NaNoWriMo 2016 is well underway. Plotters have their stories outlined. Pantsers have hit the ground running. And aspiring and experienced novelists alike have that 50k word target in their sights.
Today let's talk about the NaNoWriMo writing process -- what we're working on, how we've scheduled our writing time during November, and what tools and resources we use to keep us on track.
NaNoWriMo 2016: Project & Plan
Let's start off with a quick look at my NaNoWriMo plans this year.
Update: I wasn't feeling in a great position to write something "light" like a rom-com this month. So even though I'd started making slow progress, I made a decision to (again) change focus.
Rather than trying to outline another new novel idea from scratch, I turned to my project files. I'd outlined a much grittier novel about 8 years ago scene-by-scene. The notes, character sketches, and such were probably the most thorough of any outline I'd done. So it was all set up and ready to go.
Given that I knocked out nearly 7000 words in the first writing session, I think it's pulling me in enough to still be doable even though I'm terribly behind. Info about the new novel is first below, but I'll leave the old plan up too (marked). I doubt at this point that I'll ever pursue the rom-com idea, but you never know.
About This Year's NaNoWriMo Novel (New Plan)
Here's the plan for the new NaNoWriMo project (the novel I'd outlined 8 years ago).
- It's a horror novel.
- More specifically it's in the vampire sub-genre (why I shelved the project when I originally plotted it; it's not my style to jump on an over-saturated trend, and it's clear that was picking up by the time I'd finished the outline -- around when the Twilight films began coming out).
- This is a gritty urban (Brooklyn) story unlike any others I've tackled so far. It'll have quite a bit of violence and death and much more sex than most fiction I write (though neither gratuitous). It'll also have a bit of mystery and a cat-and-mouse aspect, and of course the supernatural elements. Yet, despite the violence, it's more psychological horror than a stereotypical "blood and guts" affair.
- It's a very different spin on vampire mythology, though it ties back to certain elements in Slavic folklore (specifically from western Poland; chosen because of the heavy Polish influence in my hometown in Brooklyn which is the model for the fictional neighborhood, as well as my own family's ties to western Poland and my ability to put past research into the area and family stories to use).
- The story revolves around a young woman who is an unusual type of vampire. It leaves her with a bit of an identity crisis. And while she kills, it's not for the reasons you would think or in the ways you would think.
And there you go. That's probably all I can say without giving away too much of the plot.
About This Year's NaNoWriMo Novel (Old Plan)
I don't like to share a lot of background about fiction projects that are in-progress, but here's a little bit about this year's NaNoWriMo novel:
- It's a contemporary romance (again -- same as last year, though the projects aren't related).
- It will most likely cross into romantic comedy territory.
- This was a last-minute choice; I'd originally planned to write a drama (but wasn't really in the mood for one and wanted something a bit "lighter").
- The idea stemmed from a conversation with another writer a couple of months back. She said something that made me joke about a writer living through her book's main character, and we fleshed the idea out a bit then. But there never seemed to be an end game to the concept. So it was shelved. It was when I reconsidered other angles for the planned drama that this idea came back to mind and a romance angle seemed to make the most sense for it. While romance isn't my typical fare (give me a devious little cozy mystery or a good haunting horror story any day), this is one I think I'll be able to get into and draft pretty quickly.
- The general idea revolves around a successful novelist who gets so caught up living vicariously through her character(s) that she essentially stops living her life in the real world (at least when it comes to her love life).
- Other characters include her agent, a fellow writer / critique partner, her editor, and her sister, along with several more minor characters.
- The story largely focuses on her ability (or inability) to relate to these people -- in the context of not only a romantic storyline with one of them, but also her sister constantly trying to fix her up against her will, and her publisher pushing for the next book in her popular series (while she's torn between dragging it out to another book versus finally letting go of the characters she's latched onto by making this book her last in the series).
And that's the gist. It's outlined. Every scene is mapped out. And I'm finally ready to start writing. Better late than never!
My 2016 NaNoWriMo Writing Plan
I have to admit, my NaNoWriMo plan is a bit "off" this year. Normally I have a simple schedule: I take off Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the following weekend, and I take off all other Sundays during November. Then I schedule my writing time across the remaining days.
This year, I got a late start to NaNoWriMo because I missed the first four days of the month. So I had to adapt things a bit. I still plan to take off Thanksgiving and Black Friday. But I don't intend to take off every Sunday.
