Ah, October. The leaves are changing, the wind is blowing, pumpkin spice lattes are back at Starbucks, and all around the world writers are frantically putting off planning for the novels they hope to write in November.
I’ve always been a NaNo pantser. For those of you who don’t know, that means I fly by the seat of my pants, as opposed to a planner who, on November 1st, actually has some sense of direction and has done literally anything in way of preparation. Every year both planners and pantsers are successful in achieving 50,000 words in just 30 days, but something tells me pantsers do lots more screaming and crying than planners. Just a hunch.
In 2014, I “won” NaNo with my first full length book – a technothriller called C8 (pronounced Cate). Hurray, I wrote a book! I started that November with a premise and a loose interpretation of a “plot.” While editing, I came to a stressful discovery: attempting to write a book that requires heavy research before doing any of that research is something only masochists ought try. I had to rework everything because I had made plot decisions based on placeholder information that ended up changing once I actually knew how site directed mutagenesis worked (who am I kidding, I still don’t know how it works, but at least I can fake it now).
This year, so help me God, I will be a planner. However, like a pantser, I’ve waited until the last week of Preptober to actually prep (old habits die hard, I suppose). If you’re here with me hoping to take advantage of these last few precious days before the whirlwind ensues, here are some of the tactics I’ll be trying out.
1. Bullet Journal.
Holy hell these things are terrifying. I should preface this by saying I’m not just a pantser in writing, but a pantser in life. Organization is not my forte. At all. The opposite. I have mad ADHD and a narcissistic injury that leads me to overcommit and then do nothing to honor those commitments. But, two weeks ago, I made a bullet journal. Not to jinx it but, uh, I’ve had the two most productive weeks of my life. Bullet journals are intimidating at first, but you can go as easy or heavy on it as you like. Be warned, all the YouTube tutorials have these really artsy DIY examples that will make you feel like crap for your second grader handwriting – do not let this scare you away!
You could set up the basic bullet journal (a glorified, super organized planner), or you can adjust it for NaNo. Boho Berry has a helpful guide (and some printouts!) for NaNo specific BuJos (trying saying that 10 times fast – Boho’s NaNo BuJo!).
2. Better Novel Project’s Master Outline.
Alright, people will either love or hate this one. People who strongly believe in hippie-dippie artist magic… just skip this one. The Better Novel Project has created a “master outline” based on the analysis of several YA hero’s quests, assessing what structural similarities we see across the board – at what point in the story certain plot points get introduced, etc. Some people might feel this hurts the creative integrity of storytelling as an artistic endeavor, but I don’t think so. Writing is both art and science – there are building blocks and skeletons and structural norms (and yes, some authors irreverently ignore these basics and meet success! good for them) but a good story also needs your creative touch to bring it to life. Some people ignore the rules of grammar, but for the most part, we all at least familiarize ourselves with and loosely follow. Take it or leave it, but I’ll be spending what’s left of Preptober seriously analyzing this “master outline” and considering how it might help me structure my own YA hero’s quest. If you’re willing to entertain the idea before concluding it’s uncreative, check it out – it’s actually kind of entertaining (who knew you could predict exactly when the hero would have his first kiss? When she would try food in awful-awesome land for the first time? Well, ya can).
3. Procrastinate productively. AKA Pinterest.
Pinterest is your friend. Normally, common sense would tell you if you’re trying to be productive, avoid Pinterest like the plague. But Pinterest can be used to harness your energy toward planning as procrastinating. For example, I’ve planned my hypothetical wedding to a tee. If you really don’t have the mental energy to outline anymore, give yourself a break and go play on Pinterest – create a “vision board” for your novel. Heck, create a vision board for each character, each scene! Your novel has a badass female CEO? What does she wear, what are her inspirational quotes, what kind of weird healthy protein drink does she chug in the morning? Your novel takes place in a magical faraway land? Pin hair and makeup looks, clothing, mystical landscapes, and paintings – anything that helps give you a sense of what you’ll eventually be trying to write in November. It can also help to have an image to describe – especially if you need to describe that thing several times because it’s symbolic (maybe your character hates her neighbor, and every time she’s at her neighbor’s house she rags on the horrendous curtains as a way of focusing her hatred – find the perfect ugly curtains on Pinterest and never risk inconsistently describing them!). Genius, I know.
4. Flashcard outlines.
Lots of people use flashcards to somehow organize their novel. Here’s how I’m trying it – my method is adapted from the ideas of Larry Brooks (author of Story Physics and Story Engineering – check out his super helpful website) and my dear friend Julie Hopkins. Brooks breaks down the novel into four parts: setup, response, attack, and resolution. My friend Julie’s method involves first breaking up your flashcards based on these four sections of your story. Then, give each scene its own flashcard. On each flashcard, include: the characters present in the scene, the POV character’s goal in the scene, the obstacles for the scene’s goal, a brief overview of the action, and the resolution (whether the goal is achieved or not). On the backside of the card, break down the stakes for each character (not just your protagonist) in the scene.
There are tons of ways to use flashcards in the outlining process, ultimately you just gotta experiment around and find one that works for you. One of the great things about using flashcards is you can spread them out on the table and move things around, rearranging scenes as you go. Theoretically, you could just copy and paste sections of your outline, but some people work better with the physical cards. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, it’s all about what helps you write.
5. Make a playlist.
This is another way to turn your procrastination into productivity. There are several routes you can go with curating a playlist, and it partially depends on whether or not you can listen to music while you write. If the music you listen to while you write has to be instrumental, white noise, or otherwise not distracting, that’s one playlist you can be working on. Additionally, and perhaps more fun, you can work on playlists more explicitly related to your NaNo project. Whether you’re making a playlist of music enjoyed by your main character, or the movie soundtrack for the future adaption of your novel, or just songs that put you in the mood of the scene you need to write, this activity lets you continue toward your goal of preparing for NaNo without requiring you to do too much heavy lifting. I enjoy listening to these playlists both when I’m actually writing (or trying to write) or just when cleaning, showering, or running errands – they put me into the creative headspace to brainstorm so when I actually sit down, the ideas are already percolating. It’s an easy project to waste time working on – but in this case, it’s time well wasted.
6. Attend NaNo Prep Workshops in your NaNo region.
Where would I be without my NaNoWriMo regional group? Throughout October we have weekly meetups at local libraries as well as virtual chatroom hangouts. When we gather in person, it’s usually for a workshop someone has offered to give; it includes a presentation and individual and group exercises. Our virtual workshops are more flexible, often times serving as a time to just bounce ideas around – we’ll take turns storyboarding and asking questions about our plot problems. It’s a great way to bond with other writers and grow your network (and, let’s be real, just befriend interesting people you wouldn’t meet otherwise) as well as make NaNoPrep progress. To be honest, I’ve been attending these all month (what a terrible pantser!) – if your regional group has any more this month, be sure to attend them! Otherwise, I found it helpful to, ahead of time, import all the November write-ins your regional group has planned into your own calendar.
7. Get your house in order.
There’s lots of prep to do with your actual writing project, but you can also take advantage of this last week of Preptober to get your life ready for November. Go grocery shopping, clean your apartment, cook some soups and put them in the freezer; anything you can do now so it won’t bother you in November, do it! Declutter your schedule so you have fewer reasons not to be writing.
So, NaNos, have at it – you’ve got eight days. May the odds be ever in your favor. I’ll be posting more NaNo related content on the blog throughout November, and if you want to get connected on the NaNo site, I’m always looking for more writing buddies!