How to Mentally Prepare to Write Your Novel (or, 8 steps to prep for Camp NaNoWriMo in April)
Camp NaNoWriMo is NEARLY here! It's almost April and I'm SO SO SO SO EXCITED because I'm going to focus on writing my novel next month in Camp NaNoWriMo! Woop woop!
Woah woah, buddy. Back up a bit. What's Camp NaNoWrimo?
Camp NaNoWriMo is the child of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, in November, is a month of novel-writing frenzy where writers jump into literary abandon, sprinting to scribble down 50,000 words in 30 short, dark days. Camp NaNoWriMo, in April and July, is the same thing, except you get to make your own goals. Fueled by coffee and armed with pens and keyboards, aspiring novelists from all over the world commit to this impossible feat just to get their story on paper.
It's crazy. It's terrifying. And it's awesome.
It's all about finding camaraderie with other crazy writers. It's about allowing plot bunnies to spark new, whimsical ideas. It's about sticking to a deadline. There's nothing like a deadline to get your butt in the chair and get some words out. And it's about a challenge: 50,000 words breaks down to 1,667 words each day. That's a lot of freaking words. It's hard. It's tiring. It's an excellent excuse to drink coffee all the time.
Camp NaNoWriMo came about to give writers other times of the year to work on novels and stories together. The Camp version gives you a bit more freedom. You can write a novel, or a screenplay. You can set your own word count goals (so you could write 5,000 words or 300,000 words). You can choose to write something new, or to edit something old. It's just the bringing of people together to get the goals done.
Sounds fun! I'm ready to write my novel. What do I do to prepare?
This post is going on the assumption that you've already got that hard stuff figured out. This isn't about planning the intricacies of your novel. This isn't a craft lecture (If you want all that and then some, check this out). Rather, this is figuring out how to get your mind in the right place so that when it comes down to doing it, you do it. This is about mental preparation to set your goals and achieve them in the time period you allowed.
8 things you should do to mentally prepare to write your novel:
1 | Make a decision to commit
If you've signed up for this on a whim, you're going to fail. That's tough love for ya. (Sorry, not sorry). The fact is, if you're going to do this, your mind has got to be in the right place. You've got to make time. You've got to focus. You've got to actually sit down and do the damn thing. And if you're not committed to your story or this challenge you've created for yourself, you're not going to make it.
I've successfully failed at NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo a bunch of times. And it was because of this exactly. I'd make these big, vague goals (ie. "Oh, hey, I should probably write some more this month") and sign myself up, then not do a thing. I wasn't making it a priority and therefore it wasn't going to get done.
When I DID win, it was because I had made a declaration and committed myself to finishing what I started.
PUT IT INTO ACTION:
You may want to make yourself a little post-it declaration. It could say something like, "I AM a writer" or "I am writing my novel THIS MONTH." The point with this is to cement the fact that you're actually going to do this. And it's nice to have a visual reminder that you have these goals and you're going to see them through.
2 | Figure out why you're writing this story
There's a reason you're writing this story in particular: What is it? What was it that drew you to this story originally? Why must you write it? Why does the world need to hear THIS story? What theme or message does this story have that you need to share with the world?
There will come a time when you want to quit, when you don't want to finish the story or your don't want to finish the challenge. You'll get sick of it, be bored and annoyed, and you'll wonder why the heck you ever thought this was a good thing to do in the first place. You know in your heart that this is what you want to do, but the evils of your brain will try to persuade you otherwise.
THIS is why you have to know your why: To fight those evil demons and keep going. Because your story is important, and it deserves to be told.
PUT IT INTO ACTION:
Figure out why this story is important to you and write it down. This is a wonderful little reference sheet that will keep you motivated, especially during the boring, tiring middle parts (of the month and the novel). If you want some help discovering your why, start here.
3 | Determine your goals
Lucky for you, Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own word counts. If you don't want to commit to 1667 words/day, you don't have to! If you'd rather commit to 3000 words/day, go for it! Your goals can be whatever you want them to be. But you must know what they are.
Take a look at your schedule. Figure out when you want the whole novel to be finished, what that total word count should be, and then work backwards to find out how many words per day you should be writing. If your goal is to have this done in a month and you need to write 80,000 total words, you're going to have to write A LOT more than someone who's end-goal is to have their novel finished by September.
