Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Part One


It’s the first of October today, one month before National Novel Writing Month. I’m part of the Brighton group of NaNos (or Wrimos or Nanites, we have many names). In addition to them, there are a few other people I know participating in NaNoWriMo. It’s an exciting challenge. In one month, we all take part in an international challenge, to write 50,000 words. It’s ideally a novel, but it can be anything else, as long as you get your 50k done. My brother once said that he’d try it by simply writing 50,000 words of random stream-of-consciousness hatred and madness. One day he probably will, and I won’t be surprised.

This is my fourth year of taking part in the event, and it’s been exciting each time. The first time I took a month off work and only just made it to the deadline by a bit over 600 words.

The second year I was actually third-drafting a book that I knew so well, all I needed was a string of notes for each scene, stapled together, and my fingers did the rest. I wrote the first 60,000 words between April and October, then another 70,000 in November itself, and kept the same quality (good quality, hopefully) that I couldn’t tell where the break was in the edit. After the white-knuckle ride of NaNoWriMo 2009, I realised that I shouldn’t waste time. The fortnight I had off to write full-time should be treated like I wanted to be in my day-to-day life if I was a professional writer. That helped a vast amount, hence the increased wordcount. I even went to a few NaNoWriMo events in Brighton, and started to speak with my community on the forums.

The 2011 NaNoWriMo was a book idea I’d had since 2002, and there were rough synopses for already sprawled around. I used that to start and finish a 73,000 word novel in that month. I attended almost every local event, which helped a vast amount. In 2010 and 2011 I only had a fortnight off work, and that felt like it made every second more precious.


I’m not a professional writer yet, but I am a writer. Since the 18th of July 1987, I’ve wanted to be a writer. All of these years have been spent writing, honing my craft and trying to get better. I’m only just starting to get to self-promotion and trying to get my work out there, and hopefully can do the same with the dogged determination. And while working full-time, too.

These NaNoWriMo articles aren’t going to be how everyone should do NaNoWriMo. I know people who have massive, sprawling plans, and people who have none whatsoever. I go from absolute chaos to OCD with my approach, never in between. This is a guide to how I take part in NaNoWriMo, how I write a novel, and hopefully it will provide some help for other people either starting out or looking for other ways to look at their craft.


I have a spreadsheet. I’ll say this now to get the, “Charlie is a weird OCD freak” out of the way, but I love spreadsheets. The average NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words, or 1,666 a day. That’s okay, I get about a grand a day done normally.

In my first year, a friend said I’d go mad if I had to do that every day, so I gave myself weekends off. The timing of weekends can vary a bit, but normally that means approximately 2,000 to 2,500 words a weekday. The NaNoWriMo website has a chart where you can see your progress, but by having my own wordcount sheet, I have my own daily requirement and can schedule things accordingly. If I knew I’d be busy on a specific weekday, I could then move that 2,000 to a different day, and I’d try to hit that wordcount outside of the NaNoWriMo events.

My local NaNoWriMo group, led by two talented writers, has been amazingly organised. In 2011 there was an evening write-in once a week and a Sunday session. At each of these, people were expected to keep (mostly) quiet and type away on their various devices. There were often prizes, with party-blower things to blow for each thousand words, stickers for hitting milestones, and even “word wars” where you all race to see who can write the most in a short amount of time. I won my fair share, not to toot my own horn, but the light-up pens on my desk at home say it all. Oh yeah…

The events also include a chill-out on a Tuesday evening, where fellow Nanites can meet up, vent about NaNoWriMo and specifically NOT WRITE.

Life events continue. Work carries on being work, but the second I have a lunch break or a commute, the netbook comes back out. A few events do get pushed back, simply because there are only so many hours in the day. I am increasingly worried that I’m going to live and die as a stereotypical lonely writer living in a garret and tapping away frantically into the wee hours. NaNoWriMo is not a place for such fears though. You’re too busy, and if your local NaNo chapter is as good as the Brighton one, then you’ll be seeing a large amount of writers, anyway, working together rather than in coffee shop & garret-based solitude.


I went on holiday to Spain earlier in the year, as I so inconclusively blogged about on this site. That cut my time for NaNoWriMo down to one week. That’s going to make things, I don’t know, probably 25% more hectic.

In 2010 and 2011 I had the nice buffer of the last half the month, and if I hit 25,000 words before then, the rest would be a breeze. I could write 2,500 by the early afternoon and then chill out. Maybe even treat myself to writing other things.

I have two RPG groups at the moment. A fortnightly group who meet on Tuesdays, so that’ll be off the cards for November, and a weekly Thursday group. I’m running a premade Call of Cthulhu adventure, so as long as I read ahead, it shouldn’t be an issue.

One large challenge will be Metal Made Flesh. I’ll explain more about the project nearer to its release, but it’s a comic which I’m working on with the talented Simeon Aston. The preview/pilot issue is pretty much done, with just a few touches left. If we’re all good, it’ll get printed and we’ll both be at the MCM Expo, which of course, is in November. I’m aiming to only be there for a day, and luckily it’s at a weekend. The other concern is that now the issue’s done, Sim & I should be sorting out a definitive synopsis for the remaining four. Which will probably be in November.

The last challenge is the story. My two next novel projects were redrafts of my 2009 and 2011 novels, but I’m not so confident in using NaNoWriMo as a redrafting tool. As good as my 2010 novel was, I knew it so innately, so much more than anything else I’ve written, so I only needed my hands to touch keys and it was done. So they were off the table for this year.

I have a spy drama using multidimensional technology, and my attempt to dick the Campbellian Hero’s Journey and write a high fantasy novel I wouldn’t be ashamed of.

But then the idea came to me. This story is only a few months old in my brain, but once thought it couldn’t be unthought. My old proofreaders, Alex and Steve, had a good amount to say about the topic, both positive and negative. It even inspired a discussion with my writing group, The Plot Bunnies about whether I should write a disclaimer on the blog. The conclusion was, “No apologies, no excuses”. Fair enough. It’s a difficult topic, and an interesting one, which is why I have to write it.

In the coming days and weeks, I will show you my planning for NaNoWriMos past and present. If you get something helpful from them, then that’s great. As well as advice, this will act as me vocalising about my preparation, forcing me to think about the project, to get ready, and in thinking out loud (or in words, I guess), I’ll learn a few things, too.

NEXT: The Big Idea


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