Prep month? Yeah, that’s what I call October. And I’m talking about plotting. I’m talking about prepping your life to succeed at NaNoWriMo and prepping the tools you use while writing.
You can’t plan for the unexpected, but you can plan for life’s routine interruptions. Each year something happens. Of course, major life events can knock a person out of participation. Those are different. I mean expecting what routinely occurs, like driving across town and knowing at least one of those traffic lights is going to get you.
You’re a student. Tests or papers coming up? Look at your syllabus. You’ll probably have midterms. Is there any preliminary work you can do in October? Work in retail? There are seasonal demands. Have kids? In the U.S. they’ll be home a lot late in the month for the holiday. Speaking of that holiday, are you hosting or traveling? There’s nothing like someone bowing out of NaNo because “I need the spare bedroom for Uncle Henry and I just remembered we filled it with junk while we repainted back in August.”
I live alone so I can’t surrender meal production. Eating out takes time and I’m not going to order out for thirty days. I stockpile easy-to-prepare meals and freeze others. This also serves to minimize trips to the store, and that begins with making a run in the last couple of days of October.
Have family or a roommate? Settle meal prep before November. What a boost if others can help you out. Don’t get to the middle of the month and declare, “Oh no, so-and-so always cooks, but now she’s taken a trip to New York for the holiday and she left me with no food and…” It happens.
How about housecleaning? My apartment is spotless by Halloween. After that? If a water buffalo dies in the living room I step over it. Okay, slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. That last week of October is all about food prep, cleaning, and laundry.
There are different levels of writing prep. In the world of plotters/pantsers I’m somewhere near the middle. More important, I consider prep different than plotting. To me, plotting is driving with a map and a destination in mind. Prepping is remembering to put gas in the car, pack clothes, and have what you need for emergencies (like the phone you left next to the toaster).
I spend October becoming well acquainted with my characters. I don’t want to spend more than a few seconds thinking about how they’d react in any given situation. That means knowing habits, mannerisms, wounds, etc.. I have an advantage this year because I’m writing a sequel so there are characters that carryover., but there are lots of new ones.
Then there’s world building. It’s not just for fantasy. Locations. Cultures. There’s plenty to have worked out whether it’s Middle Earth or France. Make decisions. Have pictures (you can gather them on Pinterest). Jump into Google Maps or draw a crude map of your own. I don’t like to get my directions mixed up. For instance, in A River In Each Hand much of the story takes place in and around ancient ruins. Where are the important landmarks located?
Just thinking about all this will start turning the creative wheels.
A Unique Prep Example
I already know a key element in my sequel is a journal written by a different character. As the story progresses my protagonist reads through it and learns several life-altering facts. The journal also serves as a connection to that important character (they don’t appear in the book).
Sure, I could make up the journal’s contents as I go along, but I want to know now the instances where the journal’s backstory is relevant to the present. Too, if there are plot holes in the events recorded in the journal I want to know before I connect it to the story. There’s also the possibility the journal might present added opportunities for conflict (it already has, actually).
How to know all this? I’m writing the journal. I’m not recording each meal. Instead, it’s more highlights. In the end it’ll be almost 10K words and it’s doubtful a word of it will make it into the novel, but now it’s a tool instead of one more piece of the book I have to assemble in November.
Okay, some are probably shaking their heads and thinking this is all too much work. That’s fine. I find all this fun and am sharing it for those who think the same. If all you take away from this post is to remember to clean your house at the end of October, then great. Everyone’s approach differs and everyone’s approach is valid if it works. The second week/20K wall is real. Many people stall there. This is my third NaNo and I intend it to be as successful as the other two.
I spend October doing my best to enable my success in November. Am I at the computer 18 hours per day through NaNo? Absolutely not. Time to relax and refuel is important, especially if you have a day job or attend school. When I break away I don’t want to spend it running a vacuum. I want to spend it reading, walking, or rooting for the Packers.