You’ve decided on a genre, done a bit of worldbuilding, and drawn up your heroes and villains – now to survive the writing process! The idea of NaNo is to write quick and dirty, without letting your inner editor interfere, so you end up with a first draft. To manage this, you need to make a few lists, so grab a pen and paper and let’s go!
- Scenes. At this point, you’ll probably have some ideas for scenes. Write them all down without worrying too much about order. You only want a rough sentence or two that captures the idea.
- Places & people. Yes, you have your main characters, but you’ll inevitably get to a point in your story where you need to name someone else. A list of names for people and places (the latter especially if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy) means you don’t have to stop to think later.
- Things that could happen. Consider your genre and the tropes that go with it, and list literally everything that could happen within the context of your book. Birth, marriage, death, fire, flood, earthquake, lightning strike – throw as many things that will help/hinder your characters as you can think of.
- Characters. Make a simple list of your characters with full name, age, hair and eye colour, rough description, and relation (if any) to another character. This way you won’t have to stop to leaf though pages when you need a fact. Marking a character off if they die also prevents you from accidentally resurrecting them and kicking off a zombie apocalypse (unless that’s what you want!)
Lists are also extremely helpful during NaNo. Create a research list and jot down anything you need to look up later; once you’ve hit your word count for the day if it’s a basic fact, but anything complicated can wait until December.
Make a second list of scenes as you write. This will give you a very basic synopsis that can identify where needs more detail and even where your plot holes are. No, you aren’t going to need this until draft 2, but it’s easier to do as you go than afterwards, when you’ll have to wade through 50,000 words.
Getting through NaNo takes determination and a fair bit of stubbornness. If you’re on the forums, you’ll see mention of the “week 2 slump” that hits a lot of writers. This is often because everyone starts with a bright, burning idea and charges in. Fine, until the fire dies down and you’re left scrabbling for more words. This is when you hit your lists.
What you write during NaNo matters less than how much. Whatever idea you have, regardless of whether it seems to “fit”, throw it at the page. No idea during NaNo is stupid. No scene is too ridiculous. Get it written now – refine it later.
Talking of ideas, I’ll bet £10 that on at least one occasion a doozy will hit you the moment you’re away from your computer / you’ve shut it down. Whatever it is and whenever it hits – note it down somehow. I tend to email myself stuff using my phone. It also has a memo option if I’m nowhere that has wi-fi. Just don’t rely on your remembering it later, because I’ll bet another £10 that you won’t.
But what if no ideas are coming? This shouldn’t really happen if you’ve gone through my prep exercises, but some times a story just doesn’t work. Don’t spend days stressing over it and getting more wound up by getting behind. Simply save what you have, open a new document, and start again. The words you’ve written still count, regardless of what the NaNo website says about working on one piece.
Maybe you can get to the original piece another time. Maybe you can rework the words into your new one (only count them once!) Or maybe it never goes anywhere. All of these outcomes are fine. You’ll not be a failure for having a false start. There’s not a published author alive who’s not been there and done it. Actually, you should praise yourself for spotting that the story’s not working!
I wish you all the very best of luck, and I’ll see you on the other side!