With only two weeks left to go in October, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just around the corner. 

What is NaNoWriMo?

Every November, writers from all over the world congregate online — all united by the goal to each write 50,000 words in 30 days. This averages out to 1667 words each day in November. It’s free to sign up and the number of words written is declared on an honours system.

Image by Dominic Alberts from Pixabay

Why would anyone even attempt this? 

  1. The time commitment is short with measurable goals. While it makes for one busy writing month, you can walk away with a rough draft of a novel just one month later!
  2. The hype around NaNoWriMo provides motivation to write.
  3. There is a like-minded community of writers. 
  4. It makes you get your inner editor out of your head and MAKE PROGRESS. 

Are you interested? Wanna give it a go? NaNoWriMo works great for some writers and not great for others. What kind of writer are you? 

My first NaNoWriMo gave me the drive to write my first manuscript and essentially launched me into my dream of being a writer. I met other writers through NaNo (coincidentally that’s how The Motley Writers Guild was formed!). If you dream of participating in the insanity that is NaNoWriMo but you haven’t started prepping yet, this is the guide for you!

Planner vs Pantser

In the NaNoWriMo community, October is called Preptober. Its the time to prep your story so you are set up for success as soon as November 1st rolls around. 

There’s a debate as old as time between writers about whether planning your story or pantsing your story is the way to go (pantsing is making it up as you go along). Other terms I’ve heard are Architech vs Gardener.

Whatever you want to call it, some writers like to plan and some writers like to just write.

But hear me out. 

For NaNoWriMo, one of the best ways you can set yourself up for success (success being a story of 50,000 words with a beginning middle and end versus a jumble of 50,000 words) is to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be super intense (it can be but I’d hazard a guess that if you have an intense plan for your novel, you’re likely not the procrastinator this post is for). 

At this point, you’ve got about 14 days left before you need to put pen to paper, or fingertips to the keyboard, or voice to the recorder.

What are the bare basics you need to power your way through NaNoWriMo?

1. A compelling character

a) Give your character a goal. This goal should be measurable. Like, “I want to find the lost treasure of Planet Zero” rather than “I want to be rich.” Give them a tangible goal so you can make it progressively harder for them to achieve it and the reader can follow along with whether or not the character is close to reaching it.

b) Make your character interesting. You could make them admirable; have them do something nice (this works particularly well if they are an otherwise unlikeable character). You could make your character particularly gifted at something (this works well if it’s the totally wrong skill for their quest). Or give your character a sense of humor. Any of these will help the reader to care about your character enough to follow along for the journey.

c) Give your character a wound. What in your character’s past caused them to behave the way they do now? What is their false belief? (What do they believe to be true as a result of their wound?) For example, a character might believe they’re unworthy of love due to a previous abandonment. For a full character arc, you’ll spend your time in the story challenging their false belief which they will need to overcome at the end of the story for a positive arc (alternatively they succumb to their false belief for a negative arc).

2. A conflict

Your character needs a challenge to rise to (even if they don’t want to). What is going to stand in the character’s way of achieving their goal? What events could challenge their false belief?

3. Main plot points

There are thousands of ways to plot a novel but because this is the procrastinator’s guide, we’re going to focus on a few key turning points that occur in almost every story:

  1. The Hook/Setup: This is the opening that introduces your character, their goal, and the coming conflict. It is their “everyday life” but with some conflict or tension thrown in.
  2. The Inciting Incident: This is the event that throws things into motion. Something happens to disturb the status quo and the main character is going to have to figure out if they are going to engage with it or not.
  3. The First Plot Point: No turning back now! This is when the character decides they are going to address whatever happened in the inciting incident. They have made an active choice and the story is now fully underway.
  4. The Midpoint: Whoa! Nothing is what we thought it was! This is often the point where the main character has a revelation about the true nature of the antagonist or villain. (For tips on crafting a compelling antagonist check out this post by Kieran O’Connor). The midpoint can swing the story in a new direction and is usually a false defeat or false victory that raises the stakes in the story.
  5. The Third Plot Point: The main character hits rock bottom. This is often called the dark night of the soul because things are really not going well for your character and the only way they can break through this point is by addressing their false belief that you set up at the beginning.
  6. Climax: The main character gains the courage to choose to confront the antagonist! The grand show down.
  7. Resolution: Often a mirror of the opening showing how life has changed for your character.

4. An ending

While I realize not every writer wants to know how their story will resolve, it is infinitely helpful to have a rough idea of where you want your character to end up (particularly their character arc) if you want to have a full story written and ready for revision by the end of NaNoWriMo. Spend some time brainstorming where (approximately) you want your story to end up and that will give you something to write towards.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay 

Obviously, there are many different types of writers and many ways of getting a story on paper, this is just the most effective way I’ve observed in myself and other nano writers for completing a novel in 30 days. If you have a different method, that’s great. Go for it! Have fun and enjoy the journey. 

We wish you all the best this NaNoWriMo. 

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