Everything You'd Ever Need to Write a Novel: The ULTIMATE Novel Packing List
Perhaps you're ready to attack Camp NaNoWriMo next month or classic NaNoWriMo in November. Perhaps you're just embarking on your own personal writing quest on your own schedule. The truth is, you want to write a novel, and that's awesome! You're about to do an amazing thing. It's going to be difficult. It's going to be a challenge. But it's going to be well worth it.
Before you get started with your novel, you have to be prepared. There's a lot of time, effort, and energy that go into writing a novel, so you want to make sure you're well-equipped for whatever's going to happen. This is the ultimate packing list of everything you'll need to write your novel.
Depending on what pre-work you've already done, you may need to spend more or less attention on any one of these things. That's okay! There's a lot of additional information (and plenty of worksheets) for whatever you need to focus on at this point in time. Don't feel the need to go overboard and complete everything all at once; but rather, focus on the things you need RIGHT NOW to get started.
To write your novel, you need three main things: Your Story, Your Plan, and Your Tools. Your story is important for obvious reasons, but we'll look at exactly what you need to make a Real+Good Story that's true to you. Your plan is the structure for getting it done. We'll set your goals, find you a good schedule, and get you some friends to hold you accountable and give you support along the way. And your tools are how you actually get the writing done. It's nice to dream about sitting in a cottage by the water, casually typing out brilliant prose on a typewriter, but writing this novel is probably not going to look like that. We're going to figure out what you need to get the words out and onto paper as pain-free and fun as possible.
Are you ready to write your novel?!
THE STORY + THE PLAN + THE TOOLS =
The Ultimate Novel Packing List
Whether you're a planner or a pantser, you have to have some sense of story, because that is what this is all about. You have to know what you're writing, who you're writing about, what happens, and why it all matters. If you're a planner, you'll go much more in-depth with these things than others; but as a pantser, you can still have rough ideas of what's going on.
(P.S. A planner is someone who feels the need to know pretty much everything about their story before they begin; a pantser is someone who feels the need to know as little as possible about their story, and just dive-in head first. I've found, for me, a combination of the two is pretty successful).
1 | YOUR WRITER'S DNA
Every story you ever write is a reflection of you. It may be fiction and it may look nothing like your life, but it is a reflection of the things that are important to you, the lessons you've learned, the values you hold, the difficulties you have with the world, the emotions you've felt. If you're trying to write a story that ISN'T a reflection of you, it's not going to be a Real+Good Story. It's going to come off as trying too hard. It's going to come off as false.
When you go into any project, you need to make sure you know why this story is so important to you. You need to know your inspiration. You need to know what you're passionate about, what you hate, and how that's contributing to your story. You need to know how it fits into your Writer's DNA, and you need to stay true to that no matter what.
Ask yourself, why is this story important? What does this story mean to me? How can I make this story uniquely my own? How can I be true to core self while diving into the specificities of this world?
In order to write the best story possible, the story only YOU can write, you need to know yourself. The Real+Good Writer's DNA will help you accomplish this.
Before I start any new project, I go back to my Writer's DNA and make sure my intentions are aligned with who I am. This will keep me motivated, keep me passionate, keep me going. And it will also free my writing from the chains of "should" and allow it to emerge as whatever it needs to be. It helps my story become MY story, and not anyone else's. It helps my story become the best it can be.
2 | YOUR STORY IDEA
Even if you're a pantser, you've got to know roughly what story you're writing. This is basically figuring out, what's my story even about?
If you need a story idea from out of the blue, I've got you covered with How to Generate an Infinite Amount of Story Ideas. Surprisingly, social media has another purpose that will keep your creative well filled for pretty much forever.
Once you have a rough idea of something that sounds interesting to you, you've got to find what YOU SPECIFICALLY should write about. Not just any idea will work for you; it's gotta be something you're ready to commit to, spend a lot of time with, and stick with until "the end". You've got to be obsessed with your idea. You've got to be in love with it. Don't settle for something less than what you love. To do this, make sure it aligns with your DNA, as you've defined in The Real+Good Writer's DNA. If you're still looking for story ideas, you can go to the inspiration sections, the passions, the memories, the hates, the fears, and combine them together to create something that truly resonates with you.
If you combine your social media story idea with your writer's DNA using the Frankenstein Method, you're on your way to a super-awesome and absolutely amazing story idea.
