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We are a week away from NaNoWriMo. If you plan to participate, sign up now! This year will be my second. I had so much fun writing that first one, and having a completed first draft in 30 days, that I’m going to do it again. If you have always wondered if you can write a novel, jump in and try this!

So, you signed up and have a great story idea. We are a week away from NaNoWriMo. If you plan to participate, sign up now! This year will be my second. Or, maybe a good story idea. Or, some story idea. What do you do now? You prepare. Keep in mind that the goal of the month of November is 50,000 words. If you want, get your kids to participate, too. Sign them up and they can set their own word target. To hit a 50,000 word target, you need to write about 1,600 words a day. If you plan to work four hours a day, that is only 400 words per hour.

I can type about 70 to 80 words per minute, with errors. Full out, I can produce 4200 words of junk in one hour. I could probably write about 400 to 500 words per hour of decent material. I know I have written about a 1,000 words of pretty good material in an hour (that is about four pages of standard, double-spaced copy). Figure out your metrics and you can set your own schedule and meet your targets.

Keep in mind that November is full of what I call “time traps.” These are holidays and family time. Veterans Day is the 11th. Please honor our vets. Thanksgiving (in the US) is the 28th, but you all know folks take more than one day here. Plan for the time traps and adjust your daily word target to allow you some wiggle room for holidays and family time. It also helps to keep writing when you are on a roll, because there will be days you just have trouble getting the words out.

What else do you need to do? Here are a few tips.

  1. Outline. Remember all that stuff about outlines you learned in grammar and high school? Forget it. Use an outliner, of course. I use NeO for the Mac and it is great. I set out the number of chapters I think I’ll need. Then I add notes to each chapter entry, trying to set up a chronological list of what will happen in the novel. If you need help in character arc or plot planning, use John Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (Google that and you’ll find all kinds of outlines for it). Normally, I get about three chapters in and have departed so far from the original outline, I just push it to the side. My outline this year has chronological notes through Chapter 7. What this tells me is I have a defined story and I can follow this plan. Don’t let the outline drive the story, though, let the characters do that.
  2. Character sketches. You should have a good idea of who your main character is, and who your antagonist is (the evil villain, bad guy, whatever). Sketch our your supporting cast, too. Scrivener includes a basic character sketch template in the novel template. Use that. If you want more detail, you can edit the basic template to include other material you gather from friends or other WriMo’s (participants in NaNoWriMo).
  3. Set up your document. If you use Word, that involves just having a new document open and do a Save As to give it a name. In Scrivener, you set up your project with chapters, scenes and all your document and font settings ahead of time. In Word, make sure you have the document set for the correct default font (12 point Times Roman), page margins (1 inch per side, top and bottom), double-spaced and any headers/footers you want to have on pages after the first. If you use Pages, set up a new document, name it, set the default font, line spacing and margins (same as above). Have this ready before the first of November.
  4. Get connected to your NaNoWriMo community. Check the NaNoWriMo site for your region, find activities and a Municipal Liaison (ML) or other participants in your area. Look for “write-ins” or other events where you can connect, get support, and write. Write-ins can be fun and productive. There are also “word wars.” I haven’t done one of those, yet. I added the local write-ins to my calendar and will try to go to as many as possible this year. Our region also starts the writing on Nov. 1 with a midnight write at a local truck stop. Yes, a truck stop. Who else is open and serving hot coffee at midnight to writers? We also have a kick-off party this last week before the writing.
  5. Make sure your system is up to date. Did you run your updates on your Windows system this month? How about the upgrade to Mavericks on your Mac? How about all the application updates that were subsequently required? Get your system humming and updated. Make sure your anti-virus or anti-malware is current and working. If you don’t have those, you can get free protection tools for Windows (Security Essentials) or for the Mac (Sophos AV for Mac). These are as good as most commercial packages. Most write-ins are at public wi-fi locations. You need protection.
  6. Prepare your friends and family. You will be writing in November. Writing, writing, writing. Set the schedule, let them know this is writing time. Reduce the interruptions and time traps. If you can put it off to December, do so.
  7. Leave your internal editor in the closet, or under the bed, in the garage. Wherever you keep your internal editor, lock it away. Don’t worry about editing. Your goal is to generate a 50,000+ word novel in 30 days. Editing will slow you down. You want to complete a first draft, first! Then worry about editing. Yeah, that last page you wrote is a lot of junk and makes no sense. It will when you go back in December or January to clean up your work. Then, you can make it shine! To be honest, that probably isn’t the only place that needs work. Your first reader will find all the sins, don’t worry.

The Office of Lights and Letters, hosts of NaNoWriMo, is a great supporter of writing, especially for kids. They need donations. If you can, donate.

Hope that helps. If this is your first time, welcome! Keep writing.

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