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. Organizing write-ins, cheering on my fellow writers—I didn’t know how it all worked. But it was a lot of fun, and I became close friends with a fantastic group of writers.
Over the years, I have learned many tricks to help people get a jump on their NaNoWriMo project.
Most writers will start an entirely new project. Some have an outline, others are flying blind, or in author speak, “pantsing it.”
Other writers will continue writing the first draft of an unfinished work-in-progress. On November first, they write all the new work in a separate manuscript that is for NaNoWriMo validation purposes.
This year I have several projects. One will be to write the final chapters of Bleakbourne on Heath, a novel that began life in 2015 as a weekly serial. I have the outline all written for that, and the ending is now firmly established. Finishing that should cover about 20,000 – to 25,000 words.
My second project is for my new duology set in Neveyah. I need to write the chapters that show my antagonist’s storyline. They are also outlined now, and when Bleakbourne is finished, I will move on to the Aeoven Cycle.
I also have three short stories and a novella to fill in on those days when I can’t focus on the tasks at hand, so I will have plenty to keep my mind churning.
Several years came where I had no novel-length ideas. For those years I wrote collections of short stories to submit to magazines and contests.
But what if you think you have no ideas worth writing?
Feel free to look on the internet for writing prompts.
Don’t let your flashes of inspiration slip into oblivion. Write them down and use them. A pre-prepared list of prompts can stimulate any number of projects. It’s like an “extra brain,” full of ideas to jump-start a short story.
Great novels all begin with a random idea, a “what if,” so I save this document to my computer’s desktop. It’s nothing fancy, just a list of ideas and one-liners that seemed interesting.
You could use sticky notes or a pencil and paper, but the important thing is to not forget them.
Whenever I don’t have a specific project to write on, I go to that list, select a prompt, and start writing. I write new words on that idea for fifteen minutes.
Often, I end up with a drabble or a poem to show for my fifteen minutes. Other times, what I produce is not worth much, but the act of writing new words is essential.
It trains your brain to think like a writer.
The following are some of my favorite prompts:
- Edgar always said there was no place for pansies in this war. His preferred weapon was a dahlia.
- Dogs and little children hated Winston. The rest of us merely despised him.
- Death is the one thing you can take with you, and Sheila Harris was packed up and ready to go.
- The body in the trunk of Edna’s car had become a real inconvenience.
Another trick to both jump-starting and finishing a NaNo Novel is to write the last chapter first. Then set it aside in a separate document from the NaNo Manuscript, and write the story to that moment.
Yes—it’s true. I wrote my first NaNoWriMo 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 could 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 and takes him through grand love affairs and miserable failures. My soul was on fire with that book, and I couldn’t think of anything else.
Julian Lackland had a rough journey but was published this year.
Julian wasn’t my first novel, but it was the first one I had completed. If you don’t finish your projects, the world will never read your work.
NaNoWriMo has shown me that writing prompts are an excellent 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.
Every day, things occur that I think would make such good magazine articles, and November is a great month to write them.
- 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 and participating in NaNoWriMo has become so precious to me.