Writing: Prepping for NaNoWriMo

Though we’re still solidly in October, I need to take a break from wallowing in horror-movie excess to think about the future. The very near future. The very near future in which I will be writing a 50,000 word novel of dubious quality in a limited time frame. I refer, of course, to National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo, as us hip kids in the know refer to it, is the open challenge to write a novel during the month of November. Established in 1999, this is the 13th year for the organization. Chances are, especially among this bookish and clever crowd, you either know someone who has participated in NaNo or you’ve given it a shot yourself. This will be my 5th year attempting the challenge. Over this time, I’ve realized that I get a lot farther if I do some initial prep work.

A few suggestions:

1.  Have an idea ready.

You may not know the nitty gritty details of your story before you sit down to right it, but you should have some rough idea of what you’re tackling.  Who’s your main character? What’s their conflict? Can you spend 30 long days in their world? I try to have a rough outline done for my own sanity ““ I find that it helps to ward off writer’s block. I don’t tend to write linearly. I hop from scene to scene and stitch them together in the end. With an outline, I know there’s another scene I can tackle when my current one has crashed into a brick wall.

That being said, I have no idea what I’m writing about this year. I have a few germs of seeds of thoughts floating around in my skull but none of them have progressed past the “Oh,  I once had this interesting dream”¦” stage. But that’s why I’m spending the time now to think about it instead of starting off the writing month with a category 5 inspiration freak out.

2. Analyze your habits.

Night owl? Rare morning person? When are you most likely to both have the time and the energy to write? In order to hit the 50,000 goal, you’ll need to be averaging 1667 words a day. That’s a solid chunk of time to be working at your book every day ““ so how will you realistically achieve it?

Now’s also a good time to look around for local write-ins. The NaNoWriMo website was just relaunched on Monday ““ the regional guides are starting to put together the write-ins. Check on the website to see if there’s something you can make.

3. Set your DVR

Obviously, I’m in a serious, long term relationship with my television. But in order to meet this ridiculous goal, I needed to curb my TV viewing habits during November. I’ve already arranged with the editors to postpone most of my recaps for that month, so there’s that time freed up. But The Walking Dead Season 2 starts this weekend, and Revenge has been SO GOOD, y’all. Ooh, and what about American Horror Story?

This is where my DVR comes in. Truth be told, I won’t be able to go TV cold turkey during November, so I prioritize what I don’t want to miss and treat it like a special reward for working hard (Walking Dead, Revenge). Everything else will just have to wait for me. Sorry 30 Rock. Don’t be too good until December.

Anyone else planning to tackle NaNo this year? What are you doing to get ready for it?

Bonus Tracks: Actual, tangible novels that began life as a NaNoWriMo project.

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

18 replies on “Writing: Prepping for NaNoWriMo”

NaNo time! This will be my second year participating. I was super-nervous to do it last year because I was a full-time nursing student with several exams, a part-time job, and the odd hobbies (roller derby and D&D hey-ey!). But I managed to pull out 50,000 half-decent words.

This year I’m still a student and busy with the same stuff, but I’ve already outlined my story, so I’m feeling pretty good about it. Outlining works really great for me, personally – I’m bad at writing on the fly. I’ve been using Scrivener for my outlining and notes and it’s incredibly useful. I think they do a special free 30-day trial during NaNo, so if anyone else is a story outliner, I’d definitely recommend trying it out.

As for my other planning, I am definitely trying to figure out times to squeeze in watching Revenge because I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS SHOW and I think it shall be my reward for working hard, too.

Are we the same person? It’s like we’re the same person. (Roller derby and D&D!)

The last I checked, Scrivner is still in beta for Windows. I really loved the program and thought it was incredibly helpful to me last year. I’ve been recommending it all over.

Isn’t Revenge amazing? Such a great time. Madeline Stowe clearly sold her soul to the devil — she looks amazing. And watching her bitch it up all over the Hamptons has been so enjoyable.

I WONDERED if any other Persephoneers were derby girls, since some of y’all (like you, and Ruby Bruiseday, etc.) had such derby-esque names! Maybe we ARE the same person, because derby and D&D (and writing) are like my main things. I tried to come up with a RPG-inspired derby name but none of the other girls thought “Damage Roll” (with the # “2d6”) was funny.

I have a Mac and hadn’t realized that Scrivener was still beta-only for Windows. Their site says the official Windows version is supposed to be out in 2011, so maybe… by the end of 2011? It also says that the 50% coupons for Windows-using NaNo winners can be redeemed once the official Windows version is out, which, awesome. Even if it’s in beta, WriMos should still try out Scrivener!

