Welcome To NaNoWriMo Prep School, Word-Nerds

National Novel Writing Month — aka the gibbered Lovecraftian utterance, “Nanowrimo.”

It fast approaches.

You may be partaking in this epic endeavor which asks that you write a novel-length work of fiction of 50,000 words (or more!) during the month of November. (I suspect I will inadvertently be partaking, actually. I’ll need to get 50,000 words down that month, too!)

If you are partaking, I’ll be here all November, and I think I’ll keep the blog posts during that time shorter and sweeter — a month’s worth of motivational boots-in-your-boothole to keep you on track and slugging away at the word count.

(Worth noting that NaNoWriMo is not for everyone. Everyone has a process unique to them, a way to get things done that is particularly and peculiarly their own. If NaNoWriMo feels like hammering a circle peg in a square hole, don’t sweat it — find another way forward.)

If you are getting ready for the wordery-nerdey coming up —

I got some quick tips for you.

Ramp Up The Word Count

If you are not yet putting words down daily, you need to flex them penmonkey muscles, so that, come November, you can pop open your word processor and say, “TWO TICKETS TO THE PEN SHOW,” which will earn you weird looks because:

a) you’re saying this to the cat and b) are pen shows even a real thing?


You need to work out. You need to exercise.

You must practice writing every day.

And build on the quantity of words you put down.

Start with 100.

And add a 100 more words every day until you’re approaching 2000 per day.

Doesn’t matter what you write, though I’d advise you keep it in the “fiction” category — fiction writing is a discipline all its own, I find.

Build that muscle. Gain momentum.

Take Your Characters For A Test-Drive

NaNoWriMo doesn’t give you a lot of time to get to know your characters. As such, it’s time to take those bad motherfuckers out for a test drive.

Take a character and write them into fiction unrelated to the novel you plan to write. Plop them into conflicted, challenging situations. You’ll find the character’s voice, demeanor, you’ll get to see what kind of choices they make. Run them through fictional gauntlets.

It’s a good way to learn about your characters before you actually drop them into your proper novel. (And, hey, bonus points: you might find that you’ve written some dialogue or some description you might actually want to keep and use later.)

Prep Your Story In Whatever Way Tickles Your Pink Parts

(Related: 25 Ways To Plot, Plan, and Prep Your Story.)

No one perfect planning-and-plotting method exists when it comes to your novel. Outlines, mind maps, Pinterest boards, hallucinogenic dream journeys into the world of the machine elves — hey, whatever makes your grapefruit squirt. But find a way. NaNoWriMo requires working to a schedule and hammering out word count in a relatively compressed amount of time, and you’ll find that comes a lot easier when you have some kind of map — even if that map is just a series of cryptic Post-It notes Scotch-taped to the family dog.

(One thing I would suggest, however, is that when plotting a novel, let the characters lead the way. My oft-repeated refrain is that plot is Soylent Green — it’s made of people. Characters will do things and in their actions and dialogue will create the events and complications that build the plot of your story. Don’t fit characters into a plot. Characters are the plot.)

Pitch Your Story In A Single Tweet

One of the questions I ask in the Thursday interviews here at the blog is for the writers to describe their books in a single 140-character tweet.

And I actually think many have some up with some really cool loglines, this way.

You need to distill down your story to a single sniper’s bullet — this idea isn’t meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive or tell the entire story. It’s just a hook. That hook is ideal for selling the story later on — but right now, it’s also ideal for crystallizing the idea in your mind.

(You don’t need to be married to the 140-character limit, but I’d say to keep the description to 100 words or less. From a logline to a very short synopsis.)

Narrative Incubation Time

Take time to think about your story.

This is, for me, narrative incubation time where you let your brain off its leash to frolic in the meadow and roll around in whatever creative poop it can find.

How you accomplish this — the task it takes to unlock this Creative Mode — is on you. I like walking, running, showering, mowing the lawn. You might like chopping wood, lifting weights, and currying a horse. That guy over there might get in the right headspace during acts of vigorous masturbation, algorithmic hive-mind design, and hunting humans for sport HEY WAIT YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE FILTHY ROBOTS AGAIN OH SONOFABITCH.