OTHER AWESOME SOURCES FOR IDEAS:
- E.A. Deverell's Stories I Need to Tell Worksheet
- How to Turn Your Idea into a Novel by She's Novel
- Idea Camp by Lucy Flint
- Faye Kirwin's What to Do When You Have Too Many Story Ideas
3 | YOUR NOVEL'S GENRE
Some novels will be very plot-heavy, while others will rely more on characters. Some novels will focus on escapism with crazy distant worlds, while others will be grounded in reality. Some novels will focus on entertaining the reader, while others will have big themes they need to get across. All stories have these traits, but figuring out your novel's genre will help you rely on conventions and figure out where to place emphasis and where to focus your attention. Plus, there's a FREE workbook in the club to help you figure out just where you to place the emphasis in your story.
4 | YOUR CHARACTER
Your story has to have people in it. Who the heck are they? Readers often remember a story not because all these wild and crazy things have happened, but because the characters resonate with them. If you can create a memorable character, you're well on your way to having a Real+Good Story.
You could fill out a million bajillion character questionnaires trying to discern your character's favorite color and regular eating habits. But you need to get to the heart of your character, the memorable qualities that make them unique. The Real+Good Character Questionnaire asks you to figure out the important things about your character so you truly know who they are.
OTHER AWESOME SOURCES FOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT:
- How to Get Your Characters to Talk to You
- 100 Questions for Couple Characters by Alyssa Hollingsworth
- How to Write Women by NY Book Editors
5 | YOUR PLOT
Your story MUST have something happening in it, or else it's not a story at all. And characters pretty much drive the plot, no matter what kind of genre you're working with. Whatever your character wants most + whatever gets in the way of them achieving that is going to be what your book is about.
It's essential that you don't think of character and plot being separate entities, but rather, two pieces of a puzzle that fuse together in order to create a Real+Good Story. How to Write a Character-Driven Plot in 4 Steps will show you exactly how to marry your characters to your plot in an easy, seamless way.
OTHER AWESOME SOURCES FOR PLOT DEVELOPMENT:
- The 3-Act 8-Sequence Structure by The Script Lab
- The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
- Story Mapping with DIYMFA
- How to Write a Novel Outline Like the Lady Boss You Are by She's Novel
- The One-Page Novel Plot Formula by E.A. Deverell
- Dan Wells' Lecture on Story Structure
WANT EVEN MORE RESOURCES?
CHECK OUT THE OFFICIAL NANOWRIMO PREP PAGE!
Once you've got your story in place, you need a plan to make it come into being. You can't just assume it will happen. You have to actively work towards accomplishing your dreams and turning them into your reality. You must know your goal, schedule it into your calendar, and find some accountability buddies to keep you going.
6 | YOUR GOAL
You literally cannot head into a novel with no end in sight. If you do this, you will overwhelm yourself and either a) write forever and ever and never have it done, or b) paralyze yourself because it seems like too much to do. You need something concrete, measurable, and achievable to work towards. Your goals need to be SMART + HARD. You must be super passionate about them, ready to commit to them fully, and able to achieve them with just a little bit of difficulty.
Luckily for you, this is built-in to the Camp NaNoWriMo website. When you declare your project, you also need to declare your word count goal.
The traditional NaNoWriMo word count goal is 50,000 words. This is what writers commit to every November for the main NaNoWriMo event, because it is the "official" count needed to write a novel. Most novels are actually much longer than this (70,000 - 150,000 roughly, depending on your genre) but this is the bare minimum cut off.
Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to make that number whatever you want it to be. Want to overachieve and write 150,000 words? Cool beans. Only committing to 15,000 this time around? Also cool beans. Take a look at your project and your time to figure out what works best for you.
Camp also allows you to work on other projects besides just writing the first draft of a novel. If you're editing a novel or writing a script or short story, you can still participate! Check out the official word count guidelines if you're editing a novel or writing a script.
7 | A CALENDAR
In order to accomplish your goals, you have to stay focused. This means you have to have to schedule your writing into your calendar and stick to it.
Traditional NaNo practices are to write a certain amount of words every day. To determine this, simply take your big word count goal and divide it by 31 days. This should be your daily goal. However, if for whatever reason, writing every day for the month of July is not an option for you, there are other things you can do. You can set a weekly word count. You can choose to write only on certain days. You can make whatever kind of schedule works for you.
PLEASE DO THIS! You have to pay attention to where you're at in the world right now You have to accept other commitments and life things that happen. You have to be full-heartedly in your novel when you're able to be in your novel, AND be able to live guilt-free when you're not. You will thank yourself.