I am so into Revenge it is unreal. Madeleine Stowe is fantastic and I love how effortlessly the actress who plays Emily/Amanda goes from sweet and innocent to cold and vengeful. And also Nolan. I love Nolan.

I don’t think Ruby is — at least I don’t believe it’s come up. I’m happily derby retired but this is my skater name, and I’m still around in an officiating capacity with my old league. If it makes you feel any better, my husband I both laughed outloud at Damage Roll.

I haven’t checked the site in a bit, but the official windows version was supposed to be out in March and yet I last had to update the beta software in July-ish, so I assume they’re rather far behind on the release thing. It’s definitely the best writing program I’ve tried out. I’m eagerly awaiting my turn to give them my money.

I’m participating for the first time this year. I’ve watched friends do it for the last several years and have felt too frightened or overwhelmed to try it myself. NOT THIS TIME AROUND!

I’m a little worried because I’ll probably be starting a new job, soon, that requires me to spend 10 hours a day writing already, so I’m not sure how I’ll find the energy in the evening to, well, write some more. But I’m going to give it my best and leap the hurdles!

That’s awesome! I’m a big advocate of NaNo just on the basis of encouraging people to write. I found it hard in the beginning to let go my anxieties about the quality of what I was producing, but somewhere along the line I went ‘well, fuck it’ and threw myself into the task. Good luck!

The Night Circus as well? I have it on my reading pile, quite curious.

This year I decided to write in Dutch and am going to make a Love Actually-like story for another holiday (no, not New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s day). I tell every characters story in a few sentences before just writing and writing and hoping that I use every character enough.

Yeah, the Night Circus as well. I actually didn’t know about Water for Elephants — that has to be the biggest blockbuster the program has produced. But I’ve been hearing such good things about the Night Circus that I have it on my request queue at the library.

That’s a great idea about the characters — I might lift it from you this year. I had a very clear idea of two of characters from my novel last year, but I realized I kept running into roadblocks with some of the others because I didn’t know what their motivations where. Your idea would totally help avoid that. Thanks!

I was REALLY not a fan of the Night Circus for a variety of reasons (flat characters, no plot, no emotional connection with a romance that is supposed to be the central focus of the book, disorganized…) but it’s gotten very good reviews pretty much everywhere except the New York Times and the Telegraph.

I’ve been considering doing this, but I’m not sure if it’s realistically possible for me right now.  In the past three months I have started a new grad school, two new jobs, and a new relationship, and am currently trying to put together a proposal for a conference paper due the same time as a major assignment in one of my classes.  I’m feeling super overwhelmed already, have travel plans for a couple weekends in November already, and I’m just not sure I’ve got 50,000 words worth of time in my life right now.  Also, it’s been years since I’ve written fiction.

But…I have an idea.  It’s the first fully fleshed out, novel-length story idea I’ve had in over a decade, and I really want to go somewhere with it.  I’ve got a lot already in my head, and I’m thinking this might be a great opportunity to try and get some of it down on paper. It would motivate me to do some of the background research that needs to be done, and start detailing things more than the vague ideas and outlines in my head.

Right now my thinking is that I’ll try and do a limited version.  Rather than trying to write a whole novel, I’ll halve the words (aim for 25,000) and set my goal at having that much in writing and a full outline.  It’s not really going for the full challenge, but at least doing it in conjunction with NaNoWriMo would give me some outside inspiration and motivation, and I’d be getting SOMEWHERE.

On that note, does anybody who has done this before have any advice for fitting this in to an already-packed life?

I think it’s completely reasonable to set your own goal and strive to hit that. I think it’s a great idea, especially given that the purpose of NaNo is justto write.

Re: your question: It’s funny that I was in a very similar situation last year — I was preparing for an academic conference, researching that paper, I had just started writing for Persephone, and I work a more-than-fulltime job. I seriously only hit the 50,000 by the skin of my teeth. I took my laptop to work and wrote on my lunch breaks, turning off my wireless so I could concentrate and not get distracted. I carried a notebook and scrawled down anything that came to me. I just did a lot of that — 30 minutes here and there, and then an hour or so at the end of the day. I don’t know what your writing process is like, but I really think drawing up an outline before going into November was a lifesaver for me. I don’t know if I could have gotten anywhere on the project if I hadn’t done that. I just had too many other things going on.

Good luck! I hope you join us.

I’m going for it this year. I’ve attempted once before but I absolutely did not have the time. Now I have nothing but time.

I do have a novel idea I’m going to work on, but I’m just going for writing 50,000 words, period. I’ve been trying to write every day, but without a more definite goal it hasn’t really been happening.

Actually, in order to be productive I think I need to be less tied to an outline. I keep trying to write linearly and just getting stuck. I think if I just pick a character and write about them, I can pull things together in editing.

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