NaNoWriMo prep, part two: Getting started

Participants of the Tokyo NaNoWriMo write in I hosted in 2010

Participants of the Tokyo NaNoWriMo write in I hosted in 2010.

So, you’ve been hearing a thing or two about NaNoWriMo for a while now—or perhaps only since last week—and you’ve been curious. But this year, you’re ready to see what the fuss is about and try it out yourself.

Welcome! NaNo can be a lot of fun, but you only get as much out of it as you put into it. Here are some steps for getting started if you’ve never participated in National Novel Writing Month before.

First of all, sign up!

It’s free and easy to sign up. (If you’re 12 or younger, you’ll need your parents to make an account for you.) It may seem silly to sign up anywhere just to write a story. After all, you can write any time or anywhere without them, right? So, why bother with their Web site?

An official NaNoWriMo account gives you access to a bunch of tools that will help you reach your 50,000-words-in-30-days goal. Just a few of these resources are word count trackers, statistics based on your entered data, badges to motivate you (earned based on your efforts), access to pep talks written by famous authors, goal trackers, and more. The best part is that you’ll get to meet people! They have a very active forum and lots of fun events to attend. But before we get to that…

Set up your account

The first thing you’ll be prompted to do is to announce your novel. This means you’re registering to be included in this year’s challenge (it’s possible to have an account and not participate in any given year). Nothing you say here about your upcoming novel is permanent, so don’t stress out! But for now, enter a title—even if it’s “Untitled”—and pick the genre. Mine is “Young Adult” this year. The rest of the options are not required and all of it can be edited later, so don’t worry about that now unless you already know exactly what your novel will be about and want to fill it in this second.

Next, set up your profile. Look for “Author Info.” It’ll be pretty blank, but at the bottom right there will be an edit button. Fill in a few facts about yourself that you feel comfortable sharing, and a couple of sentences for your bio. Remember not to share personal information—like your full name—online, particularly if you’re a minor. To update your profile picture, you’ll need to go into account settings. Upload a picture of something you like if you’re a minor or if you’re feeling shy. Animals, flowers/landscapes, or an illustration are all good options. If you’re an adult, go ahead and upload a picture of yourself. It’ll make it easier to recognize each other when you attend write ins.

That’s all you need to do to get started! Click around to see the other options and to customize your page if you want. Once you’ve got things as much (or as little) as you like set up, you’re ready to…

Pick a region

While you should never share your address with strangers, it’s okay to claim a state or city. Head over to “Find a Region” and enter the name of your closest city. If it isn’t able to determine your location, then put in your state. If you’re not in the US and your state or province doesn’t pull up some options, put in your country. From there, select the region closest to you.

On that region’s page, there will be a “join this region” button. Click it to join! If someday you move, you can leave the region by clicking the same button. You can join multiple regions if you travel a lot or move mid-November.

This region forum is important because they include all the people in your area. Your word count and their word counts get totaled for a regional word count. It’s always fun to see which cities write the most! It’s also important because this allows you to get to know some “neighbors.” Not only can you become online friends with them, but you can learn about local events (like NaNo prep sessions, parties, write ins, etc.) that you could attend.

Get to know people

One of the most fun aspects of NaNo is meeting up in a coffee shop or library to write and chat with other aspiring writers. I highly encourage you to commit to attending at least one, if not more, write ins or parties. There will be situations where that may not be possible (a large region with no one close to you, you’re a minor and a parent can’t go with you, etc.), but try. If one isn’t hosted near you, you can set one up yourself. Perhaps no one else will come—but they might. And even if they don’t, you’ll still have gotten some writing in.

Setting up a write-in is as simple as posting in the regional forum the location (“XYZ Cafe on the corner of South Street and Main Street in TownName” or “TownName Public Library”), the date (“Nov 5th”), and the time (“4pm to 6pm”) that you plan to be there. At the location, put out a sign or something that indicates you’re with NaNoWriMo so other members can find you. Other than that, it’s up to you! Most people are happy to chat a bit or to just write while seated next to you.

If a write-in isn’t possible for you, you can still be active in the region forum. Or perhaps you’d like to get to know those with similar interests, not just similar geography. The NaNo forums are extensive and you’ll never be short of things to read and comment on. It can be super fun when you dive in. You can start in the Newbie forum and expand to your areas of interest (you’ll need to be logged in to participate).

Either through the forums, the write ins, or in your real life, you will have or make a friend who likes to write, just like you. Add them to your buddy list and strive to keep each other accountable. It can be a huge motivator to get your word count for the day met if you race each other to see who can reach it first, or who writes the most words on any given day. Friendly competition will give you the energy to keep going on days you start to tire or worry about finishing on time.

Prepare yourself

Since it’s still October, you can’t start writing your novel yet. But as we talked about last time, that doesn’t stop you from getting ready to write.

First, set yourself a goal. Why are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Is it just to let loose and have fun? Then plan to get active in the forums, attend as many write ins as possible, write lots of whatever comes to mind without worrying about if it’s any good, and don’t stress about whether word counts get met. Is your goal to reach 50,000 words? Then set yourself a schedule to write 1,667 words or more a day. Stay on top of entering your daily count in your profile so you can see your chart grow. Is your goal to complete a story? Then consider planning your plot ahead of time so you know where you’re going as you write. If your story ends at 50,000 words, be aware that’s a novella, not a full novel. Novels are usually longer—their stories won’t be finished at 50,000 words.

Second, get into a routine. Set a specific time and place for writing, preferably every day. This new routine during October can prepare you for the daily “homework” of writing for your NaNo novel during November. Since you can’t write the novel in October, you can use that time to write for another project, or to plot, outline, research, and make notes for your November novel.

Need help setting up those notes? Come back next week for some tips.

In the meantime, let your mind wander and come up with some possibilities for your NaNo project. What sounds fun to write about?

This article is the second in a series about NaNoWriMo.
To see the other posts, click one of the links below.

NaNoWriMo prep, part one
Part two: Getting started   [that’s this post]
Part three: Notes and plans
Part four: What to expect