Be realistic with your time. Remember your other responsibilities and obligations. Consider your typical writing routine. If you have a full-time job and you're usually good for about 500 words a day, you don't want to give yourself a goal to write 3000 words a day this month. Simultaneously, you do want to challenge yourself to accomplish something that you're proud of. You're going to have to play with math a little bit to get this just right and find your sweet spot. Make your goal attainable, yet challenging. And be considerate of your time, both for writing and not for writing.
If you'd like, you can make two goals: an easy, attainable goal and a stretch goal. This will make it very difficult for you to fail. For example, perhaps you know that you can definitely definitely definitely write 500 words a day. There would be no excuse besides the apocalypse that would prohibit you from reaching this easy, attainable goal.
However, your time-math calculations from above suggest that to finish the novel on the timeline that you'd like, you should really be writing 2,000 words a day. You think that sometimes during this next month it could be possible, but maybe not everyday.
So set them both as goals, committing to your easy one at all costs, and striving for the stretch goal whenever you're able.
PUT IT INTO ACTION:
Set some Real+Good Goals for yourself, goals that are both SMART+HARD. I've got a super easy formula and a free workbook for you to make awesome goals right here.
You may want to grab another post-it and write down your word count goals to put next to your declaration. In addition of reminding yourself of the fact that you're doing this, it's important to have a measurable thing to make it happen.
*Word of caution for the middle of the month when you do NOT meet your daily word count goals:
DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP IF YOU DO NOT MAKE YOUR WORD COUNT GOAL FOR THAT DAY!
If you start in on any negative mind-talk, you will end up paralyzing yourself. This will prevent you from reaching your goals at all. Sometimes life will get in your way and you won't get what you want done. THAT IS OKAY. Accept it as life, and move forward the next day. Self-criticism will only make things worse.
4 | Allow yourself to write badly
The point of this whole thing is to get a shitty first draft out. And it is supposed to be just that: Shitty. It will not be perfection. It will not be finished. So put your inner editor away and just get the words on the page. You can wrangle with them later and make them shine when you're finished.
Just remember: April writing will bring May revising!
None of your favorite stories and none of your favorite writers have ever just sat down and wrote genius, beautiful words. Everyone has to edit. Everyone has to write, and then rewrite, and then rewrite, and then... It's a long process!
Take the pressure off yourself and write freely. Let the words flow onto the page. Make them pretty and perfect later.
PUT IT INTO ACTION:
Try setting the timer and writing without stopping for 10-15 minutes. Try stream-of-consciousness writing. Try brain dumping. Do whatever it takes to get words onto the page and start seeing your word count rise. Be FREE with your words! And DO NOT let that inner critic come out!
5 | BUT, also allow yourself to write how you normally write
Putting the inner editor away is not to say you can't edit at all as you go. If you realize you need to change a word or fix a typo or add a comment, go ahead and do it. If it will bother you not to fix something, then go ahead and fix it.
I had this issue during the first time I won NaNoWriMo. I took the whole "shitty first draft" concept WAYYYYY too seriously. I didn't allow myself to fix mistakes or typos or change around structure. And I hated my story. In the moment, I didn't want to write it. And when it was finished, it was unsalvageable. I threw the whole thing away.
I wouldn't say this was a waste of time – I still can look back and say I finished a whole novel at that point, which gives me confidence to try again. But I wonder, if I would have allowed myself to write the way I typically write, would the story have turned out differently.?
One of the most important aspects of writing is thinking. For me, at least, I like to think through the sentence before I write it. I write s l o w l y. Really slowly. And while the pressure of getting things out quickly can be freeing, it also disrupts my creative process. Sometimes staring at the blank page while untangling the clusterfuck of words in my head trying to find the exact, perfect description is better. Going quickly doesn't always work for me.
PUT IT INTO ACTION:
Don't think of Camp NaNoWriMo as simply a brain dump of random thoughts and typos and mistakes for the sake of making words appear, but rather as a deadline for your goals, a marathon of writing exactly the way you always write. Remember your process, the way you go about big things, and stay true to that.
