National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is just around the corner. That means that thousands of people are getting ready to do what often feels impossible: Write a book. In a month.

That’s not entirely true of course. You’re writing your first draft, which will be more or less (probably less) close to what’ll be the final result. That doesn’t take anything from the experience, nor the achievement, however. Writing the first draft is the first step, a necessary one.

50,000 words in a month is hard work. That’s why it’s important to plan your writing, and your novel, properly before you start.

Research

You probably already have a story in mind, that’s why “Story” isn’t the first thing we’re going to talk about. Your novel might be a horror story, a cozy mystery, epich fantasy, hard science fiction, or a contempary piece that you hope will be loved by generations to come. No matter what the genre and the style, there are bound to be parts of it that need some research.

Now, research can be two things. First, it’s actual research into how something works. Maybe it’s the law, or biology, or a chemical compound that you want to make believable, common things like that.

Second, it’s the things that aren’t common, but they still need to be believable. This is mostly an issue with novels that work with a world different to ours, because there might not be a real counterpart to what it is you’re trying to write about. A fantasy world might have magic, so how does that work, and what price does it have for the sorcerer? Epic science fiction features warp drives and propulsion engines that breaks what we think is possible, but it still needs to be plausible.

Both these things warrant research. Make a list of all the things you think you’ll run into, that you know are part of the story, and the world, and then research them. For things related to our world, make use of Wikipedia, Google Maps’s satellite view, libraries, and works published in the field. The same goes for things that belong to worlds beyond our own, but you’ll have to flesh everything out yourself. The more you ground it in believable science, and connect it to something that we can grasp, the more plausible it’ll be. A good example might be atmospheres, and what happens under pressure, in a science fiction novel. Fun fact: Your head won’t explode if you step out on Mars without a pressure suit, Total Recall got that one wrong. It might make for good TV, but if you know anything about the science, it’s just stupid.

It’s all about the people

Who is the story about? What are his or her or it’s hobbies, job, what kind of friends are there, and is there a love interest? Then, who is the protagonist - good or bad, lovable or not - struggling against? It’s probably a person, but it might not be, it might be something untagible. It might be the mind, it might be a cosmic demon from across the void. That’s up to you.

The people in the story are obviously important. Writing books will tell you to drive the story by actions, not by retelling what’s going on. That means you need the people in the story to be capable of driving the story forward. You probably have a good idea of some of these people. Write them down, write down what kind of persons they are, what are their quirks, how do they talk, what do they like and dislike, that sort of thing. Give them some hooks too, things that you might or might not levy during the writing. It’s always good to have some extra ways to push the story forward when you hit a snag. A good hook can do that for your.

What happens when, aka the outline

Speaking of pressing the story forward, it’s time to talk about the [outline]. Yes, you should definitely outline. How fleshed out your outline is, beyond a list of things that happen in a certain order, is totally up to you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The outline is really important when writing on a tight schedule. Sure, it might sound romantic to sit down and let the words flow, but not all days are like that, and that is doubly true if you’re not used to produce thousands of words on a daily basis. That’s why an outline is so important. The days when you feel hungover and sick, the days you really don’t feel like writing, those days counts just as much as the day when writing seems like the best thing ever. The crappy days are the primary (but not sole) reason for having an outline during NaNoWriMo.

The outline gives you something to fall back on. Sure, you’re sick as a dog and really want to eat icecream in bed, but you need your words, because you’re writing a bloody novel in a month, dammit! What do you do? You check your outline, you sit your ass down, and you write according to it.

Make sure your outline is easy to follow, and if something takes off outside of it during the actual writing, consider taking a break (that is, take some extra time) a tweaking the outline to fit your manuscript. When you hit the snag, because you will, then the outline is your saviour. Get to work on one now, if you haven’t already.

Putting it all together

In the end, NaNoWriMo is about writing a first draft. Don’t forget that, it’s the goal. It’s a fun competition, a friendly one, that has helped a lot of people to stop talking about writing, and doing something about it. NaNoWriMo is great that way.

But remember, because it’s a competition, because it’s a first draft, reaching the goal - the wordcount and the The End - is more important than doing it with style.

Sit down. Prepare. Research. Outline.

Then, come November 1st, sit down and write. Every day, until you’re done.

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