Every November a bunch of people participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to those in the know—a category which, by the end of this post, will include you. The uncompressed title is fairly self-explanatory. Write a novel in a month. How? By writing 1,667 words a day for the thirty days of November so that, by the end of the month, you will have a piece of writing that vaguely resembles a novel, weighing in at a hair over the 50,000 threshold that’s sometimes used for that genre. There’s a website and everything. It’s real.
You may be puzzled as to why, at this point, I’m bringing up something that happens in November. “That’s eons into the future,” you say. Look. I don’t need your snide remarks. The fact is that cranking out 1,667 words a day is hard. Doable, but hard. And if you don’t plan things out it will be quite a lot harder. So while you shouldn’t start writing the actual novel for a couple of weeks, that period is good for a lot more than just thinking, “Do I really want to put myself through this?” You do, of course.
So two weeks of precious preparation time. Here’s what to do. For the next two weeks, tell as many people as you can that you’re going write a novel in a month.
“That doesn’t seem like a lot of time,” they’ll say. “Also, why are you telling me this?”
“Because I love you,” you say.
But you don’t love them. You just want them to remember this encounter so that whenever you see them, in the brief moment you’ll have to recognize them before they run away, you will remember that you ought to be writing your novel.
There’s more to the prep work than setting up a network of people to guilt you into powering through the whole month. Here’s what to do each week. Week One: Work on your characters. Write flash fiction stories about their lives before the start of the novel. Learn who they are. Figure out what they want from life, what they don’t want, and why. Avoid the temptation to put “write almost two thousand words a day” in everyone’s “don’t want” category. Okay. Week Two: Figure out how those characters will try to get what they want and avoid what they don’t want. Some people call this “plot,” but I’m not going to bog you down with a bunch of jargon. Just figure out what they’re doing and how what they’re doing manages to get in the way of everyone else attempting to get what they want and avoid what they don’t want. You can’t start the novel, but you can start describing it to yourself in great detail
Planning is important for a lot of things, and NaNoWriMo is one of them. By the time you’re a couple of weeks and 23,338 words into November, it may be difficult to remember your own mother’s name, much less why the Operatives of the Red Hand are so dead set on removing the letter M from casual conversation. Your moment of crisis may vary from this example. There’s a big difference, at that moment, between having a vague idea of a novel and having actual, concrete, written-down plans. You don’t want to have told that cashier “I love you” for nothing, do you?
Gideon Simons is a first year fiction candidate at Virginia Tech. He reads fiction for the minnesota review.