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Ready, Set, Prep! Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo


No. 136 | By Christine Carron

It’s high summer and perhaps the last thing you are thinking about is what you are going to be doing in November. But come the day after Halloween, hundreds of thousands of writers around the globe will be participating in National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a., NaNoWriMo. A writing challenge where you write a novel of 50,000 words in one month. 

Yep, you’re churning out a 200 page manuscript in 30 days.

I’ve never participated. I may do so this year. That means I—and you, if you are game to play—as of today, have 13.5 weeks to prepare.

NaNoWriMo has been around since 1999, and when you sign up, you get access to loads of support, training, planning tips and writerly resources, including discounts on premium writing tools. It’s impressive.

Getting Ready to Get Ready

What I love about the challenge, even though I’ve yet to participate, is twofold. First the measurement is very clear. You have to write 50,000 words. That’s it.

Now, when I say, “that’s it,” I don’t mean that it’s not challenging to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s a massively heavy lift for sure. What I mean is that the churning out of the words is the only thing that you are required to do on your writing project in November.

Which brings me to the second thing I love about the challenge: you can do as much prep and planning as you want.

This makes my project manager/process improvement self very, very happy. One of the reasons I haven’t participated yet, is that I’ve never given myself adequate planning time. Writing 50,000 words (as noted) is a lot.

I suspect many writers try to willpower their way through, adding a massive expectation on themselves without making adjustments to accommodate it. Probably others joyfully throw themselves in and hope for the best. My goal, if I do participate, is to do it joyfully and make it as easy as possible.

It will be a delight to be back in full drafting mode, so the joyful part is covered. The make it easy part will take some planning.

Even before I looked at what NaNoWriMo offers for preparation support, which is impressive—they have a 6-module prep course chock full of info and tips—I mapped out the four key areas that I want to get sorted for me to make NaNoWriMo easier to pull off.

This is where having a process improvement and project management background comes in so handy. 

Focus Area #1: Build up to (a closer to) daily writing schedule

When it comes to writing productivity styles, I am definitely more of a Surger (my writing flows in waves) even when I am in deep draft mode. As a result, I generally set weekly word count goals rather than daily ones. That gives me more flexibility.

My normal drafting-mode writing goal is 7500 words/30 pages per week. That pace is not sufficient to reach the NaNoWriMo finish line. I would be short by 20,000 words.

I will have to generate an extra 5000 words (or 20 extra pages) above my typical weekly drafting pace. That plan will give me a 2-day buffer to play with since there are 30 days in November. 

Bottomline if I want to make this easier: In the same way I am working on my pushups and building my strength slowly, to do NaNoWriMo in a kind, smart way, it is necessary that I build my drafting muscles to handle the extra load.

Part of my prep work will be designing a plan to beef up my word-count output and then putting it into practice.

Focus Area #2: Protect November

If I am going to do a hugely heavy lift on writing, then other priorities will have to roll at a slower pace, or be set up to run automatically during the month. Keeping November’s schedule as light as possible will be key to making this challenge easier.

I am not much of a party person in general, but participating in NaNoWriMo will mean saying “no” to most social engagements.

On the professional front: live events, calls, and ongoing support of the writers in my programs will still be active, in-the moment work. But the only way to truly make this easy is to have content/lesson creation for the blog, my programs, social media content, etc., prepped in advance so that all of that rolls on auto-pilot. 

Getting to that level of readiness without going into stress-balls overdrive absolutely means that I will not only have to plan and prioritize my November differently, I will have to plan and prioritize the next 13.5 weeks differently than if I weren’t doing NaNoWriMo.

Focus Area #3: Communication

Whenever we take on a high intensity project that impacts the norms of our availability to others, it will decrease relational hiccups—tension, arguments, hurt feelings, and the like—if we start setting expectations and asking for support way in advance of the change. 

That is not always possible when life deals us unexpected challenges or opportunities that upend our ability to be present with others in the way they are used to. In the case of NaNoWriMo, however, we can do the needed communication—setting expectations, putting writing time boundaries in place, requesting support and encouragement, etc.—well in advance. 

One of the writers in the Goodjelly community has participated in NaNoWriMo many times. It’s the way she gets a new book drafted every year. Along with being a published author, she works full time outside the home, is a wife and a mom.

Her family knows that in November, she won’t be as available. They support that, and know they'll get her presence back to normal flow the other eleven months of the year. 

Focus Area #4: Story Design

Some writers call this plotting. Some writers call this planning. I call it story design. That keeps me firmly focused on iterating the story idea lightly and layer by layer, instead of trying to lock the story into a multi-level linear outline. 

Over the past two years, I have made a huge time and learning investment to make adjustments to the way I create stories. Part of that process has been to hold myself to a very, very, very slow pace so old habits don’t have a chance to kick in. I am itching, however, to get lost in a story again. 

13.5 weeks seems like a solid amount of time to put the finishing flourishes on this long, slow-burn learn period I’ve given myself. And I must say, even as I typed out the preceding sentence, I felt a few sparks of excitement. 

Ready, Set, . . . (perhaps) NaNoWriMo!

Those sparks highlight the power of slowing down and settling into a little planning and prep thinking. To move forward on this NaNoWriMo possibility, even in a not committed-to-it-yet place, will invite me to bring more clarity into how I am using my time and setting my priorities over the next few months.

I always find smart planning to be a useful, empowering, and confidence-boosting process. 

So even if I decide not to do the challenge, my writing and writing adventure will be served and strengthened by the preparation work. So big shout out to NaNoWriMo. It’s already working it’s magic, and I haven’t even committed yet.

If you are planning on doing NaNoWriMo, or have any heavy-lift writing project coming up, then absolutely think through what skills you have to strengthen, what time you have to protect, with whom you have to communicate, and how you can best set up your story—and yourself—for success. And don’t forget to have fun along the way, too.

You’ve got this!

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