or clean? Does she enjoy cooking? What are her hobbies?
These questions are also great places to get jumping-off points for any research you need to do.
Another thing you might consider is just throwing together some drabbles or sketch-bits just to get a feel for the style of prose you plan to use, or for how a character thinks. Use scenes that won't be part of the novel itself, but that you want to know about for your own personal gain!
Finding the Time to Write
50,000 words is a lot, and not everyone has the luxury of lots of free time to do it in. However, you can find lots of little ways to carve out 20 minutes here and half an hour there. Here are some things I've done in the past that helped me find time for NaNo:
*Use your lunch break at work. If you're fortunate enough to work with computers, invest in a small flash drive and carry that with you. Eat and type at the same time, or just eat fast and then type. If not, carry a notebook with you and scribble.
*If you have a long commute on public transit, take a notebook with you and make use of your commute to write, or to edit what you've written before.
*If you drive or walk to work or school, consider investing in a voice recorder. You can tell the story out loud to yourself as you're driving, and either have speech-to-text software transcribe it for you, or bribe your kids/your spouse/a handy friend/your cat to do it for you. (Of course, you could always do the transcription yourself, too.)
*Consider making arrangements with your housemates regarding chores; you could perhaps offer to do extra chores in October and December in exchange for them picking up chores in November while you write. You could also prepare things in October that can be frozen for November, like spaghetti sauce, stews and soups, casseroles, etc. so that all you have to do when you get home is throw it in the oven and bang out 500 words while it bakes. (Corollary to this: would anyone be interested in some recipes that work well for this sort of thing? I'd be more than happy to post some.)
*Try streamlining your errands and daily to-dos to eke out another ten minutes here or half hour there. For example, if you pack lunches for your kids or yourself to take to work/school, do that prep work while dinner is cooking, and that way all the cleanup can be done at once.
*This one's important - disconnect from the Internet while you're writing. Hide your FreeCell shortcut. Minimize your distractions, so that your writing time is spent writing instead of re-organizing your iTunes library. (I am guilty of each and every one of these things, myself. Repeat offender, in fact.)
*If you're travelling that month, make use of your travel time! I fly from Chicago to Baltimore every Thanksgiving. This means a minimum of ten hours in the airport/on the flight. Prime writing time!
Tools of the Trade
Obviously, your primary tool is yourself, right? But because our brains don't process stories in a necessarily linear fashion (or even an insert-language-of-choice-here fashion!), it can sometimes help to have ways to keep your research and your writing organized. That being said, here are a few of my favourites.
Google Notebooks is a fabulous toy for storing notes, bookmarks, research, et cetera. If you don't have a flash drive, you can combine it with Google Documents to make your writing more accessible on-the-go (provided you have Internet.) Even if you're going to use one of the other tools I have listed below to coordinate your writing and research, you might want to consider making a backup on Google - it's accessible from any computer and can save you from a hard drive crash. (Personally, I'm really paranoid and recommend backing up your NaNo somewhere daily. But that's me.)
Scrivener is an absolutely fantastic piece of writing software for Macintosh. There's a testimonial here by one of the most prolific writers I know about why Scrivener is great for editing. Scrivener is particularly great for a writing project like NaNoWriMo because of the corkboard feature: you can write your scenes in any damn order you please and Scrivener will be able to re-sort them into a lovely single file that you can export to your word processor of choice for the fiddly bits at the end. 30-day demo; very reasonable pricing after. Scrivener will store outlining, research, images, et cetera.
If you want Scrivener's features but don't have a Mac, Liquid Story Binder is pretty close for PC, although I personally find the interface slightly less than intuitive. One of my favourite things about LSB is the fact that the 30-day demo is 30 use-days, not 30 calendar-days, which means I'm still bopping happily along in trial mode. LSB, unlike a lot of other writing software I've run into, is also very fantasy-genre (or fanfic-genre, if that's your bend) friendly; just look at their sample screenshots to see how that would work. You can store images, outlines, checklists, research, timelines in every conceivable mutation, and do your writing and line-edit notes all in the same program. It's not quite as good as Scrivener on the "reorganize your entire story on the fly" deal, but you could probably co-opt and workaround it until it does what you want. Best of all, LSB fits and runs beautifully off my 512MB flash drive with tons of room to spare; you don't have to install it on whatever PC you're using!
And lastly, I'll revisit a tool I prepared for us previously that I really found to be very helpful: my Word Tracker Spreadsheet. Right-click to save; it's an Excel file that plays nicely with Google Documents (and should play nicely with Open Office as well, if you use that, or the iWork equivalent if you're on a Mac.) Just put in your wordcount at the end of each day; the spreadsheet will tell you where you are relative to where you "should" be that day if you were to write the same number of words every day, how close you are to being finished percentage-wise, your progress for the day, et cetera.
Whew, that was quite a lot! Obviously, I'm getting into the proper spirit of NaNoWriMo already!
During the month of November I plan to have pep talks and gripe-fests, so look forward to those. If there's anything else you'd like to hear about or other suggestions you'd like to share, please leave them in the comments and I'll do a round-up post in the next couple weeks!