NaNoWriMo Prep Session 2: What to avoid

On Saturday, October 15th, Heather Jones aka AmaranthMuse led a workshop at the Nichols Library in Naperville before what may be the largest turnout we’ve had at an October workshop: 42 people attended (!).

Nano_prep_guide_short_111020.pptx the presentation Heather used on Saturday
Nano_preparation_guide_111020.pptx the long form of the presentation (extra pages)

Here are my notes from the session.

  • Most writers take 6 months to a year to create a draft; we do it in 30 days.
  • Supposed to be fun and engaging; can be difficult at times.
  • Not a perfect first draft (but that’s ok).
  • NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) is in March – how do you make it better
  • 50,000 words is a goal; an average book is 75,000-130,000 words
  • Momentum counts
  • To be successful: prepare


  • Where you are starting from
  • End of the beginning: the turning point (character *can’t* turn back)
  • Middle (about half of the book): Crisis: What is the key point? Antagonist can be revealed.
  • Climax is the highest point in the book.
  • Resolution is your ending (this is the most important point)

You have to know how you’re going to get to the end.

Conflict is what drives the story; the fuel for your car. Good to outline this for when you get lost. Key developments: helps to visually see the timeline

Know your concept: what your story is about. E.g., I want to find out who my father was when he left my mother.

It’s ok to not have all the answers, even in the prep process. Very few writers knew the full scope. Expect you’re going to discover things as you are going along.

Write for yourself first. Write because it is the story you want to tell.

Don’t kill yourself. Don’t stress until you hate your book.

Stay open to possibilities. Stay open to inspiration. It may not be part of your original outline or idea; but give it a chance. Carry around a notebook for when these ideas do strike you.

NaNoWriMo forums: filled with people with different experiences.

Don’t revise. Turn off your internal editor.

Starting out

  • Write about an idea you love; something you care about
  • What captivates you? Expand on it.
  • Don’t write something you’re on the fence about.
  • Be prepared to jot down notes.
  • Write every day; set up a routine
  • Avoid distractions at all costs
  • Save multiple copies
  • Useful to access files anywhere
  • Use milestones
  • You can update your wordcount on the site; you’ll have a graph on your web page.
  • Writing buddies are useful to motivate you

Different people can view the same starting session with different viewpoints.

The Soggy Middle

Common problems

  • can’t follow the outline anymore
  • conversations – run on dialogues
  • getting lost
  • no idea about your setting; a problem with your world setting -> spend time in October preparing

It is important to maintain momentum

Time management: leave notes for yourself, don’t stop writing

Track your progress (some software has a running track of the words you write)

Write or Die

Word wars and jabber chat

Q: A novelist: are you bound by pages of the novel?

A: Some contracts have submission deadlines (words per a period)

Use conflict (“add sex, add death or add an explosion” –> forces your characters to react)

  • Changes that force you as a writer to react; forces your character to react
  • Builds up dramatic tension
  • Add obstacles (make it difficult for your characters)

Writing for Emotional Impact -> one cure for the blahs:

  • leave out the boring stuff
  • manipulate the reader’s emotions

Characterization: establish an emotional connection between the author and the reader

  • Characters must be directly involved in the story; no bystanders
  • You don’t have to like the character; but they need to be compelling.
  • Ok to have anti-heroes

Metaphor: run your charater up a tree and then throw rocks at them.

Think Ahead

  • When you finish writing for the day, leave notes for the next scene
  • Put a little notation in your writing so you know where you are
  • Decide where you are going to go next
  • End on a cliffhanger

No Nos (improve technique)

  • In improv work, you cannot reject a suggestion from one of your peers
  • Take it and work with it
  • You can’t delete what you have in NaNo; add something to it to make it work. You can edit it out after you finish

Power of positive thinking

  • You are writing a novel, something that most others have not done and will not do
  • Ok to ask for help from your writing buddies; it’s a group effort

Tactics to get unstuck (sick of writing?)

