I studied to be a journalist, training that has served me well in my writing career. Why? Because the first thing you learn in journalism school are the 5 Ws necessary to a news story—who, what, when, where, and why. Since then, every time I begin a writing project, answering the 5 Ws are the starting point.
Those questions work in other arenas of life, too. Party planning? Vacations? Critique groups? Buying a home? Pretty much any life decision would benefit from applying the 5 Ws to it.
That includes National Novel Writing Month.
Who will be on your team?
A writer writes alone, but a dedicated month of writing means team support. Who will aid and abet your efforts to put down new words every day? October is the time to alert your family about changes to the daily schedule, to let your boss and co-workers know why you’re sitting at your desk at lunchtime, to warn your roommate why you’re skipping Friday happy hour or Saturday movie night. Some lead time, and maybe practice, can make the transition to NaNo easier on your support system—and to get them to offer to help by not tempting you, not distracting you, or just leaving you alone!
“Who” also means your fellow NaNoWriMo writers. NaNo offers a buddy system as well as forums where you can join in discussions. You can find your region and check in with other writers from your area, maybe plan a physical meet-up during the month. If you need cheerleading or a place to question or unwind, check out the website for like minds and teammates.
What will you write in November?
A new project is the recommendation, but there’s no hard or fast rule. Some mental decisions in advance can make your life easier. Technically, whatever you write on the manuscript before November 1 doesn’t count, but there’s no prohibition against working up a synopsis or loose plot plan, creating character sketches, researching the time, place, setting.
There’s also no rule that you have to do any advance work at all. Do you have an idea to explore? Are you comfortable with winging it? If that works for you, do it!
Whether you are planning or winging, here are a few questions to help get into the NaNo mode:
– Do you understand – conceptually or in practice – how to turn off your internal editor and keep moving forward?
– Are you comfortable with inserting notes such as “research more here” or “check this later” in the narrative to avoid going down a research or fact check rabbit hole?
– Do you know your own writing habits well enough to factor in warm up time or strategies?
– If your NaNo project idea falls apart, do you have the confidence to repair it, replace it, or walk away?
Where will you write?
I have an office, complete with desk, filing cabinet, book cases, printer, supplies—all the IRS approved necessities to perform my professional duties as a writer and editor. Unfortunately, when I try to be creative in my office, it is as stifling as a box on a sidewalk in Texas in summer. Instead, every morning when I devote an hour to writing, I walk across the hall to the guest room. There, I’ve set up a nook—a corner of the desk with a lamp, a chair, a window, my writing journal, and my laptop or notebook. That’s what I need to create: a place to sit, a view, writing implements. No one bothers my writing nook.
To find your NaNo where, choose a spot that can be your writing nook for the month. You can move around, sure—go to coffee shops, write with friends—but what place will be your homing ground to pound out words? If you set up a particular spot and do nothing but write there, when you sit there, your mind is already moving into writing mode. So much of being productive is a mind game. Can you reserve an amiable spot to be your November writing nook?
When will you write?
Every person has a most creative time of day. Mine is first thing in the morning. If I haven’t written good words by 9:00 a.m., it’s a pretty safe bet that anything I write later will be trash. Some people can’t fathom writing in the a.m. There is no one true perfect writing time, but there is a time that’s best for you. If your most creative time is early morning, but you have to get to the day job and see kids off to school, then your most practical writing time maybe in the evening, or some other time. Knowing when you are most creative is great. Understanding your life and accepting when is the most practical time to write is greater still.
Like the where, the when of writing can boost your output if you make a habit of writing at the same time every day. For NaNo, you may have to carve out some of your free time, because 1,667 words per day probably won’t happen in one sitting.
Why are you doing NaNoWriMo?
Because you want to write a lot of words in a short amount of time? Because you want to start a new project? Because you’re goal oriented? Because you love the camaraderie of writing at the same time as others? Because you enjoy the challenge?
Every why is an individual one. There are no wrong whys.
A final note:
In journalism school, we were also taught another letter: the H for How. How do you win at NaNoWriMo? That one’s easy. By participating.
The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words in November. One killer of NaNoWriMo best intentions is unrealistic expectations. If you think 50k is a doable goal, go for it. If you’re a maybe, go for it. If you know you can’t possibly make it but some words are better than no words, go for it. If you go in with the expectation that you’ll write as many words as you can, that’s how you win.
Go for it.