I haven't decided whether I'll take off the weekend after the holiday this year. I'm likely going to schedule them as "off" days (I'm still finalizing my word count schedule for when I start drafting later today). Then, if I fall behind, I'll use them for a couple of writing sprints if I need to.
Other than that, I'm taking my usual "top-down" approach. I plan for much heavier word count goals at the start of the month, and by the end of the month I only have to write a few hundred words per day.
This strategy knocks the bulk of the writing out when I have the most energy (though the site re-launch and anniversary month here this November have taken their toll in that area and I'm going to find out the hard way if I can pull off a miracle with a few big word count days once I get busy drafting later).
NaNoWriMo Resources & Tools
Now that you have the basic gist of what I'm writing and what my plan is for this year's NaNoWriMo, let's look at some of the tools and resources I'll be using.
Blog Word Count Tracker
While I haven't added a word count tracker to the sidebar here yet for this year's novel, I will later today when I finish my first day of writing for the month. (Update: You can now see my current word count progress at the top of the blog sidebar.) I generally use the one offered here in the All Freelance Writing Resource Collection.
I'm a big fan of using public word count trackers during NaNoWriMo for the accountability factor. I'm less likely to slack off for days when I know other people can see my progress, or lack thereof (except at the start of the month this year apparently).
This is an example of what it would look like in its medium format (it comes in three default sizes). You can choose whether or not to show the percentage. And if you know how to style in code a bit, you can change the bar size, colors, and more manually to make it match your site's color scheme.
Monthly Word Count Planner (Calendar)
In addition to a word count tracker to help me monitor my progress, I use a word count planner in a calendar format. This is where I plan out my writing schedule ahead of time -- days off, how many words per day, etc.
If you split your month into equal word count goals each day, you might not need something like this. But if you follow a more varied approach like the top-down method I mentioned above, it can be quite helpful.
I use a customized calendar for this, but I created a simplified version for the monthly writing challenges in the writing forums. You can access it from the Resources page, or preview and download it below.
While I love using Scrivener for blogging and even some freelance writing projects, it's predominantly my go-to software for long-form writing. That makes it perfect for NaNoWriMo.
I'm the first to admit there's a bit of a learning curve to Scrivener (OK, quite a bit of one). So if you aren't familiar with it before NaNoWriMo, it might be best to wait until next year. But if you have it, it's one of the best organizational tools you'll find for laying out your novel.
You can include all of your research, notes, outlines, chapters, scenes -- everything -- in a single project file, unlike with a traditional word processor.
To give you an idea of how you might map out a novel, look at the image to the left. This is the setup in my Scrivener murder mystery novel template (free download).
A murder mystery setup is going to be a bit more complicated than other novel types, including mine for this year. So your organizational structure in Scrivener won't necessarily have to be that complex. This is just to give you an idea of what you can do, all from within a single project / file.
Novel Writing Playlist
Finally, here's a simple productivity tool (or trick really) I use when writing fiction. I create music playlists for each story.
Some writers set up an all-out soundtrack for their novel. I tend to just pick songs that represent key scenes or emotions I need to tap into when writing certain parts of the novel or writing from a certain character's point of view.
I don't listen to these playlists while I'm actually writing. Instead I might play through a selection of songs for an upcoming chapter I need to write in an effort to get my head where it needs to be. Or I might listen to one song repeatedly for a little while to really push myself into a certain mood before I sit down and write a corresponding scene. I find it helps me write much faster when I have "triggers" like these to put me into a scene or a character's head.
If you're curious what kinds of songs I've chosen for this new NaNoWriMo novel, you can check out 12 examples featured in the below YouTube videos.
(Many of these come from indie artists I've been following for quite a long time. A couple of them aren't performing or producing new material anymore, but most are. If you like the songs highlighted here I highly recommend checking them out. Of the artists here, I'm a particularly big fan of Kill the Alarm, Melody Gardot, Brooke Annibale, Kingsfoil, Matt Martino, and Emma-Lee.)
Update: This playlist was for my previously-planned NaNoWriMo project (the rom-com), not the current darker one (though at least one song -- She's Gonna Kill Me -- did get moved over).
Kill the Alarm
The Morning Benders
I Was Wrong
All the Way
The Green & Yellow TV
Carrot and a Stick
She's Gonna Kill Me
Love is an Arrow
Reel Big Fish
Scared to Feel
Are U Okay?
When Morning Comes Around
I'm the One
Kill the Alarm
The Rooster Song
What kind of novel are you working on for NaNoWriMo this year? Do you have any favorite tools or resources to make the process easier? Tell us about them in the comments.