(And yes, I’m suggesting that robots masturbate a lot. TRUE STORY LOOK IT UP.)

Some Posts To Lok At:

25 Things You Should Know About NaNoWriMo

25 Things To Do Before Starting Your Next Novel

25 Things You Should Know About Your Story’s Stakes

25 Things You Should Know About Outlining

25 Turns, Pivots, And Twists To Complicate Your Story

25 Questions To Ask As You Write

25 Reasons I Hate Your Main Character

The Grand Adventure To Find Your Voice

Fuck The Straight Line: How Story Rebels Against Expectation

The Hardest Writerly Truth Of All

And finally:

50 Rantypants Snidbits Of Writing And Storytelling Advice

Or, If You Don’t Have Time For NaNoWriMo…

How To Push Past The Bullshit And Write That Goddamn Novel: A Very Simple No Fuckery Writing Plan To Get Shit Done.

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46 responses to “Welcome To NaNoWriMo Prep School, Word-Nerds”

  1. The “50 Randypants Snidbits” stuff was (and still is) to me what Stephen King’s On Writing is to other writers. I went through a long, sordid period of pathetic self-doubt, excuse-making and mental vapidness that pretty much defies language and logic. Chuck’s words kicked my ass all up and down Feeling Sorry for Myself Avenue, and ever since the day I came across those beautifully irreverent snidbits of writing wisdom, I’ve written every day: no questions, no excuses, no bullshit. Thanks for that, Chuck.

  2. I’m both excited for, and terrified of, NaNo. I’m writing this years project while managing an Editing position (and writing about NaNo for our audience), and writing short form fiction under a pen name.

    Obviously I’m insane. But excited. But terrified. But excited.

    And around I go.

  3. I have been working out- setting the bar low as I get ready for Nano, building up to 2K daily, prepping as I walk the dog and drive around town. I’ve nano’ed before, gotten a decent amount written but haven’t broken the 50K barrier. Have gotten useful pp out of the exercise. I’m looking forward to your “motivation” posts.

  4. I didn’t ‘win’ the word count war last year but sold what I was doing (after heavy editing) so that’s better than hitting 50k. I loathe plotting too much because it seems like I go all ADD squirrel and derail. So I’ve got a loose plot/idea that I worked on in the summer. Three, actually, to choose from. I’ll figure out which one gets started when I’m down to the wire.

    Practice is easy when you’re trying to finish something for your publisher. Now the trick is going to be managing time. SO much hockey to watch….

  5. For the last several years, I’ve been in that “special group” named – Nano Rebels. I usually use the month of November to add-to a WIP with the additional 50K. This year, I’m going to use the month to venture into a genre I haven’t written before. I’ve dabbled in it but I always felt inadequate and threw the story aside in short order. So I’m shoving all my antisocial, psychotic serial killers into a deep dark hole, covering them with a heavy layer of bodies and walking away in favor of…a Romance Novel. Do not roll your eyes at me! I think there’s lots of misconceptions about “those” kinds of stories and the people who write them. I’ve tried and like I said, I always gave up. But the reason was, writing romance-y shit is hard for me. Laugh all you want but lots more goes into it than wham-bam-thank-ya-ma’am. Writing about a sicko-killer comes so natural for me but writing my feelings, love, relationships…not so much. So this year, I’m testing myself. I want ot see if I can do it. It’s just going to be really difficult not to murder someone. Or two. Or myself. I’m hoping Bourbon will help.

  6. I unofficially did this last year. Banged out about seventy thousand words in six weeks. Started two weeks prior to the actual NanoWrimo and never signed up. It has been completed at 97K for some time now. Still a great exercise to try and get your daily word count up.

  7. Thanks, Chuck, for the spark of inspiration and the promise of daily laughter. Though I have just completed my second YA fiction novel this year, your writing prompt this week has lured me into the world of writing for adults, and so I have decided to continue on with “The Dead Girl’s Lighthouse,” and claim my third novel for 2013.

