There are generally two camps of NaNo writers: the plotters and the pantsers (as in, flying by the seat of).  I am generally a shameless pantser (although my most successful year was plotted, surprise surprise), and in the past I’ve taken this to mean that there’s nothing I need to do until November 1st.

This is a very good way to risk not finishing.

It’s true that many people stumble and give up because they run out of story, because the characters have stopped talking to them, because they’ve written themselves into a corner and don’t have time to fix it again.  These are the places where outlining can help.  But more often, people find themselves bowing out and the deadlines passing unheeded for a much simpler reason: life got in the way.

Now, you’re not going to be able to plan for, say, a major illness striking you or a loved one in November, or someone losing their job, or a natural disaster, or any of the other unforeseeable calamities that can cause a writing competition to get pushed aside.  But even if you’re not working out a single detail of your story in advance (and hey, even if you are), you can still take this time to set yourself up for success.

This week, we’re not even really acting on anything yet.  The task this week is to assess the situation.  There’s a lot to think about before you dive into this thing, especially if it’s your first time and you don’t quite know what to expect.  I’d like to stress that none of these questions are meant to discourage you from participating, merely to help you formulate a game plan that suits your situation.

That said…

Are you up for this?

I first heard about NaNo probably back in 2003, and thought it was an awesome idea.  I first participated properly (not counting the year I started late and never actually signed up for the site) in 2010.

Why the delay?  I’m not sure if you know this, but November sucks.  Seriously, I’m glad it worked out so nicely for the original participants who put it together, but for the rest of us, it’s horrifically stressful and already overbooked.  Personally, I didn’t even bother attempting until I had graduated from college.  As much as I liked the idea, by the time I was an upperclassman I was already pumping out about 70-80 pages of material for school in November, working two jobs, and running on about 4 hours’ sleep per night.  Adding another project on top of that would have driven me insane.  I have intense respect for students who compete in NaNo, but I wasn’t cut out to be one of them.

And you know what?  That’s perfectly fine.  Above all else, keep in mind that this is supposed to be fun.  If the prospect fills you with dread, or if the idea of deadlines stresses you out more than motivates you, or if you know you just don’t write fast enough to keep up, don’t force it.  Consider sitting out a year, seeing if there’s a modified goal like a lesser word count that you can make work, or waiting for one of the other events in a month that’s less horrible.

What are you trying to get out of this?

Are you hoping to have a workable first draft at the end of November (or sometime in December or beyond, depending on length)?  Are you just trying to get into the habit of writing every day without worrying about the end product?  Are you only here for the anarchic fun and don’t care if what you have at the end even resembles a novel?  Are you rebelling and doing something other than 50,000 new words of a novel?

All of these are absolutely legitimate approaches to NaNoWriMo.  All of them are going to require very, very different processes to get through.  There’s a ton of advice floating around out there to help out WriMos, and much of it talks at cross-purposes because it’s not all leading to the same place.  Knowing where you want to end up will help you sort through to find the stuff that will actually help you get there.

What are you willing to sacrifice?

There are plenty of people here who are already spending at least two hours a day, sometimes much more, sweating over their writing machines.  Those guys are rock stars, no question, especially the ones who do that on top of day jobs.  For the rest of us, it’s probably a safe bet that you’re not currently spending large chunks of your day just staring at a blank wall.  Turning yourself into a rock star means coming up with those hours for writing that, at the moment, are being spent doing something else.  Whatever that something is each day, it’s not getting done during November, at least not as frequently as you’re used to.  There’s absolutely no way around this, unless you have a time machine of some sort.  (In which case, why aren’t you sharing?  That’s not cool, man.)

My next couple of posts will be talking about specific strategies to carve out that writing time.  But for right now, take an honest look at where you’re spending your time.  I mean, every minute of the day, because squeezing a few extra words into those stray minutes is what this thing is all about.

Think of your schedule like a Jenga tower.  Some pieces are going to pop right out, some can be very carefully removed with skill and patience, and some are just going to topple the whole tower if moved no matter what you try.  Right now, you can start tapping delicately at those wooden pieces to see which ones are loose.  This is the time to be brutally honest with yourself, because you’re going to have to start pulling those Jenga blocks pretty soon, and convincing yourself that a particular piece isn’t load-bearing isn’t going to prevent it from dropping the whole thing on your toes.

Also remember that your dealbreakers aren’t going to be the same as mine or anyone else’s.  All of these suggestions are just that.  It’s going to be up to you to figure out how to incorporate them into a plan you can stick to.

That does it for this week.  Tune in next week, when we talk housekeeping.  Literally.

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