  • write whenever you can; momentum slows down when you’re not writing (ok to take a day off, but try something)
  • spontaneous writing; your character will tell you what it wants. Do some dialogue writing.
  • Don’t judge the quality of what you’ve written with freewriting. Keep a positive focus. Challenge your writing focus.
  • have your character begin quoting things
  • Spark ideas: try to bring out a flaw of the character; e.g., a character has a phobia or is always late. You can use this to create developments. Fights are useful. Draw on your personal experience. Inject things that make you emotional.
  • Change the perspective character.
  • Create a situation so you can start a new chapter (you don’t need to know how you got there; you can explain how you got there later). E.g., the jogger in the forest; this opens up questions to the reader.
  • Inspiration: bring your interpretation. Look at newspaper headlines; check google news. Look at mass media (tv shows, books, etc). There are no new ideas; get inspiration from existing sources.
  • Look to genres that are similar to your own.
  • Try reading a book from an author you haven’t read before. See how successful novelists build up that emotional connection.
  • Look at your idea book. Review your notes.
  • Give yourself a reward.

Critical strategies

  • If you are completely and utterly stuck, roll a dice
  • Adoption Society
  • online plot generators
  • “Banana” method: stop writing, then start moving around. Focus on those movements for a minute. Then stop and say the first word that comes to mind; then start your sentence with it. Divorcing your mind from your body can give you unsuspected results.
  • write every day. Try for something above the minimum wordcount/day.
  • Advice for new writers: if you don’t have to your credit to your name, they won’t look at long fiction.
  • It can be helpful to stay with your core plot; you can add subplots later.
  • Always move forward, don’t go back to edit.
  • Don’t get hung up; leave yourself notes.
  • Block out distractions (turn off your internet and phone); put on your headphones (if you do have your internet on, try groovehshark)
  • Be mercenary with your time
  • leave yourself placeholders if you get stuck
  • shake things up; change your writing environment (write in a coffee shop)
  • Use Naperville group resources: use the forum, the calendar, the word wars, jabber chats. Use NaNomail to contact others

Writing pitfalls

  • Having no outline and no sense of what is going on. You should have something to refer to.
  • Lacking direction; you need to have a concept, a conflict, not just an idea. Ask what if. Ask questions when you are preparing or 3/4ths of the way through. They lead you down the path to a finished product.
  • Don’t edit as you go–takes away from your writing. Don’t edit for grammar.
  • Forgetfulness: if you don’t remember who a character is, you can refer to your notes (if you have them)
  • Writing yourself into a corner: you’ve put your plot or character where there is no out.
  • Negative thoughts and negative thinking; don’t bash yourself. Surround yourself with what motivates you. Have the cover of the book in front of you.
  • Stopping at a roadblock; no, make obstacles for your characters, don’t stop writing
  • Sweating the small stuff; don’t let that get in the way of your big plan. At the worst, leave it and move on.
  • Isolation: “writing is a solitary craft”; don’t cut youreslf off completely.


  • Story Engineering, Larry Brooks: how to take it from a kernel to a finished product. Themes, setting, concept, idea, two on writing principles.
  • Writing Excuses: online podcast you can listen to anytime. Four major novelists and a web comic. Each podcast is 15 minutes long (“because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart”). They cover everything from basics to more advanced stuff. Brian Sandersons (took over the Wheel of Time series). Howard is a hugo-nominated web comic artist. Inspiring. Mary Kowalski, a puppeteer who wrote a psuedo historical novel (tactile senses).
  • Writer’s Digest: major writing magazine. They publish a lot of writing books. Story idea map worksheet. Plot, story idea, hook, point of no return, major and minor characters.
  • Writer Unboxed: a blog with excellent posts by major authors.
  • Plot whisperer: a writer who does workshops and critiques manuscripts. Does PlotWriMo and teaches you day by day how you can develop characters. Worthwhile: she has short articles.


  • corporate sponsors from NaNoWriMo
  • Some are free (like yarny)
  • Q10 (primarily a PC program) creates a black screen, silences all other sounds. Keeps track of time/date, chapter you’re on. It makes typewriter sounds.
  • Liquid Black: good for people who like to do background information. Powerful software to keep track. You can make timelines, calendars.
  • Scrivener: very good, especially for Mac users
  • Also see yWriter


  • 2Gb of free storage
  • Upload whatever you want
  • Cloud-based
  • You can save directly to it.


  • Word processor similar to MS Word
  • Free

Critique Circle

  • Useful for getting your work critiqued. See

Other References

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