6 | Acknowledge your fears and accept them
To be honest, this whole thing scares the shit out of me. What if I don't finish my novel? What if I don't reach my goals? What if I DO? What if I hate it? What if it's terrible? What if I like it? What if what if what if what if!?
These fearful "what-ifs" can paralyze you. But they're completely normal.
Writing is scary. It's supposed to be unknown and uncertain. That is perfectly okay. You've got to learn to pay attention to your fears, uncertainties, and doubts, accept them for what they are, and move on.
If you give into them, you'll paralyze yourself. If you ignore them, though, they'll find ways to sneak up and sabotage you. Instead, give them their attention, accept them, and move on.
PUT IT INTO ACTION:
Pay attention to what scares you about writing this story. Give yourself some time to invite your fears into your conscious, feel the feelings, get scared. Give them time to simmer and make themselves known.
Newsflash: They're NEVER going to go away completely.
You're always going to worry about these things (or if these things go away, then new fears, uncertainties, and doubts are going to creep up in there). Avoiding them will make it harder. So give them attention, accept them, and move on.
Put them in a little box and save them for later. Allow them to watch you write this story from a distance. DO NOT let them control you and drown you and paralyze your writing life.
And when you feel like giving up, don't.
7 | Find an accountability buddy
The world is more fun with others involved. You may be the only one sitting with your laptop and notebook writing your novel, but you don't have to go it alone. That's what makes Camp NaNoWriMo so appealing – you have a team of other people holding you accountable to your goals.
You've just got to actually talk to them.
PUT IT INTO ACTION:
You can join a cabin on the Camp NaNoWriMo website. Or you can talk to people in the forums. Or you can find people writing on the internet ALL THE TIME. Try searching for the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter. Or #1k1h where people sprint to write 1,000 words in 1 hour. The people at Camp NaNoWriMo will put on word sprints frequently as well.
Or, you can find an accountability buddy in real-life. Even just telling people that you're doing this will make you accountable because they WILL ask you how it's going and you don't want to say "Oh, I didn't do it.."
BUT REMEMBER, the biggest motivating factor will not be these external causes. You're writing this story because you believe in it. You're writing at all must come from an intrinsic desire, something burning inside you personally. You can tell all the people you want and bribe yourself with candy and set goals and deadlines and do all the right things, but if you don't have a desire deep within you to actually do it for yourself, you'll never get anything done. (This is your why we talked about earlier!).
8 | Strike a balance between the journey and the destination
You can't write exclusively toward publication. Or else your writing will be shit. But, if you merely write for fun, you'll never reach your goals or get anything done. You've got to find a balance between the two.
Take things one step at a time. Know your overall goals and be working towards them. But also remember to have fun in the meantime. This writing thing isn't about the results, but rather about the process. It's not going to happen overnight. And you've got to enjoy yourself at all parts of the journey.
PUT IT INTO ACTION:
Write your story truthfully. Allow yourself to be genuine and honest and revel in the present moment. But keep yourself accountable by adhering towards your goal and working in bite-sized chunks every day. Work a little bit each day and eventually you'll get to your overall goals of finishing this manuscript, revising it, publishing it, and beyond.
All of these steps will set you up for Camp NaNoWriMo success. But they also set your whole writing life up for success.
You're always going to need to know what you're doing and why you're doing it. You're always going to need to set strong goals that get the writing done consistently. And you're always going to need to be fighting back your fears, uncertainties, and doubts.
These steps follow The Write Brain Formula that sets writers up for a happy and productive writing life. That formula is to focus your intentions, master discipline, and conquer your fears, uncertainties, and doubts (FUDs), all in a way that makes sense for you, using your Writer's DNA.
The Write Brain Formula:
DNA (INTENTION + DISCIPLINE – FUDs) = Happy+Productive Writer
If you're serious about setting yourself up for writing success during Camp NaNoWriMo and beyond, you'll need to master your Writer's Brain.
Fortunately, I've got a step-by-step course that shows you how to do it! We dive even deeper into the eight steps we just talked about through the lens of The Write Brain Formula. Join us!
By the end of April, you'll have a shitty first draft, and a strategic action plan to conquer your writing life moving forward.
Plus, it's only 30 short days of work, which fits in just perfectly with your noveling month.
Let's write your awesome novel and create you an awesome writing life. April is going to be grrrrrrrreat!