  8. I’m going for my third “proper” NaNo this year with a brand new project, having “won” it back in 2006 & 2007 and then spent the intervening years revising and selling those drafts 🙂

    Good suggestion to write scenes/stories with your new characters, though. I have some backstory that may or may not go into the finished book, but writing it now might help put a bit more flesh on the protagonist’s bones and help me get further with the actual outline as well. Plus my fiction-writing muscles are little flabby after a summer break, so I need the practice…

    Thanks for the crack of the whip, Chuck!

  9. I need to bump up the wordcount! I’m trying to finish another novel (one that’s taken much longer) before NaNo comes, so thanks for the reminder to get cracking. :d

  10. I’m aiming to finish my current WIP (which was last year’s NaNo novel) before starting this year’s, but I’m still a little foggy on what I’m going to write this year. I’m warming up the muscles for writing every day, just not necessarily geared toward the next novel. My two previous ones have been very different from each other, and so maybe this one will be even more so. I want to win this year. First year I got to around 34,000, last year 42,000, so maybe this year 50K is inevitable. At least I’d hope so. This year I have the most portable novel-typing device EVER (Carrying an iPad mini with a Bluetooth keyboard has upped my productivity SO MUCH), so it might help quite a bit. Good luck to everyone going…and off I go to read about five of those articles you linked, Chuck.

  11. I am a NaNoWriMo ML and in our region we call October Crunchtober and we write a minimum of 500 daily words to prompts that are tweeted out at 6am (@NOCNaNO, #Crunchtober) The idea is to flesh out the backstory and get to know your characters before you start on November 1st. This is my 3rd year doing this and I cannot stress enough how much the preparation helps. Not just the wordcount, but also the confidence, creativity and constancy that are required to actually write a book.

  12. I like NaNoWriMo. I was recently wondering, however, if it produces a lot of people bombarding agents with unpolished works come Dec? I’m about done with my third draft of a novel, it feels good and polished (but can it ever really be done until it’s printed?). My concern is I’m going to be buttoning it up right around WriMo time. I’d hate it to go in at a time that agents are overwhelmed. I wouldn’t want them to skip it thinking it was some half hearted hobby thing… I guess my point is, are there better times of year when I should query an agent? Should I push hard as I can to get it out before November? Or does it not even matter?

  13. Angela: Unfortunately, yes. Many agents have reported an uptick in shitty drafts. First rule of NaNoWriMo: Don’t fucking submit in December what you wrote in November. Seriously

  14. Cheerleading and advice from Chuck’s very own beard of wisdom?
    This is something I’ll be adding links to in my region 😀

    And good luck to everyone else here participating. I hope you all have a great time writing in November, whether you make the word count or not.

  15. Cracks knuckles. I’m gearing up for my first NaNoWriMo here. It’s going to be great, and I’m going to hate it.

  16. I’ll be doing my third NaNo next month. I had no idea I was capable of writing an entire novel until I actually sat down in November 2011 and wrote the first one. After spending a good part of this year revising both my 2011 and 2012 books, I seriously can’t wait to start writing a new one next month.

  17. I’m starting NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve been writing a lot and i can get up to 860 words in thirty minutes if I’m really into the scene. I know that won’t always be the case, but I’ve been working on the outlines all month. Hopefully I’ll be able to do this with everything else going on……..and you know, make it so i don’t have too much shit to read come December. But, one quick question: If it says the winning starts on November 25, does that mean you have to be finished before that? Or does it not matter if you finish afterward as long as you finish it in November?

    • Hi, Alice! I think November 25th is just the earliest that people can drop their files into the official word-count-o-meter. You definitely have the full 30 days of the month to log your 50k!

  18. I don’t know if I’m entering NaNoWriMo this year — I’ve got my first novel coming out early November, and last minute insanity is definitely cutting into prep time. Put it would be awesome to use NaNoWriMo to start on the sequel (Bonus: I already know most of the characters and some of the prep work is already done!)

  19. Great advice here, thanks! I absolutely second the daily writing, and getting into the habit *before* NaNoWriMo. That’s how you avoid having to write 11,000+ words on November 30th like I did last year… I love the concept of narrative incubation time, although I usually just call it daydreaming 😉 I’ll be taking a look at the other articles and resources as well. Thanks again!

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