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 outlines
Part four: What to expect

NaNoWriMo prep, part one

2017 NaNoWriMo participant banner'

Photo via NaNoWriMo.

It’s October! It’s finally October!

Why am I excited? Is it because it’s fall? No. Is it because we get candy later this month? No. Is it because Christmas is that much closer? (Well, yes, but) no.

It’s because NaNoWriMo is coming!

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is a free event during November for all ages. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, but any amount of words written are celebrated. I’ve been taking part for years (I just did the math and it’s been 15, wow!), ever since I read about it in the newspaper in high school. It’s a great exercise in silencing your inner editor and just getting the words out on the page.

It’s also a fun way to meet other writers. Participants in NaNoWriMo who attend meet ups (or write ins, as members call them) and/or have a buddy to “race” word counts with are significantly more likely to succeed in reaching 50,000 words. Plus you can make friends! My current writing group is comprised of women I met during last year’s NaNo.

But wait. Why the excitement in October if it doesn’t start until November?

Because even though you’re not allowed to write any words for your NaNo novel before November 1st, you’re encouraged to plot, plan, and prepare during the days leading up to it. I love this part. October means I get to play with new stories and characters.

I used to be a pantser, someone who wrote by the seat of my pants. I’d have terrific beginnings of stories with an interesting concept or characters, but somewhere in the middle of the story my enthusiasm would fade and I’d never complete them. After repeating that process for years and never having anything completed to show when I told people that I write, I decided being a pantser didn’t work for me.

So, instead, I became a planner. When I get an idea, I let it roll around in my head for a while and get excited about some key scenes, just like before. But instead of diving straight into writing at that point, I put those ideas and scenes into my notes. Then I work on filling in the spaces between those scenes with more notes before working on the narrative. I’ve learned it’s much easier (not to mention light years faster) to write a few bullet points, cross them out, and rewrite the bullet points than to write multiple chapters, throw them out, and then rewrite new chapters.

October is my notes month. It’s also a good time to do any preliminary research needed to plot out my story. The less time I spend researching during November, the more time I’ll have to write!

Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If you’re new to it all, don’t worry, I’ll explain more about how to get started next week.

Are you a pantser? Some people love finding out what happens next as they write and that process really works for them. Or maybe you’re a planner? Having all of your ducks in a row takes the stress out of getting the story onto paper. Raise your hand if you’re a convert to outlining like me!

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

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

Tips for naming your character

Many layers of name tags on a wall

Photo via Visualhunt.

So, the odds and ends in your brain have mashed together into a new person for your story, and you’re ready to give them a name, huh? Here are some tips for picking the best name for your character.

Consider the first name that pops into mind

Sometimes your gut is worth listening to. When you’ve developed a character enough that you can picture them in your mind, a name might come to you with little effort.

Try using a common word by changing a letter or two

If “windy” can become “Wendy” (or some sources say, a child’s mispronunciation of “friendly” as “fwendy”), then other words can become a name too. How about “rain” becomes “Tain,” or “bluster” becomes “Xustar”? Admittedly, this works better for fantasy names than contemporary ones.

Use baby naming sites

My go-to sites for baby names are (because you can search by meaning) and (which provides interesting statistics on a name), but any name site will do. If you search names by meaning, try to avoid really obvious examples, like searching “cruel” and landing on the name Cruella. If the success of 101 Dalmatians has taught us anything, it can be done, but generally it’s a good idea to have more faith in your readers. They’re smart enough to figure out who the bad guy is even without obvious clues.

Try Google Translate

A friend of mine likes to plug in an attribute into Google Translate to see if an appropriate name comes out the other end. For example, “warrior” is translated as “Guerreiro” in Portuguese. You could use it straight (but risk being too obvious for your bilingual readers) or make a name based on it. Perhaps Guerro? But if you go this route it’d probably be a good idea to run the name past someone who speaks the language to make sure it’s not inappropriate or rude to do so in their culture.

The chubby bunny method

This tip is for fantasy names. Another friend of mine likes to stuff her mouth as full as possible with Oreos (crackers or marshmallows would work, too) and then say a normal name. Whatever it sounds like, she writes down phonetically. (It’s similar to the chubby bunny game.) For example, when your mouth is full Jocelyn sounds like Jorshwin, so that’s what she could name her character.

Things to watch out for

Any of these would produce a fine name, but here are a few additional tips on what to be careful of. I strongly recommend that you avoid naming your characters after someone you know. There are exceptions, such as if it’s a story based on their true experience and you have their permission, but generally speaking, it’s a can of worms you don’t want to open. Even if you mean well, they may not take it well.

