So… earlier this week I talked you into joining Camp NaNoWriMo (hopefully) but with less than two weeks to go, how do you prepare for such a journey into the wilderness? I’m a bit of a NaNo veteran. As those who follow my blog regularly will know, I’m not much of a planner. I prefer the panstering style of novel prep. So the two-week point is usually the point at which I start putting together my NaNo survival kit. I don’t believe in over planning but I also know if you go trampling around in the woods without a map you’ll probably get eaten by a bear.
So here are my top tips for what prep to do before launching into the camp.
1.Choose a project
I know some people will disagree with me on this (and just about every other point I’m going to raise) but I have personally found I am about 1000% more productive if I go in with a project in mind. Up until the two week mark, I normally have a couple of different options on the radar. At this point, I make the choice, and stick with it. It gives my brain two weeks to get embedded in the relevant world and ready myself for launching in.
2. Choose a target
I don’t necessarily mean word count though this will more or less be how this is endgame represented. I more mean this in the sense of what you want to achieve by the end. I personally find it a bit soul-destroying sometimes to write to word count alone so I equate it to something. For shorts, this may be finishing the project. For novelists, this may be aiming to get to a certain plot point. I’ve found when I’ve given myself a tangible goal, I’ve been able to reach it easier, often overshooting word count in my enthusiasm. Think about what progress you would personally be happy to see.
3. Have a rough story in mind
Again, probably a surprise to hear from me but I never go into NaNo completely blind. Even with The Butterfly Children (which was basically written with a blindfold) I had a rough idea of what type of story I wanted to tell and a very basic spine of plot points to follow. And the one project that never got off the ground (Black Feathers) was the only time I went in with absolutely no prep. Chances are once you are in the heat of the moment, you’ll end up deviating and going in all sorts of unexpected directions but I would highly advice having a vague plot map from the outset.
4. Have a set of reasonably rounded characters
To me, this is the key to sprint writing. Sprint writing is more or less about listening to the characters and letting them to do the hard work. Letting them run amok on the page and tell the story for you. But the only way you can do that, is if you and your characters have had a nice long sit down chat beforehand. You need to know your characters. I’d recommend the two weeks before mark is when you sit down and refine your character list. There are loads of really good character sheets out there, including one from NaNo themselves for this purpose. I’d focus on at least a list of five characters (traditionally hero, best friend, love interest, villain, character of authority/wisdom/guidance in a fairytale for example). Look at it this way, if you are going to let your characters doing the heavy lifting, you need to give them shoulders first.
5. Tense, point of view and narrative style
Another good thing to have in mind before launching in. Are you going passive omnipotent third person or on the ground first person present narrative? My other bit of advice would be to stick with it. Even if after day three you know you’ll probably change it later, keep with it for the Camp else you’ll end up backtracking ground and get into serious danger of editing yourself as you go which is deadly when sprinting to a target. My advice would be to read around in the genre/style for which you are aiming. See what other writer’s are doing. What styles grip you? What grips you about them? Why do they work? How would they work in your story?
6. Make sure you are all signed up and ready to go
Sounds obvious but I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve ended up signing up on the 30th of June because I just plain forgot the admin bits and was so wrapped up in the story planning. As I said before, I’m setting up a cabin this year, so if you want to join me, just leave your NaNo name below and I’ll send invites to the first eleven.
7. Choose your platform
I’m actually a pretty multi-media gal when it comes to writing. You’d think my preference would be computer when it comes to sprint writing, and for November I would completely agree, but for the camps I actually have a preference for handwriting. It’s the most flexible for me to fit around my lifestyle. I can carry a notebook everywhere. I can write on the bus on the way to work, in the canteen at lunch. In the ten minutes when the internet is down. On the beach. In a cafe. Whenever and wherever I have ten minutes it’s with me. I don’t have to wait for boot up or anything like that. I can just open and go. This is how I’ve done nearly all my NaNo projects. Either way, it’s worth taking a moment to work out what is best going to work for you and make sure you are all kitted out.
8. Work out a rough schedule
Perhaps the hardest part of Camp NaNoWriMo is fitting it around life. Life happens. And the problem with this retreat is that it is only as secure as a closed door. I would guess most of you, like me, are juggling a day job as well as the writing gig. Many of you will be fellow bloggers so you know how long that takes and how much work that can be. Then there is the marketing and social media platforms. Plus family commitments, remembering to eat. And that annoying sleep thing they tell me is a good idea from time to time. And if all that isn’t enough, I hear there is this thing called a social life I should look into at some point…
My point is, you are going to have to commit a serious chunk of time to the Camp so work out when and where that will best work for you. I give myself a rough timetable. I know I blog before work. I study in my lunch hour and then know my evenings are mine to write and during NaNo seasons, I also dedicate my Sundays exclusively (where I can) to writing. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about NaNo have said one of the biggest contributors to their success or failure was time management.
A final thought on plotting…
This is a very personal subjective matter. There truly is no right or wrong answer to the “How much should I plot?” question. For some people, I know they need everything in place beforehand or they come out in hives. I personally know that over planning is the easiest way for me to kill one of my own projects. Something I haven’t mentioned above, for example, is (for fantasy and sci-fi) world building. That’s because my personal feeling is that this is something that can evolve with writing and be edited into clarity later. But then I’m a character writer. My characters build the world around them and then I colour in the gaps later. But some people feel the complete opposite way. And that’s cool too. For those people they would want to have the world and mythologies in place but not really care what characters they are dealing with and create those as they go along. Equally, I haven’t spoken to research (for crime particularly). Again, I’m personally comfortable with vagueness (e.g. he shot him with a gun, I can work out what kind of gun later) and some scientific breaches in my first draft because, personally, I like to see the full picture of what I’m dealing with before I launch into the research and use that as an editing tool. But again, I’m an editor. My first drafts are normally full of plot holes and inconsistencies. I know this. I accept this. And I’m committed to fully being aware that my editing process is a lot longer than other people’s. It’s just how I write. You may be different.
Ultimately, NaNoWriMo is about you. Only you know how you write. Only you know your preferences. My only advice, ironically, would be don’t listen too hard to all the advice out there. Read it. Listen. But don’t feel like you have to do it that way. We are just providing one particular opinion, or path. Don’t be afraid to do it your own way. Camp NaNoWriMo, more than anything else, is about embracing the inner writer and having fun with what we do. You can’t do that if you are bound by seventeen contradictory “rules” on how to do it right. The only right way to do it is to write. End of.
As always, comment below your views and opinions.