I have been a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo since 2012. I started participating in this annual writing rumble in 2010. I found myself taking the lead as the unofficial ML for my region in 2011 when our previous ML didn’t return, and we didn’t have one that year. Organizing write-ins, cheering on my fellow writers–I didn’t really know a lot about how it all worked, but it was a lot of fun and I met so many wonderful people.
Over the years I have learned a lot of little tricks to help people get a jump on their NaNoWriMo project.
Some people continue writing the first draft of an unfinished work-in-progress but on November first, they write all the new work in a separate manuscript that is only for NaNoWriMo validation purposes.
Most will start an entirely new project, which is what I do. Actually, since 2012, I have started a bunch of new projects, an attempt to amass a collection of short stories to submit to magazines and contests.
Many times, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do until 12:01 a.m. on November 1st.
But that lack of a finite plan doesn’t mean I have no ideas. I am always prepared to write something new.
One of my favorite tools is the prepared list of one-liners that I keep on hand, little ideas to open a story with.
You must write every day, even when you are only writing for yourself. When you write every day, you keep your “writing mind” in top condition–you are training yourself the way an athlete trains for a big event.
For this reason, I have a document saved to my desktop that I use to write down ideas as they hit my brain.
Everyday I pick a prompt out of my list and start writing. I write new words on that idea for fifteen minutes.
Often, I end up with a good drabble to show for my fifteen minutes. Other times, what I produce is not worth much, but the act of writing new words is important.
On November first I will pick one that will be the first short story I write, giving me a jumping off point to riff on.
1 – Leonard always said there was no place for pansies in this war. His preferred weapon was a dahlia.
2 – Dogs and little children hated Eldon. The rest of us merely despised him.
3 – Death is the one thing you can take with you, and Harvey Milton was packed up and ready to go.
4 – No dogs or cats for Mrs. G—she had pygmy goats.
5 – The body in the trunk of Edna’s car had become a real inconvenience.
6 – “Technically, it’s not my cow. It’s my stepdad’s cow. Anyway, we aren’t going to harm her. She’s just going to school for a day.”
And what about essays, those wonderful commentaries and literary pieces for various magazines? I’m stricken every day with ideas that would make such good essays, and November is my month to write them.
- Impressions of a spring day at the Olympia Farmer’s Market (one of the largest on the west coast).
- The story of a mentally ill homeless woman whom I met on a rainy day.
- A road trip down Washington State Route 105 from Westport to Raymond, and the ghostly, nearly abandoned coastal towns of rural Washington State.
So many random ideas and so little time to write those stories! That is why November has become so precious to me—it is my time to make use of my flashes of inspiration.
Another trick to both jump-starting and finishing a NaNo Novel is to write the last chapter first and set it aside in a separate document from the NaNo Manuscript.
Yes–its true. I wrote my first complete novel by writing the last chapter first and then wondering how the characters had gotten to that point, that place.
Once I knew how the book ended, I was easily able to write 60,000 to 70,000 words to connect up to that final denouement.
The original premise: An old man returns to a town that was the scene of his most treasured memories.
The book opens when he is a young man of barely twenty and takes him through grand love affairs and miserable failures, a Don Quixote-like story of madness and bravery. My brain was on fire with that book.
I still love that book and one day I will republish it.
That wasn’t my first novel, but it was the first one I had completed—and if you don’t complete your projects, you can’t really lay claim to being an author.
We all have false starts—it’s part of writing. My first novel was begun in 1994 on an old Macintosh Performa. The original manuscript was lost when I switched to a PC in 1998, but I rewrote it. Over the next ten years, that version evolved to over 250,000 rambling words, ten different story lines, and it was still nowhere near the finish line.
I promise you, that is one book that will never see the light of day.
NaNoWriMo has shown me that writing prompts are a wonderful tool that we can use to jump-start our imaginations. The Writer’s Digest website has an excellent post dedicated to writing prompts:
If you want to practice writing something but can’t think of what, take a look and see if something interests you. No two people are alike, so don’t be afraid to use a prompt from a popular site like Writer’s Digest. The way you go with it will be as unique and individual as you are.
In the meantime, start keeping a list of ideas, prompts that you think would make great stories. Save it to your desktop so it is always available with just a click. Great novels all begin with a random idea, a “what if.” Don’t let your ideas slip into oblivion–write them down and use them.