Getting Started: A NaNoWriMo Basics Refresher

November first is fast approaching, and that means hoards of novelists across the world are clanging their swords upon shields in anticipation. To bring my brain back into battle, I’m recalling some basics. Here are some practical steps for getting started, a case study on my relationship with Pantsing and Planning and three principles that helped me get through to a win.

Some Key Vocabulary

A few words and phrases confused me at first. It might help to get a handle on the lexicon before diving in. Here are five terms that every WriMo should know (in alphabetical order):

  • NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month (in case that wasn’t clear). Sometimes shortened to “NaNo” or “WriMo”
  • Purple bar: Your word count bar is green as you’re writing. Once your word count goes beyond 50,000, when you validate that word count on the website, your bar turns purple. You’re a winner.
  • Win/Winning: You wrote a 50,000-word (or more) fiction novel from scratch between November 1 to November 30 (inclusive of the end dates). It’s not a competition against other people – it’s a competition against a word count that’s less than 50,000.
  • WriMo(s)/Wrimo(s): (1) People participating in NaNoWriMo. Variations can come from geography. “Pinoywrimos” are WriMos in the Philippines. Swiss Wrimos are Wrimos in Switzerland. (2) Writing Month
  • Validate: When you copy your entire novel into the NaNoWriMo website and submit it. It gives you your official NaNoWriMo word count.

Start by speaking the language of success. So now, to begin.

4 Practical Steps: Getting Started from Scratch

STEP 1: Create your NaNoWriMo Profile

If you don’t have a profile yet, register on NaNoWriMo. Upload a picture, call yourself whatever you want. I look like a starfish and my name is Eclectic Outlet. Fill in the fields you want with self-expressionary abandon; leave other fields blank if you like.

STEP 2: Create your novel

Decide what you’re going to write (or decide that you want to jump in without any idea of what you’re going to write), then create your novel on the website. There should be an alert on the landing page (your Dashboard). If not, you can go to “My NaNoWriMo”, then “My Novels”:

Let's get this party started now.
Let’s get this party started now.

On your novel profile page, make up a title, pick a genre, whip up a synopsis, add an excerpt. Or not, if you haven’t got it all figured out yet.

Save it. Now you’re official. You’re committed now.

STEP 3: Join a home region

Explore and adjust your settings under the “My Region” tab. You can join local meetups. You can make new friends. Take comfort in the fact that there are WriMos like you, not too far away, slogging towards that 50,000-word mark.

STEP 4: Decide how you’re going to write

It helps to set your parameters before going into NaNoWriMo. Here are five key ones (my parameters from last year are in parentheses):

  1. What kind of NaNo writer are you? How will you prepare? Are you a Planner (you plan) or a Pantser (you fly by the seat of your pants)? The two styles are explained very well on the official NaNo Prep page. Or are you something in between? (I was something in between. More on this below.)
  2. What word processor or writing program will you use? (I used good old Microsoft Word.)
  3. What will your writing schedule look like? Will you write every day? Every evening for two hours? Every other day? Furiously on the weekends? (I tried to write every day and was mostly successful.)
  4. Where will you write? Anywhere? One special sanctuary? Do you need it to be clean or sprinkled with inspirational pieces? (I mostly wrote at a glass table in our lanai. Sometimes I wrote at an old wooden desk in the den.)
  5. HOW WILL YOU BACK UP YOUR NOVEL? This is a huge one. How frequently? Where? Make sure you do it regularly.* (I emailed my latest version to a couple of loved and trusted people every day and sent updates to a wider group of people every Friday.)
My butt's best friend for a month. Yeah, that's an iron-wrought chair sans cushion.
My workspace, complete with glittery hula-hoop. And my butt’s best friend for 30 days – yes, that is a black iron chair sans cushion.

To answer these questions and more, follow your favorite advice on NaNoPrep resources. There are many out there, but for a flying start, consult the official NaNoPrep resource for a step-by-step guide and a treasure trove of links.

I think the two articles that are most useful for getting started are:

Here in the Philippines, it’s the rainy season. Here are some great tips from a Pinoywrimo Municipal Liaison, Liana Smith Bautista (Purpleyana) that was featured on the NaNoWriMo blog (yeah!): Road Trip to NaNo: Make Your Novel Waterproof.

Case Study: From Underpantser to Planner

I started out as a complete Pantser during my first NaNo in 2011. In fact, I was an Underpantser. A summary of the styles I used and circumstances under which I was operating, as well as my results, for my first three NaNos are as below:

My NaNoWriMo adventures. Click to enlarge.
My NaNoWriMo adventures. Click to enlarge.

I figured that last year, without a full time job, I really had no excuse not to win. Not that having a full-time job is necessarily an excuse. There are Wrimos who won so while juggling work and family.

This year I’m going to be a Planner. I’m going to round out last year’s project (though NaNo encourages you to do start with a clean slate). Here’s my assessment of my lay of the land this year:

  • The SFT world is more built than less, characters are planned out.
  • However, whereas last year I wasn’t bound by an existing manuscript, this year I will be (to some extent).
  • I’m still “funemployed”, but now I have this blog, a few commercial projects on the side – and I’m job-hunting.

Given all that, I will write every day. And I will go into November 1st armed with a list of scenes to write in chronological order. Through my revision process, I’m realizing what scenes are missing and what storylines I need to crumple up and rewrite altogether. In keeping with the rules, I’m writing all of this from scratch (not messing with my completed manuscript).

So I’m finding that although I thought I was a natural-born Pantser, I need some level of Planning to get me to a Win. (But that’s just me.)

Three Principles that Worked for Me

These three principles helped me get to the purple bar last year, and I hope they’ll get me there again.

Know thyself (and work with her).

Everyone has her own style. Given your circumstances, how best can you achieve that 50,000-word mark in 30 days? Have an idea before you start next month. Know who you are, how you write and work with that.

Adjust when necessary.

If this is your first time, start with a system and see how it goes. You can adjust your system as you go along. If it’s not your first time – even if you already have a good system – life likes to spring surprises on you. Be ready to pivot. System-wise and story-wise.

Just keep going.

This is the most important one. Get into this mindset. No matter what happens, write. Write, write and write. If you happen to fall behind on word count, never mind. Don’t let it get you down. Just keep writing. Last year, I read every single Pep Talk delivered to my inbox, consulted other blogs, asked for ideas from my Father… Reach for whatever piece of inspiration you can to just keep going.

Maybe they will help you, too.

* Be careful of USB’s these days! There is frightening malware out there. There’s the risk of USB malware taking over your computer. Some guys who reverse engineered malware shared how to do it online. It sort of has a patch now, but I don’t know…

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