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Are you more of a plotter or a pantser?

On Nov. 1, writers from around the country will commence a month-long writing competition called National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo. From there, they will race to 50,000 words by the end of the month, hopefully giving themselves a good start on their path to finishing their novel.

The competition offers a supportive community with all the resources to help budding and returning writers succeed in this month-long odyssey filled with long nights, plot maps and an insane amount of coffee. There are even write-ins in many cities where people gather to work on their stories in groups.

NaNoWriMo is difficult not only because it requires dedication, but because it’s easy to get stuck if you don’t have a solid plan for your story or if you don’t have time to write, so preparation is key. As someone who tries to participate each year, here are some tips for assuring success for this season of novel writing.

1. Set Aside Time to Write

Making time to write after a day at school or work is laborious when you’ve already spent most of your energy elsewhere but carving out the same time every day to write helps build a rhythm. Making it part of your daily routine can ease the worries about not having enough time.

Or, you can try to write whenever you fancy it — on the bus, in line for coffee or when you wake up in the middle of the night with that novel-writing itch. It can be difficult to force yourself to write at a specific time, so if you aren’t a fan of sitting down after dinner each day to write, then maybe give in to those random spurts of brilliance and write only when you’re in the mood.

2. Designate a Space to Write

Now that you have some time mapped out, you’ll probably need a space to foster your best ideas. Find a place with no distractions, such as a library or a quiet coffee shop. A calming atmosphere will allow you to be consumed by what could be your magnum opus.

I like to sit where I have access to as much coffee as I want and where I can blare music and the television to my heart’s content, but I know many people must work in complete silence to get anything done. If you’re more like me, then you’re probably also writing in random places where you don’t get to choose the volume of other people talking, so I recommend headphones to help block out some of the noise if you aren’t going to listen to music. Plus, it prevents people from bothering you while you work.

3. Find Music for Novel-Writing

I like making soundtracks for writing, partially because it gets me in the mindset of the story, partially because then I can procrastinate writing. Even if it’s one song repeated for several hours, music can inspire the creative juices and help set the tone that you want for your story.

Sometimes the best music is silence, however, so don’t feel like you must have a soundtrack to your masterpiece. Maybe you’re inspired by the sound of other people talking, the rumble of the washing machine or the crackling of a fireplace. Use whatever motivates you to do your best.

4. Plot It Up

Okay, you’re settled in, so now what? Even as late as Halloween night, I would recommend just creating a quick outline of what you want to accomplish during NaNoWriMo, including what parts of the story you want to tell. A plot map will help keep you on track and hopefully prevent you from hitting a dead end. If you’ve been sitting on this story idea for months, just detailing out what you already know about your characters and setting can be a huge help to Future You, who happens to be staring blankly at their computer for two weeks in at a literal loss for words.

Sometimes your story will run in a direction you didn’t expect, and then your plot map for NaNoWriMo is completely useless. I have one piece of advice for this incident: don’t worry. You want the best story possible, and if it’s different than what you imagined, that is okay. In the later revisions, your story will change way more than you expect anyway, so don’t sweat it.

5. The Alternative Method

Of course, you don’t have to do any of these that I’ve listed. Maybe you write best by being a “pantser,” who starts writing day one with no plans whatsoever, or a “plotter” who gets every detail down for what needs to be written every day of November. Maybe you only start the challenge halfway through the month and still manage to write the 50,000 words, or you started day one and only wrote 2,000 words for the whole month.

There is no one-size-fits-all writing method for NaNoWriMo because every writer is different. Admittedly, a couple of years ago I didn’t even write anything for the competition. I just read the various NaNoWriMo prep resources and wrote a story around those. I ended up using many of those tips and my writings for the competition the next year.

NaNoWriMo exists to help foster creativity, and it provides a space for people to gather around an activity that they love. All sorts of people with busy lives make time during November to write because they have a passion for the craft, and no matter how you decide to compete, it’s all about the story you want to tell.

Just get out there and write.

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