NaNoWriMo: To Prep or Not to Prep? That’s a Darn Good Question.

Unless you’re an experienced author or NaNoWriMo veteran, I don’t recommend much in the way of outlining or other deep prep. NaNo works far better if you employ ‘discovery writing,’ that is: make it up as you go with as little to go on as possible, as opposed to planning thoroughly. (Gardener vs. Architect.) This is a fun way to write, as it is more like the reading experience: lots of surprises. It’s a blast when your characters start doing unexpected things!

But… a little prep can go a long way towards making sure you stay on track, and don’t get discouraged.

Experienced writers can do more prep if they like, but I do recommend that inexperienced folks keep it to the minimum. Still, it’s not a good idea to start from complete ignorance. Before November 1, make sure you know at least something about the following:

  • Genre – Deciding whether you’re doing an action-adventure or post-apocalyptic dystopia brings in a whole host of standard assumptions that you can rely on to help guide the story.
  • Setting – A ‘where’ and what that ‘where’ is like is super-helpful.
  • Basic Plot – Hero’s journey? Love triangle… or pentagram? Decide in general terms what will drive the conflict in your story.
  • Protagonist and antagonist – Who does the story revolve around? What are they like at the beginning? Where do think you’d like them to go? What are their primary internal conflicts? (David Farland on Characters (short but mightily helpful))
  • The End – Not everything, but something about the end, even just an inking of an idea can help keep you going when you get to the doldrums of NaNo (and it will happen!).

One more important thing to keep in mind: When you do get to the doldrums and your story stagnates, be ready to introduce conflict to keep your plot moving forward and your characters jumping!

Have fun getting ready for NaNo! Let me know in the comments how you’re going to prepare – or if you’re a vet, how you’ve prepared in the past.

7 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: To Prep or Not to Prep? That’s a Darn Good Question.

  1. NaNo-rookie, I am planning this thing to death 🙂

    At least that is how it feels sometimes. I have some character sketches done and the plot outlined. I have decided to put it away until November and work on completing a short story just so I don’t keep adding to this thing already.

    I think my problem is that I am so excited about trying NaNo that I would prefer it started October 1st. So I am going to occupy myself with a goal of writing 2-3 short stories in Ocotober and hope that occupies my time enough to get to November.

    • Distraction is a good idea! There is real danger of your novel going off your preset rails. That’s not necessarily a bad thing… if you have time. But with Nano, trying to get a story back ‘on rails’ can slow or stop you. Doesn’t happen with everyone (and you sound experienced enough to be okay) but can’t know until your in the heat of NaNo battle! It’s the ultimate writing high wire act… 🙂

  2. Spending this Oct. by getting non-word count work done ahead of time.
    I find it too easy to waste 3 days on concept cover art when I’m already 4,000 words behind during Nov.
    Not having names or a name list to choose from was a big writing wall for me also. Putting “guy #2, girl #4” through my story as they travel to “city name here” just sucked the creative air out of my sails and wasted a lot of time as I made a character / location list instead of writing the story. Started that already.
    Research! Really like and still writing on last year’s sci-fi nano-novel but I’m STILL researching astrophysics for it. For this year’s military based fantasy attempt the formations, chain of command, number of troops per unit, logistics, regional politics etc… are all being outlined during Oct.
    Good post with great advice to starting nano-writers. Wish I had read it before my first attempt.

  3. Great post! The tips seem obvious to anyone who has read a novel before (“How can you start a novel without knowing plot?” they might think), but you’d be surprised how easy it is to get going and only realize 20,000 words or more in that you are missing one of these very vital elements and it’s going to be hell writing yourself out of the hole you’ve dug with your lack of any forethought. Well, maybe YOU wouldn’t be surprised, since you wrote the post. But the point stands.

    I’ve tried four times, but only managed to with the first one. That was also the only time I wrote a story that had any sort of beforehand planning.

    So this time around I have a huge stack of index cards I’m filling out with world building and very broad stroke outlining bits. Main characters and motivations, starting points, specific scenes I want to make it in. They’re all going in a box for easy reference. This limits each topic to only an index card’s worth of space, so I don’t over plan, but gives me limitless amounts of topics to work on so my world can be as complex as I need it to be.

    First time I’ve tried this, so we’ll see how it goes.

    • Thanks for sharing! I’ll be curious to see how it works out for you. I prefer the high-wire method for NaNo. It’s so nice to have a different kind of writing experience. Though I don’t plot too tightly outside of NaNo, generally speaking.

  4. Pingback: NaNoWriMo Tools – Part 3: Get Organized | The Refined Word

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