Saturday, 26 October 2013

Preparing for NaNo

So, it’s late October and NaNoWriMo is once more looming on the horizon. If you’re unfamiliar with NaNo, it’s a challenge in which writers aim to pen 50,000 words in one month. You can connect with other writers, offer encouragement to your buddies, and receive tips and inspiration from the NaNo team. The event is meant to encourage people to just write write write, without worrying about editing or other concerns, so that at the end of the month you have a finished or nearly-finished project, Phase One of writing a novel!


I competed for the first time last year with a personal goal of 30k rather than the 50k. I succeeded, just, but there were a lot of things I realised, the main one being that I need to plan A LOT BETTER next time. Part of this was due to me trying to write a mystery book, so clues and groundwork needed to be laid carefully throughout the book, something that I found too difficult to ignore and add in later.

But partly, I think I learned that I am just the kind of writer that needs a plan. Maybe not a detailed ordnance survey map, but something a little more than basic directions to the end. This will help me stay on track, so that the words can keep flowing.

So this year, I’m doing the plotting thing. I bought a big sheet of card, and then wrote out scenes on post-it notes, different colours for different kinds of scenes. These weren’t every single one of my scenes, but the important ones, the ones that other bits will need to fit around. Then I began to arrange them, moving some around a bit, leaving gaps where there was obviously something missing, and so on, to see what the framework of my book looked like.

This is where I realised that I actually have a pretty solid first half, and then only about 3 major scenes in the second half with no flesh to go between them, and a very solid end. Huh. I wonder if this is normal for writers? Is it even a negative thing? Perhaps it’s good to leave myself with a looser second half, so that I have more room to manoeuvre later? I’ll be interested to see how it goes this time around. If anyone has any tips, or any recommendations of books on plotting a novel, please do leave them in the comments.

Another interesting thing that’s come out of this approach is that I can see certain themes running through the book, and I can more quickly solve certain problems by understanding where I’m going and which stages I need to hit to get there. The best solutions to problems are always the ones that tie in with events earlier, or key character motivations, or themes, and plotting like this helps me to keep track of these elements more easily.

Ok, so I do need at least one ordnance survey map
Another vital bit of preparation is research. This time around I’m going to be writing in a historical setting, and there are a lot of basic things I need to know before I begin. Small details can be changed and added later, but certain historical facts do affect plot and characterisation, so I need to have quite a good idea of what my city and society look like at this time. Researching is so much fun, I just have to be careful that it doesn’t become full time procrastination, which is another reason why I want to get the bulk of it done before NaNo. I don’t want anything to stop me while the words are flowing! (And let’s hope they do flow!)

And final preparations? Coffee, tea, chocolate, snack foods, fingerless gloves for typing in, comfy cushions, and beating that video game before November hits...!

So, are any of you taking part in NaNo this year? What are you doing, if anything, to prepare? Do you have any tips for success?

Oh, and if you're taking part and would like to add me as a buddy, please do! I'm on there as Jictoria.
Essential NaNo buddy


  1. For tips on the writing planning process see the blog on the BBC's writer's room.
    Although it is about TV/Radio script writing the process is very similar.
    Best of luck with your challenge

    1. Ooh that looks useful, thanks for the link! :-D

  2. Good luck! I failed twice now I think so I just write out of this time frame. It's the busiest month in school so I'd never manage to write anything in that time.

    1. Thanks! :-) Oh wow, it would be hard to do during a busy school month!

  3. Good luck! Those Nottingham books look interesting...

    1. Thanks! They're really interesting - the central library has a really good collection of stuff on Nottingham, if you're ever interested in finding out more. :-)

  4. Good luck Vicky, keep us updated so we can cheer you on from the sidelines!