Once you’ve picked a name, no matter your method, Google it. You need to make sure you’re not naming your character after a real person, as I said above, even if you don’t know them. An example from my own life: I had to write a short story for a college assignment. I had a minor character who was kind of sporty but I didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to him. So, I picked a common first name—Bob—and made his last name the mascot of my high school. That’s how I ended up reading my story aloud in class and getting the side eye for naming a character Bobby Knight. I don’t follow sports, and I had no idea that was a real person, let alone a famous one. When I explained my thought process everyone had a good laugh, but I learned a lesson!

It’s also important to make the name not too hard to spell or pronounce. Have someone else read it aloud. Did they pronounce it right? Does it bother you if they get it wrong? If they read a paragraph or two aloud that has the name in it several times, do they hesitate each time? If so, you may want to make some adjustments.

Perhaps it isn’t the spelling, but that there are multiple names that are similar tripping your beta reader up. A famous example is Sauron and Saruman. Yes, they are different names for different people, and die-hard fans would argue there’s no problem. But the alliteration and similar sounds can make it tricky for the rest of us to keep them straight. Perhaps you have three siblings and they all start with “Far” because of your invented world’s culture. Farwin, Farlad, and Farrent. It can be hard to keep them straight! Try avoiding similar names unless the characters are significantly different in personality and role to help differentiate them.

Finally, remember to take cues from the era and genre. It wouldn’t make sense to have an assassin in a medieval world named Tiffani. Nor would it make sense to have an Caucasian high schooler in an American suburb named Sakura, even if you love the name from anime.

Those are all the tips I have! But perhaps you have some good tips to share too, like my friends did with the Google Translate tip or the chubby bunny method. Let me know in the comments how you name your characters. Ever accidentally make a naming gaffe, like I did with my Bobby Knight?

Only nine plots exist

Stacks of books in a store

Photo via Visualhunt.

As of this writing, Google tells me there are 129,864,880 books in the world. Mentalfloss tells me there are 134,021,533. The actual count is probably higher since neither figure was calculated this year and it’s impossible to accurately count self-published books, since not all of them have an ISBN.

So, how can I be so brazen as to say there are only nine plots—only nine basic stories—in this world?

Here’s an example:

An orphaned child is abused by relatives. The child dreams of different life but cannot fight against their fate. A person wielding magic steps in and gives the child a chance to be whisked off to a castle, where the child is able to see their self-worth. They are eventually forced back home and the relatives fight hard to keep the child from returning to the castle, but thanks in part to good friends and a bit of magic, they are able to make it back and leave behind their abusive childhood home.

Am I talking about Cinderella? Or Harry Potter?

Obviously that is a simplified example, but you get my meaning. A better example would be all the novels based on the same fairy tale, such as Cinderella. They are all so unique and different (and there are plenty more than I’ve just linked to), and yet they follow the same plot.

And that’s just ONE plot!

But there are nine, and it is the writer’s job to choose one and make it unique with their own characters, details, and voice.

The only nine plots in existence

Character vs Character
Character vs Him/Herself
Character vs Culture/Society
Character vs Setting
Character vs Situation
Character vs God(s)
Character vs Fate
Character vs the Unknown
Character vs Machine

All stories have their plot based in one of these conflicts. So, if you’re wrestling with your story because it sounds tired and overdone, consider how you might make it fresh and exciting. Every plot has been done multiple times, and when stripped to its bones, yes, your story may sound familiar.

But you are the only you that there is. Only you can make your story different than all of the others, because no other writer has your voice. What changes can you make to reenergize your plot and to give it a beat of its own to march to?

Finish that story and up the total count of books released into the world. I know you have it in you!

Do you tend to gravitate toward a certain plot for most of your stories? Or are each of your stories different from the others? I really like character driven stories with lots of interpersonal conflict, so I tend to write Character vs Character or Character vs Culture/Society stories. What’s your favorite to read? Is it different than what you like to write?

Why I write

Hiker walking a path in the mountains

Photo via Visualhunt.

A person with a clear purpose will make progress on even the toughest road. A person with no purpose will make no progress on even the smoothest road. –Thomas Carlyle

Why do you write? If you don’t know the answer to this, you will have a hard time completing your stories.

I write to quiet the stories in my head. They won’t leave me alone—they haunt both my dreams and my daydreams—until I spill them out onto paper. I also write because as a teenager I desperately needed the escape books offered me. I’d like to offer a safe place to escape to for someone else who needs it.

So, why do you write? Share your purpose in the comments!