No matter what you choose to do, make sure you have broken your BIG goal down into smaller, more manageable chunks. If you're constantly staring down that thousand-something word count, you'll get overwhelmed and exhausted. If you're looking at something you can accomplish in 10 minutes, an hour, you'll be much more likely to get it done.
3 WAYS TO TRACK YOUR PROGRESS + STICK TO YOUR GOALS ON A SCHEDULE:
1 | THE CAMP NANOWRIMO TRACKER
The Camp NaNoWriMo website has awesome little graphs to help you chart your progress along the way. Simply update your total word count every day, and you can visually see your progress on your novel. You can also see how much you need to continue to do in order to finish on time. And it predicts, based on your current rate, when you will reach your goal. It's insanely motivating, because you're literally watching your progress grow.
Here's an example from my April 2016 Camp. For the record, I DID achieve my goal (and actually surpassed it, coming it around 18,000 words), but I forgot to update my official count. So I won! It just doesn't look like it. Woops.
APRIL 2016 CAMP NANOWRIMO STATS
2 | PACEMAKER
Do you have a variable schedule? Pacemaker is going to be your new favorite thing.
Can't write on Mondays? Want to write the same amount every day? Want a unique challenge every day? Know you're going to start strong, but slowly taper off as the month wears on? Pacemaker's got you covered. It will provide you with daily word count goals that fit YOUR schedule, along with charts and graphs and calendars to chart your progress. It is the coolest of beans.
Here's an example of what you can do with Pacemaker. This is a calendar schedule for if you wanted to write 50,000 words in July, make steady progress every day, but devote more time to it on the weekends. This is because you don't have any time to write on Mondays, and a little more time to write on Thursdays.
PACEMAKER EXAMPLE CALENDAR
3 | PHYSICAL CALENDAR + STICKER SYSTEM
Sometimes it's just nice to have something on paper you can document. Calendars never get old. Write down your word count goals in your planner AS WELL AS when you're actually going to write. You're making a commitment to your writing, so commit to it in your schedule too. Take your writing on a date. Consider it to be just as important as anything else.
When you complete your daily word count goal, give yourself a sticker on that day. It sounds silly (or like an excuse to go buy a ton of pretty stickers), but for some reason, this craziness works. It works because you're giving yourself a mini-reward (the sticker) for good behavior (the writing). And when lots of your stickers add up and your planner is a collection of awesomeness, you're going to feel proud of what you've accomplished. This is tracking your progress AND motivating yourself at the same time.
Go buy stickers and put them in your planner. Do it. For real. Just trust me.
(P.S. I DEFINITELY use all 3 of these systems at the same time. Sometimes it's nice to have different trackers in all different places. It's a constant reminder to help you keep going).
8 | A BUDDY
Writing is a lonely sport. But it doesn't have to be. You need two kinds of buddies to support you: someone who gets the whole difficulty of this writing thing and someone who will cheer you on when the going gets tough.
1 | SOMEONE WHO GETS THE WRITING THING
Luckily for you, Camp is a good time to find some writing buddies, because there are literally TONS of people throughout the world trying to do the same thing you are. They can motivate you, support you, cry with you, be your friend. You need some writing buddies.
Camp NaNoWriMo sets you up in a cabin with other writers, which is basically a chat forum. You can choose to get paired up with people who are the same age as you, the same genre, the same word count goals, or you can go completely random and find interesting, unique people all over the world. Talk to these people. Make friends.
If the cabin isn't working for you or you just want more, take to social media. There are other writers out there ready to help you through a plot problem or celebrate when you've finished a chapter. You've just got to get out there and talk to them! Try joining a Facebook group or chatting with people on Twitter!
HASHTAGS ON TWITTER TO GET STARTED:
- #amwriting (the general catch-all for writers)
- #CampNaNoWriMo OR #CampNaNo
- #1k1hr (1,000 words in 1 hour word sprint)
- #1LineWed (share 1 line from your current work-in-progress)
2 | SOMEONE TO CHEER YOU ON
You also want to find some real-life buddies to help you stay focused and motivated. These people don't have to be writers, but simply people that you interact with on a regular basis. It may be your boyfriend, your mom, your coworker, but tell people about your project. Tell them that you're trying to do this right now, this month! They will be your cheerleaders, egging you on. Even if they just ask you about it - how's your novel coming? - you're going to be motivated to keep working because you do NOT want to say, "Oh, I haven't written in 17 days, kind of fell off the wagon." Having people know about your work and your plans will give you someone to be excited about what you're doing and keep you on track.
