How Much #NanoPrep is Too Much?

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Preparation for a marathon month of writing can be quite daunting. Writing a novel is like writing any other story – except that it goes on for tens of thousands of words. What goes on in that time depends on the story being told. Some people see the whole effort as one massive mountain that needs climbing, and then they plan (or don’t) accordingly.

To take the comparison further, people envision many different strategies for tackling that task. Planners are the ones that build an elevator or helicopter to transport them to the summit. Just as building a piece of complex machinery takes a whole lot of effort, planners will put similar exertion into pre-writing. They build characters down to the fleck of dandruff on their otherwise immaculate expensive suits, and there isn’t anything going on in the story without a planner’s permission.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are pantsers, the people who just write for a month until they hit a designated spot. There’s an unspoken confidence that an avenue to climb Mount Novel will present itself, and one just needs the courage and determination to find it. Characters, plot, themes, setting, and anything else might be there. Then again, all of it might just be swimming around in a pantser’s head before writing begins.

Somewhere in between are most people. There’s tons of advice out there as well on how to successfully complete fifty thousand words in thirty days doing a planner or pantser method of preparation. People advocate each method like it’s a favorite child. But if you’re not sure what you are, which one is the right one to pick?

The answer is simple: do whatever makes you feel comfortable.
Feeling like you ought to be doing novel preparation doesn’t mean that you should be doing novel preparation. It’s a great way of sabotaging your efforts before you even begin. Just because your best friend who’s doing the challenge with you has ninety color-coded index cards with character motivations and setting details doesn’t mean you have to go buy any yourself. Likewise, if your friend demands you throw away all your prep work because pantsing a novel is just the BEST THING EVER™, you should probably recommend a good therapist.

If you have an idea for your story, write it down. That’s it. Eventually you’ll have a collection of those notes, and you’ll want to organize them. Personally, I use a spreadsheet to do it because I can cut and paste cells into a coherent outline for a book. Some people use cork boards or white boards or thumbtacks to do their organizing. The only similarity is that they wrote down their ideas for what they wanted to do and organized them. Not having many ideas beforehand just means you’ve got a lot of free space to work with.

Doing anything above that might be putting too much effort into it.

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Should You Do #NaNoWriMo ?

National Novel Writing Month (affectionately called NaNoWriMo for short) is upon us once again. I’ve participated in the past two years (under a pseudonym), and both experiences were positive. Each year I got to 50,000 words, and I can say that the second time around was a little easier than the first. Both manuscripts have produced material which I could publish. In fact, my upcoming book started out as a NaNoWriMo project.

Other people decide to try to write 50,000 words in thirty days for different reasons. Some people do it to kick off their next big project (like I do), while others just do it for the challenge. A person might want to just do this to have a good excuse not to shop on Black Friday, or maybe this is an item to cross off on a bucket list. So many different people come to the challenge that any reason, excuse, or desire can justify taking part in this wondrous international event.

On top of that, there’s the added benefit of meeting other writers and aspiring writers in your local area. NaNoWriMo is the best of excuses to go find people who explore fantasy worlds, lovers’ quarrels, mysteries beyond comprehension, and generally getting lost in good stories. Not everyone is a writer, so getting the chance to find people with similar interests is always welcome. Even if the people you meet aren’t doing the challenge to actually publish a novel, they’re probably a person who will be interested in the stuff you do publish.

It’s easy to get lost in the challenge of NaNoWriMo without seeing all these other benefits it brings. If you’re a reader, writer, or just curious about how books get written, it’s got something for everyone. NaNoWriMo is more than just something silly for people who write stories to do in a month; it’s a good community for all things writing.

To anyone who is deciding to do it this year, you can add MWLange as a buddy over at the NaNoWriMo site. I’m also located in the USA::Alabama::North region. You can also hit me up on Twitter @MattWLange . Best wishes to all who participate!