October brings many things, colder temperatures, changing colours, spooky vibes, pumpkin shaped Reese’s, and Nano Prep. I’ve been actively doing National Novel Writing Month since 2016 and am on a four year winning streak. The past three years, I’ve been mired in some version of revise-drafting and this year will be my first in a long time where I will actually attempt to draft something completely new (ish).
I’m not a purest when it comes to Nano. I'm more of a pirate.
And as long as you’re upholding the spirit of 50k in a month, I’m totally here to cheer you on. And even if you don’t accomplish 50k, I’m here to cheer you on. I've done revisions, I've worked on different projects to get to my 50k, tangential notes, brainstorming, etc. etc. Writing is writing. If there are words in a sentence, I count it.
Since I’m planning on drafting something from scratch, I'm spending October doing my prep work so that, in theory, things will go smoothly. I used to be a confirmed pantser. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to actually know a story's direction, I had to just see it unfold and make lots of mistakes along the way. I have since seen the light and while I am not an intense outliner, I now do a rough outline that guides me through the major beats and gets me to the ending.
So here is my prep work routine in case you’re looking for a method. Take what works and leave what doesn’t. I love getting an inside look at other people's creative process because I usually steal a little piece from every writer I talk to and use it to cobble together my own version of how to craft a story.
First off, please allow me to introduce my project because I’m super excited for it. Last April and May (peak quarantine) I drafted my 4th original manuscript, which I lovingly refer to as Harpy Girls.
Harpy Girls is a dual POV YA fantasy that is Burn Notice set in a world with the political and social structures of Ace of Shades. Valen and Edria only have two rules for their friendship—Don't lie and don’t get killed. As their city picks up the pieces after a devastating war, crime syndicates have risen to power. The most powerful employ Harpies—an elite team of winged thieves, spies, and assassins to maintain order and control over their empire. Both girls have promising futures as Harpies until Valen’s attempt to uncover a coup backfires. Branded a traitor and banished from the city, she and Edria go in search of a legendary demi-god. Bringing him back to the city will clear Valen’s name and earn her the wings she so desperately desires. But the forces working against them are masters of manipulation and their deceptions will push Valen and Edria to break the rules of their friendship.
Basically it’s a story about best friends and found family, but set in a 1920s-esque fantasy world and is also my homage to Burn Notice (one of my all time favorite shows). It’s queer and has demi/ace rep and I really love my story. I love the premise, the characters and it was so much fun to write. I’ve imagined it as a duology from the start and so my plan for NaNo is to write part II.
I know, I know, never write a sequel until the first one is sold. But I don’t really care. I don’t even have an agent yet so what does it even matter? I want to write this story and I’m going to and no one can stop me!
Getting back on topic, there are three main things I do when I start to prep a new project.
I scour pinterest. Oddly enough, this is where my ideas start. I find a picture of someone that catches my attention and I start to wonder what their story is and then it all snowballs from there. I already have elaborate pinterest boards for Harpy Girls, so that’s done. And the picture that spawned their story has been on my radar for years, so I was so super excited when I was finally allowed to glimpse their story. I have an aesthetic set as my desktop background and I peruse my pinterest boards as needed when I just want to think about the story.
So step one DONE. (all images sourced from Pinterest)
I figure out my characters' backgrounds and their wound and their want. This might be the most important background work I do and it has been the most helpful to me in my writing journey. The way I go about it is based in the method taught in Story Genius by Lisa Cron. But you basically map out three critical moments in a character’s history that has led them to be who they are on page one when the reader meets them. Then I tease out just a bit more and determine as specifically as possible what their misbelief is and what it is that they *think* they want more than anything else in the world. And I say what they *think* they want, because it’s never what they actually need. Part of this is already done. I don’t need the three moments that created them, but I do need to determine where in their character arc Valen and Edria are at the end of Book I because they need to continue to evolve and change in book two as they move toward their final form.
This is still in the works. I have a general idea, but I need to finish ironing out some details to make sure it’s solid. I want the character arc to be super strong in book II and have an ultimate payout.
I write a fleshed out synopsis that is 15-20 pages. This was a huge breakthrough for me. I used to just try and do a skeleton synopsis--like the 1 to 2 page nonsense you have to send to agents or to fill out a beat sheet. It never ended well and I never felt like I knew what was going on and I felt like I was trying to keep too much in my head and then forgetting about it. So I finally allowed myself to explain my story to...myself.
I divide it into four acts, but it’s long and rambling and the first version is filled with questions I need to answer or options like: they can either run left into the flames of mount doom, or they can run right and sink into some quicksand. It’s a mess. But it's giving me the space I need to work through major plot points and create a road map and a plan before I actually start to sit down and write chapters and chapters only to realize that it's not going to work.
And this is where I am now. I currently have about 8 pages and am somewhere in Act III, on the cusp of Act IV and trying to work out all sorts of details and whys and character motivations and feelings. I’m hoping to finish it in the next week or so that it can sit a bit before November first and I can go back and make a few minor adjustments.
All so I can hit the ground running on November 1st. Hitting 50k by the end of the month will mean that I’ve writing close to ⅔ of my novel. I always aim for 85k when I draft. So if I can hit 50k in November, I can finish up in December and close out the year having drafted not one, but TWO zero drafts.
In addition to my NaNo prep, I’m currently easing my way into revisions on Harpy Girls the 1st. I’m struggling a bit to find the mental energy with the world and my day job being what it is. But it's getting me back into my characters and the story so I think it counts as prep work for NaNo too.
In the past I’ve always had a ton of things going on in November. I worked two or three jobs, or was taking college classes for my Masters or prepping my horse for the winter show season. This year, all I have is school, but I’m already feeling a bit overwhelmed. The mental stress of this pandemic is hitting me hard and so I'm trying to get used to the idea that if I don’t win, it’s okay. I will have more words written at the end of the month than when I started.
But I also know I am going to hate myself if I don’t win. Like it will haunt me for the rest of my life. So here’s hoping I can stay on track and be prepared. That I can keep myself focused and find the concentrated energy to write 2k (ish) per day. Which I know I can do. I will be fitting in writing whenever I can.
Don't forget to stock up on *tea, snacks, and cozy socks. What? Don't give me that look. No one wants to write when they have cold feet.
*or beverage of your choice!
Are you doing NaNo this year? I’d love to hear about your project! I think I've managed to figure how to upload a comment widget...so please, someone leave a comment? I can't tell you how desperately I want to be in communication with my two loyal blog readers. In all seriousness though, I had 6 people who read my last blog, so whoever you are THANK YOU 💜💜💜💜💜