The more I delve deeper into my writing, the more I forget that I have a blog where I’m supposed to keep up with current events in writing, publishing, sci-fi, fantasy, and all things wonderful. I came up from the deep in order to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which happens every year in November.

It may be pure madness to participate in NaNoWriMo, or perhaps that’s what it takes in order to finish. I’ve signed up in years past but have never “won”, or completed 50,000 words. Usually by week two, I’ve lost steam and have good intentions to keep going only to find myself at the end of the month with what I wrote in the first two weeks. This year, I’m in the middle of revamping (and making it so much better) the prequel to my story collection that I swore I would self-publish and release in November. That’s all put on hold while the prequel plays out into its much improved form, from a short novella into an episodic, three-part novel.

So why would I sign up to start an entirely different writing project when I’ve got other ones almost in the pre-production stage of publishing? The answer I have is simply for the community. In November, hundreds of thousands of people sign up for this massive, crazy project of writing something. In the end, what’s written might not be usable. But it’s rising to the challenge and seeing if you can complete at least 50,000 words of a project and even push to finish it. And you’re not doing that alone.

For about a month now, I have gone into a phase of being a writer I would like to call “cave trolling”. Much like Tolkien’s cave troll in Lord of the Rings, I live in the same hovel day and night. I scrounge for food and drink every now and then, but mostly I live in my sunroom that serves as my office. I have been accused by the hubs that when I’m not chained to my desktop that I grunt and snarl, much like a cave troll. And when I’m focused to get my writing finished for the day, I plow over anything in my way.

Here’s a great indication if you’re a writer that you’ve been isolated for entirely too long. If you do make it out into the sun and into the company of other people, pay attention to how you react to them. There are two of my reactions that alarm me. The first is that I have verbal diarrhea, where I talk entirely too fast non-stop for at least ten minutes, usually about my plot, without anyone else getting a word in. The second is total silence to those around me because, unlike the characters in my head, they aren’t obeying my every command.

So I decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo with every intention of finishing. One of the things I was able to do because of a great local writing center is sign up to participate in a dedicated group. The idea was to meet prior to the start and two times during the month. Meeting in person forces a level of community as well as a sense of accountability to accomplish the writing goals. In our group, we’ve got a mixture of YA writers, a horror writer, a comedy realism writer, and a non-fiction writer. We’re a pretty eclectic bunch, and in a way that makes it way more interesting than trying to do this on my own.

I walked into the planning meeting thinking I had things made. I have two possible projects to use for NaNoWriMo. One is the contemporary fantasy trilogy I’ve had researched and planned since earlier this year that takes place in the sea islands of South Carolina. It’s a completely different narrative voice, and has different needs from me than the Victorian-style I’m currently writing. The other possible project takes place in relatively the same era give or take a decade with a lot of the same background, but instead of an adult book it’s for YA readers.

My two choices couldn’t be anymore different from each other, and my brain pinged back and forth between the two before my group’s first meeting. By the end of the meeting, I’d decided to go with the YA period book simply because it allows me to keep my brain in the same era that I’ve been living in and researching for over a month. That way, all that research doesn’t go to waste. But it’s different enough from my other writing that I feel I can separate the two in my mind. Of course, that’s just a theory, and it’s possible by mid-November, my head will be a bowl full of jelly.

I thought having a basic idea with the main characters and rise and fall of the action would be enough. Maybe that’s enough for some, but the more we talked about plotting in the workshop meeting, the more I realized I was ill-prepared for the challenge of NaNoWriMo. While the product of the 30-day challenge is to produce what will be the skeletal structure of a possible future work, it is wise to start with enough tools to build said structure.

So here are some of the things I am improving on before the start:

Characters: Of course, main protagonists and antagonists should be at least partially defined ahead of time. But I learned that they should be more than just basic ideas. It’s best to try and get them as close to 3D for you as possible. To help with this, our group leader suggested looking into character tropes. A great source is a huge list of character types from tvtropes.org. Following the link of numerous types of characters, the site breaks down what the character trope is and gives you the opportunity to look at examples from beyond television to gaming, anime, and other sources.

Plotting: I tend to like to have a basic idea of plot rather than a detailed one. That way, things can change and I won’t feel stuck in an outline. One of the best sources is Joseph Campbell’s “Monomyth” theory about the Hero’s Journey. You can google it to find the details, but I highly recommend the puppet version explanation.

For those who aren’t big planners and would rather pants your way through, I can highly recommend Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 DaysIt can help give you a hand or a spring board to jump right into the deep end. There are numerous blogs out there with tips and suggestions from veteran NaNo survivors.

So if you’ve got a novel in your head that you just haven’t written down, have written things but never finished them (mumblecough mumblecough), or just want to join a fun community, sign up for NaNoWriMo at nanowrimo.org. You may have a very active local community already that you didn’t know existed that host fun things like planned write-ins. If you do sign up and you’d like to buddy me, you can find me as bellajenn.

The quest begins at midnight at the end of Halloween. This is perhaps an ingenious plan as most of us will be hopped up on the candy we hid from the kids. I’m hoping to start adding up my word count immediately like any true addict. Here’s hoping to see you at the finish line with me!

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