Strategy for NaNoWriMo

I'm working out a strategy for doing NaNoWriMo. I'm trying to be more organized than in the past. I succeeded in 2006 mostly through brute force, making up many of the plot elements as I went along, characters, locations, events, etc. The end result had only a passing resemblance to the novel I'd had in mind when I started out.

For three years, I've been mulling over how to fix that effort, and have written a bunch of new material to flesh out the revised version I have in my head. However, I've more or less come to the conclusion that my 2006 novel is so deeply flawed as to be not salvageable. If I want to do anything with any of that material, I will have to start that novel over.

I'd prefer that not be my fate this year. So, in 2009 I'm being more organized. This should help to facilitate the actual writing as well. I've set out the plot points in a set of 20 chapters, with descriptions of each. For example:
*Chapter 1*
MacDonald in the trenches. He's convinced he's going to die any day, but secure that he's going to heaven, having done his duty. he's almost killed, but his gloomy army buddy catches the bullet instead.

*Chapter 2*
In the hospital. Reads the letters from his buddy's sister, sorrowful, tearful letters wanting to set things right, to heal over their estrangement. She's going to take his death hard! He realizes that he has an obligation to go and be with the grieving sister.

His captain wants to be rid of the gloomy gus, he's a bad apple who's ruining morale in the entire company. Captain takes the head wound as a chance to be rid of him.

*Chapter 3*
Goes to England, meets buddy's family. Realizes that they are rich, rich, rich. Sister is a lined, worn, grieving shade. he's moved by her devotion, by the lost chance of reconciliation. He wonders what it was that came between them.
Each of these form a general basis for the plot, the characters and their interactions. I'm thinking that each chapter will have three scenes, more or less. Each chapter needs to be 2500 words to hit 50,000. That's only 850 words per scene. If I write two scenes per day, that's NaNoWriMo.

After NaNoWriMo, if I set about revising scene by scene, I would flesh each of them out to 1400 words. This is about equivalent to a long-ish flash piece, so it's a decent length for a little set-piece. 1400 * 3 * 20 gives me a book of 84,000 words, the right neighborhood for publishing.

The snowflake method, phase drafting, accretion... these are all minor variations on an approach of planning to write.

Now, for the bad news. Based on new information, it looks like real life may intrude on my November even more than I had anticipated. I hope I'll be able to do this.


  1. Did my own NaNo math this morning. I have 19 days available, and recent timed writing (yes, I am that big of a geek) tests indicate a capability of 800 words/hr. Rounding up here and there, if I can be organized enough for 4 productive hours on each of those 19 days, I'm golden.

    I figure with enough coffee and heavily discounted Halloween candy, this is doable. We'll see what kind of optimist I am in a couple weeks.

  2. Trev: The general consensus is that the second week is the hardest. The first week is fun, the second week is work. After that, it gets fun again.

    I am 100% in favor of strong channeling of geek in planning things. My pace has been similar to yours, ~800/hr, about one scene per hour. I'm estimating I'll would have ~ 24 or more days in which to work. That makes it more like 3 scenes (i.e. hours) per day rather than two.

    In 2006, I had a few 5000 word days, which helped considerably.

  3. I tried phase outlining, but got bored after 3rd chapter. I like your idea of thinking of each scene as a piece of flash. I think I can relate to that more.

  4. Both of my attempts at NaNoWriMo have involved outlining. In my first attempt I knew *basically* what needed to happen, so I just laid out all of those things as chapters.

    In my second attempt I created a table of contents. It was a different type of work, essentially a "history" of Earth's extra-solar colonization efforts. So a TOC worked well. That one I finished.

    So this time I think I'll be doing the chapter thing again, Now to find the time for that...

  5. Laura: My problem with the phase outlining method, at least as I've seen it described, introduces so much writing that will have to be expanded on later. Writing 1000 words that I'll later increase to 2000 seems like a waste of time.

    I'd much rather write a 50 word post-it note that reminds me of what I wanted to do in a particular scene. These little blurbs can be shifted around, re-done, etc. to make the flow work better. Then, when I'm ready, go right from 50 to 2000.

    If each scene is supposed to make the reader want to keep reading, one could do worse than approach them as a series of connected flash pieces. I just want to try to avoid the obvious cliffhanger endings of kid's books.

    Paul: I tried to do chapter titles, similar to the table of contents. I found that it was too much work to try to distill the various plot waypoints into a 6 word title. 50 word summaries lets me be sloppy, and therefore actually do it instead of worrying about how it looks/reads.

  6. Sounds like a workable plan to me. :)

    I've tried outlining that way, but if I get more than a few chapters ahead of where I am, it's pointless, since things change so much. :P But I do find an overall rough outline helps immensely, and then I can detail outline a few chapters in advance, and go from there.

    I hope it goes well for you! :)


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