The thing that challenges me the most about NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to write every day- because if you don't, you'll fall behind. Most days I do not feel like writing. I much prefer to edit my work than to write the rough draft. This is why I am not a good "pantser," i.e., someone who doesn't make an entire plan for their novel before starting out. A pantser writes by the seat of their pants, get it?
I wrote my first NaNoWriMo work by the seat of my pants. It was hard. That novel ended up being a hot mess, but I loved it. That's why I spent the better part of three years editing it. I had written in all kinds of things as means to various ends, without considering how they affected my characters as a whole. (e.g., I wanted Anna's dad to be a widower so Anna would have a clear reason to live at home after high school. But nowhere in the novel did I address how growing up without a mom would affect Anna.)
Same story with NaNoWriMo 2011.
I started learning a lesson with NaNoWriMo 2012. Every day, after I finished writing, I would spend 15 minutes writing down where I wanted the story to go next. That way I would have something to work with the next day. It made it a lot easier to make my word count each day, but again: I have a hot mess on my hands. That story made me laugh out loud several times as I was reading over it last month, but it's still crap. No character development whatsoever. Maybe some day I'll polish it up.
This year, I have a plan. This will be the easiest NaNoWriMo ever. Here's what I've been doing:
I bought a beautiful piece of software called Scrivener. Scrivener allows me to break my novel into scenes, because it will compile it for me when I'm done. I can't even begin to do justice to a description of all the things it does, but here's a sample:
Allows you to mark whether a scene is a first draft, has been edited, or specifically needs work.
Comes with character building sheets as well as location sheets, that you can save with pictures in a separate folder from your novel.
Saves automatically, so you never lose your work.
Provides a quick reference box next to the frame your story is in so you can see at a glance who is in a scene, what day it is, etc.
I started putting Untitled NaNoWriMo 2013 Novel into Scrivener in September. By the end of this month I will have a short description of every scene in the novel, so that on November 1st I know how it will end. Each character has a bio page, and I'm filling those out before November, too. The final piece is a list of writing prompts to deepen my understanding of who each character is and how they would talk. It's a long list, but I hope to be done with that by November, too.
Why all this extra work, when I've already proven to myself that it is possible to write 50,000 words by the seat of my pants? Because the goal is not just to finish NaNoWriMo, but to end up with a decent first draft of a complete manuscript in a way that will allow for the least painful editing process when I'm finished. Because I don't just want to be a writer, I want to be an author some day, and authors take this stuff seriously.
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