This is where you gather all the supplies to keep on hand to actually complete the damn thing. You've got to have a way to write, a way to organize, some writing fuel, and some rewards.
9 | YOUR Weapon of mass creation
Perhaps you write your novel in a notebook. Or perhaps you prefer Google Drive. Or perhaps you prefer Scrivener. Or maybe, sometimes, you write on your smartphone when you get a blast of inspiration out of the blue.
I definitely use all of the above.
I start by writing by hand in my notebook (I'm a Moleskine addict all the way!). This usually gets me going. There's just something special and magical about creating words by writing them physically down on the page.
Then, at some point, my brain starts moving faster than my hand can write. So I transition into Google Drive. I continue writing, but I'm able to keep up with my thoughts because I can type faster than I can write by hand.
When I've completed my session, I get it all organized in Scrivener, which is THE most amazing tool for writing a novel. I came to Scrivener because I got fed up with the disorganization of my Google Drive. If I wanted to move things around in my story, I had to have multiple tabs open and switch back and forth. If I wanted to see the whole story from start to finish, I had to copy, paste, reorganize, go back and find things I'd written long ago, copy, paste, reorganize - it was a big, old mess! Scrivener makes this so much easier by keeping everything in one place. And when you start dealing with a lot of different words, it will make your life so much better.
Scrivener is basically the coolest thing ever. It does have a bit of a learning curve, so take a little bit of time and go through some tutorials of exactly how to work it. But once you know how it works, it's impossible to use anything else. I could NOT survive writing a novel without the help of Scrivener. It was literally designed with you in mind. It is perfect. It is the bee's-knees. It is awesome.
If you're up for trying it out, they do have a free trial offer exclusive to camp participants. That means you can download the whole software, use it at 100% for the entire time of camp, and THEN decide if you like it or not. This is awesome, and you should definitely do it. What do you have to lose?
P.S. If you "win" Camp NaNoWriMo and reach your goal, you get a 50% off coupon for Scrivener. Let me tell you, this is ONE HECK OF A DEAL. I'm happy that I paid the full price, because it's worth it. But you cannot beat 50% off anything. More motivation to reaching your goals? Yes please.
Try writing in different ways and in different locations. Try writing by hand at the park. Try writing on your computer at the cafe. Try writing in Scrivener in bed. Figure out how you write best (and don't be surprised if it's a combination of options like me!).
And when you're starting a new project, make sure you treat yourself and make it special. If this means buying a new notebook or downloading a new software, great! But get yourself ready to write.
10 | CHOCOLATE, AND OTHER SNACKS
I like to buy a bag of candy and reward myself after a writing session. Or during a writing session. Or maybe at the start of a writing session. (What can I say? Chocolate is good!). You're using a lot of brainpower to write this novel, and you're going to get tired. Give yourself a little boost (and a little reward) with some good, yummy food.
11 | COFFEE
You're going to be tired. Need I say more?
12 | THE RIGHT MINDSET
Writing a novel is no easy feat. It's going to sound dreamy and exciting and you're going to ride a wave of momentum all through week one. After that, it's going to get hard. You're going to get bored. And you might consider giving up.
If you want to actually complete this thing, you've got to make sure you're fully in it. You've got to continuously play mind games with yourself to get it done. You've got to be committed to to the end, because you believe in this novel and you want to see it through it.
Before you even begin, make sure you're aware of how you go about big things like writing a whole novel. If that means you're going worry, then let yourself worry. If that means you're going to question everything, then question everything, but make sure you're ready to trust your process, no matter what it may be.
Then, mentally prepare yourself to write your novel. Accept that it's going to be hard, and decide to do it anyway. Because you love it. Because you want to. Because this is what you're meant to do.
When the going gets tough - and it will - make sure you stick to your novel. Remember your why. Remember why this novel is important. Remember why you want to do this. And when your brain starts being mean to you, remember to have a good comeback that will help you beat your excuses, beat writer's block, and keep going. Keep persevering no matter what.
You are about to embark on an epic adventure of transforming your writing dreams into your reality. You're about to write your novel. It's going to be amazing. It's going to be difficult. It's going to help you on your journey to being the best writer you can be.
Stay awesome. Stay committed. Stay passionate.
I'll see you at Camp. Good luck!
What do you do to prepare to write a novel? What do you think is necessary to "pack" and take on your journey with you?