Pantser or Planner: 5 Top Tips for Preparing for NaNoWriMo, by Jess Gately

NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month for those of you new to the concept) is the annual challenge that gets writers writing. The challenge, should you choose to accept, is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Now of course the work you produce in that 30 days is not going to be the final product that you’ll send off to a publisher, but the challenge has two major goals: one is to get you into the habit of writing every day, and the other is to push you get that idea of yours onto paper so that you can make some real headway on your story. You can’t edit a blank piece of paper after all!
With that in mind, whether or not you meet the 50,000 word target is irrelevant if you manage to achieve the two objectives above. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo five times now and succeeded only three times (both in terms of the 50,000 word count and the above-mentioned goals). I’ve started to see a pattern in what helps me get through the challenge and what stops me finishing, and a big part of that is in the month prior to the challenge and preparing for what’s to come.
NaNoWriMo describes two types of approaches to the challenge. The first are planners, who plot each meticulous detail and have notes and timelines and everything ready to go come the 1st of November. The second are what we call pantsers, i.e. they take the challenge by the seat of their pants. They’re the ones who sit down on the 1st of November and just see what happens. When most people think about ‘preparation’ for NaNoWriMo they’re thinking about the planners, but there are a 5 major things that every participant should do if they want to succeed.
1. Look at your outside commitments in November and plan your time accordingly
If you know that certain days are going to be busy for you – maybe you’ve got an event, or exams, or a birthday, or a wedding – then allow extra time on the days that you aren’t going to be busy to make up for it. Don’t try and cram it all in. Break your word count up accordingly and allow some wiggle room.
Also take a look at what time of day is best for you to write. When are you most productive? When have you got the most free time? Start changing your routine now if you need to. I changed my routine to get up earlier because I was most productive in the morning but I was always tired after a full day at work. Getting up an hour early (and showering at night instead of in the morning) gave me an extra 2 hours in the morning to do my writing when I was most inspired to write.
With time in mind, create a plan on how you’ll deal with distractions such as social media, kids, friends, family etc. Consider apps that will help block your social media, having activities planned to keep the kids entertained, and turning your phone to Do Not Disturb while you’re writing.
Finally, sort out your big grocery shop, banking, and other errands NOW! Make sure your calendar is as free as it can be going into November so that you have the time to do your thing.
2. Join the NaNoWriMo community
Log into the website (yes they do actually have a website – it’s not just something that everyone randomly does!) https://nanowrimo.org/ and create an account. Once you’ve created an account you can join your region (i.e. the place you’re located) and you’ll have access to all of the resources and forums to help you get started. You’ll also have access to a community of writers near you and events that are hosted by a local Municipal Liaison. It’s the MLs job is to put together write-in’s and encourage everyone to succeed, so this support network is going to be VITAL when November rolls around.
3. Prepare your writing space
Whether you’ve got a designated writing space, or it’s the kitchen table, the couch in the corner, a seat at the kid’s soccer game, a beanbag in the library… figure out the things you’ll need to be most productive and have them ready for that space. My work space includes a pile of books, a pot of tea, a spread of magazines, a vase of flowers, and my speakers to listen to music. All of these things help put me in the mood to write. So leading up to NaNoWriMo I stock up on tea, buy a new bunch of flowers, and curate a playlist of music.
If you’re at the library, do you need headphones to block out the noise? If you’re at home do you prefer incense burning? If you’re at the kids’ sport game do you need a comfy chair or a flask of Milo? Figure out what’s going to make you most comfortable and get it ready.
4. Tell your friends and family what you’re doing
This is a big one! Your friends and family are going to be your cheer squad. When I first started NaNoWriMo I was living at home. Normally, night time was family time even if we were just watching a TV show together. My parents made the allowance for me to not always join them or to have my computer on my lap because they knew what I was trying to achieve. I now live with my partner and he knows that during NaNoWriMo I will pull out my laptop halfway through a movie if an idea suddenly strikes me (to ignore a movie is sacrilege in our household!).
Your friends and family are the ones that will make November easier for you but only if they know what’s going on. This is also a great time to organise your catch-ups with friends because you’ll probably be seeing less of them in November (unless your friends are writers too, in which case you should organise a couple of write-ins together).
5. Get your ideas ready
If you’re a planner, now is the time to break down what needs to happen in each chapter to keep the plot moving. Write up some character profiles, genealogies, maps and do any in-depth research now so that it’s all ready for November. When the time comes you want to be writing, not researching and planning.
If you’re a pantser, now is the time to stock up on ideas and experiences. Go out and explore new places, keep a detailed journal of everything you see and do and feel. Research stuff that interests you, read the news, and jot down any random questions that come to mind. Make sure that when November 1st rolls around you’re not staring at a blank page with a blank brain.
And that’s it. With these 5 easy things you are ready to go. Keep an eye on our blog for a follow up post on how to survive during NaNoWriMo and here’s wishing you the very best of luck for next month!

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