NaNoWriMo Prep

This is a post about my NaNoWriMo process, so feel free to skip it. I’m writing it mostly for myself to remind me what it is, so that I’ll be ready for November 1.

Typically I prepare a Scrivener project with 30 documents named “11-01” through “11-30,” each with a 1,667 word target goal. Each day, I open up the document with the appropriate date and start writing. I try not to read much of what I’ve written the previous days, other than maybe the last paragraph if I need to continue with a scene I didn’t finish.

That, in my opinion, is the most important thing to know about finishing large writing projects: Decoupling the writing process from the editing process.

To accomplish that, I make the text very large for two main reasons. For one, I’m getting old and have a harder time reading these tiny computer screens. I actually got some 1.25x reading glasses recently and it has improved my ability to read text on a computer screen and mobile phone by about 1000%.

Secondly, I make the text big because I don’t want to see very far back in my own writing. A very important thing that keeps me moving forward is not being able to see more than a couple paragraphs back at any given time. I highly recommend it if you find yourself slowed down by constant re-editing (something I am very susceptible to).

With this method, it’s true I often repeat myself in the writing, but that’s what the revision process is for.

This year I’ll be writing mainly on my MacBook Air, because I had to reformat my PC and don’t have Scrivener installed on it yet. I suppose it wouldn’t take very long to re-install it, so that might change over the course of the month. I store the document files on DropBox so, in the past, I could use the Air or PC interchangeably. (You can work on the same project from both Mac and PC.)

I try not to write all 1,667 words at once per day. I have a hard time staying focused on writing for long periods of time, and unless I’m on fire, it typically takes me a good two hours to write 1,667 words of fiction.

Instead I try to write in bursts of around twenty minutes or a half hour. Maybe longer if I feel particularly inspired, or less if I don’t.

Once I complete my writing time, be it ten minutes or a half hour, I do something else until the top of the next hour. (This assumes I have a lot of time to write, mind you. If I only have a half hour to write for the whole day, obviously the process changes to a more frantic word sprint.) Then I start another short session. I repeat this for as many hours as I have available.

This is the best method I have worked out for myself over the last eight years.

Your mileage may vary. One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that every writer works differently.

I write best in silence or with familiar instrumental music playing. Listening to anything “new” is likely to distract me. Classical music is best. I cannot write when I hear singing or talking. I don’t know if anyone else is like that, but if my ears hear words in a language I understand, I have a hard time concentrating on anything else. My brain goes into an odd emergency identification mode when I hear unfamiliar sounds, to the exclusion of anything else. (You can hear it a lot in my videos. I’ll just stop talking and get immediately derailed most likely because I heard something in the game, or even worse, in my house.)

I like to have nothing on my screen but the words of the current document and a second window showing a list of names I’ve used previously in the text. I never remember names so I have to keep them handy. (I read somewhere that’s how Stephen King writes.)

I typically don’t plot out my story in advance. I like to see where a story takes me, and how the characters develop over time. To me, it’s very boring to write a story when I know how it’s going to turn out.

This year, for example, I have a setting and a genre (“space opera”—never written before), and an opening scene which should propel a handful of unnamed characters into an exciting adventure. I hope. Otherwise I’ll be scrambling on day three or four to figure out what to do for the rest of the month.

This particular setting came about from some brainstorming I did back in May. I keep most of my “story ideas” in Evernote, and when NaNoWriMo rolls around I open up those notes and peruse them to find something that looks interesting.

If I get stuck in the writing, and I don’t know what to write next, very often I will start breaking the fourth wall and get the characters talk to each other about the story and what to do next. Sometimes it results in useful dialog that is appropriate to that particular place in the story, but most of the time it’s going to get cut out later. The point of it is to get me to continue writing something which invariably gets me back on track.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Happy NaNoWriMo’ing!

P. S. And in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I’m not even going to edit this text!

P. P. S. I should have said I haven’t written “space opera” since I was a kid, when that was pretty much all I wrote.

P. P. P. S. Okay I edited it a little bit.

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