Gearing up for November

November, November, November. Less than four days away. Specifically, 3.4 days. Just over 82 hours until we can start doing the fun stuff, the actual writing for NaNoWriMo.

And to be completely honest, I’ve hardly given it much thought until now.

Oh, I’ve spent a few brain cells on it here and there, sure, but I usually try to get into the NaNoWriMo spirit by frequenting the forums, writing a series of blog posts, and interacting with other NaNoWriMo wordmonkeys on Twitter and the like. But my brain has been elsewhere lately, focusing on all the craziness that awaits me next month (potentially moving house, new job, new life, eeep!).

So, here’s what I do have: A project set up in Scrivener, all ready to go. Within it is a poor excuse for an outline, with a sprinkling of major plot developments and ideas for scenes. I’ve also fleshed out a couple of my main characters. Sort of. Not as much as I would have liked, but, well, it’s a start.

And I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make; a start is all you need. The rest of the magic happens in November, when you’re sleep deprived and tapping away at the keyboard in the midst of a caffeine high. But the start of an outline, even just a handful of events you want to have happen in the story, can go a long way.

I really like Jane Espenson’s approach to outlining:

Start by making a “beat sheet” in which each development in the story is given one or two sentences, then flesh it out until you’ve got a list of scenes and you know what’s going to happen in each one.

That’s pretty much how I like to do things as well. It’s simple, but it works. It helps you to figure out the flow of your story, and that’s especially useful for NaNoWriMo where flow is important. A basic outline provides the big slab of meat so you can spend more time and creative energy figuring out which side dishes to serve with it, such as character development and subplot. And lots and lots of wordy exposition to fill up the daily word quota. You know, the fun stuff.

I’ll probably flick through this one again, too:

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…mostly for the ritual rather than necessity, but it’s also nice to be reminded that we’re all in this together, and week two is full of storm clouds and plot flashes for everyone.

The “Oh Shit” Part of October

It’s the “oh shit” part of October, the part where you realise NaNoWriMo starts in a mere 16 days, and it’s ACTUALLY HAPPENING, and OH SHIT WHAT AM I GOING TO WRITE?!

Okay, that might be a smidge of an exaggeration, but only just. See, last year I tried “pantsing” it. That is, writing without an outline. Just winging it.

Yeah, that didn’t really work out. My brain just isn’t wired for that kind of writing style, at least not for sustained writing in a frenzied manner, a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month. I need some sort of… Well, something, anything, to use as a guide no matter how emaciated it is, even if it resembles nothing but a few leftover bones. A little bit of structure just seems to help my brain calm down and think, “It’s cool, man… I know where I’m going. For now.”

This will be my fourth NaNoWriMo, and I’ve crossed the finish line each year so far. You’d think that would make me pretty confident about it this time around, right? Nope. This November’s going to be tough. I might be facing a new job, readying myself for uni next year, and probably moving house. My brain is rebelling:

“Writing? HA! You probably won’t even get time to wash your underwear this month. Damn optimist.”

But I’m going to give it my best shot, no matter how unrealistic the notion of actually finishing it this year. Put in perspective, finishing isn’t really the point. The spirit of NaNoWriMo is about just going for it, experimenting, getting out that novel that’s been living inside you for years, and forming new habits. That last one is the important one for me. Knowing that I need to write 1,667 words every day to get to the finish line is motivating. All things considered, it’s not even very much. But it forces me to stop turning the words over and over in my head, and just get them down on the screen already. Every. Single. Day.

…’Cause ideas are kind of useless if you don’t do something with them, you know?