NaNo Know-how

NaNo Know-how

One Helluva Madcap Month

You know the drill.

Thirty days. Fifty thousand words.

Plots running aground.

Characters running amuck.

Themes getting stuck in someone’s craw.

So how does a writer stay ahead of the chaos?

In a word: PLANNING.

I spend the month of October strategizing so that come November 1st I can open a fresh page and fill it with all the puzzle pieces, one at a time, in an orderly and logical manner. Well, in theory!

In any case, today I decided to put my NaNoWriMo Know-How right out here for public consumption in the hopes that it will help someone slay the dragons of Self-Doubt, nurture the seeds of The Story and foster a little Storytelling Camaraderie.

Oh, and so we’re clear: I ain’t saying this is the “Be All End All To NaNo Know How” cuz lord knows it’s a mere pittance in the sea of NaNo intelligentsia.

However, you might want to give it a chance because it’s successfully gotten me through NaNo three years running.


(1) Pay The Piper – It’s as easy as A,B,C

I can’t sit down with your family and tell them to leave you the heck alone for the next four weeks. Nope, kids, that one’s on you. But I can give you some suggestions for a successful sit-down.

A. Appreciation – Shower them with appreciation in advance and throughout the month. An unscheduled interlude in the laundry room with your spouse, an unexpected appearance on the couch to munch popcorn and watch a movie and unsolicited ever so strategically placed ‘thank you’ notes along the way will definitely work in your favor.

B. Bribery – Never underestimate the power of a delivery pizza or movie tickets. Be shameless. You’re asking them for thirty days. No reason you can’t reward their cooperation as lavishly as your wallet allows. They’re the people you love, for heaven’s sakes!

C. Compromise – No one is going to volunteer to clean the litter box for you. Sad but true. So consider soliciting help from Mama on even days and Daughter on odd days. And don’t be shy about changing things up if they aren’t working. Maybe Mama will fill in on poop detail full time if Daughter takes over trash duty. And if all else fails, resort to # 2 (BRIBERY) because it really is your very best weapon friend during NaNo!

Whether you call it a Family Meeting, a Scheduling Session or what have you, it’s best to keep it simple. Provide handouts: a calendar with your NaNo timetable and a list of duties you’d like to skip out on for the duration of NaNo. Be sincere. Emphasize your intentions, goals and hopes. Solicit encouragement. Enlist help. Devise a plan together. Plan a victory celebration for the end of the month.

(2) Strike A Deal With The Devils – Make an uneasy but necessary alliance

Repeat after me: Creative Psyche and Subconscious, we invoke your creative power and submit to your terrible prerogative for the next four weeks. Thirty days will we kneel at your alter and sacrifice our time, health and sanity for a taste of your favor. May you disfigure us with a pock mark smack dab in the middle of our foreheads if it be otherwise. But come the thirty-first day, we will revoke your power and retake our own destinies. So it is spoken. So shall it be.

A. Creative Psyche – the heartless bastard who will ride you into a froth and then into the ground before he lets you create shite – who will spur you to heights of excellence the likes of which you’ve never dreamt – who cares not whether you showered or kissed your wife goodnight or remember where the car keys are – who cares only about the writing, the creation, and the forward momentum of the story.

B. Creative Subconscious – the relentless bitch who will wake you in the middle of the night with the solution to Scene Thirteen and expect you to get your sorry arse out of bed and to the laptop immediately, without stopping to pee or grab a cup of coffee or put on slippers – who will deluge you with rabbit trails and fox holes all of which are wonderfully imaginative but which derail your NaNo impetus – who will drop the best story every conceived into your lap on the 2nd of November and whisper in your ear that it’s entirely possible to jump ship and use this oh-so-splendiforous new story for NaNo. (For the record, the bitch is lying. Consider yourself warned).

Mind how you deal with these entities because they can make or break your Nano experience. Yes, they are conniving, bullying, shameless beasts but they are also the source, inspiration and motivation of your creative soul. Stifle, scorn or snub them at your own peril.

(3) Muzzle The Riff-Raff – Fend off the past and put off the present 

The crazy thing is, once you open yourself up to Creative Psyche and Creative Subconscious, you’re going to become a funnel for Creative Mania. Every story you ever sketched out, every idea you scribbled down on a napkin and every flicker of inspiration south of nowhere is going to flare up and unless you have a containment plan in place, you’re gonna be in serious trouble.

A. Old Story Ideas – These fragments of nostalgia will do their damnedest to beguile you – they will call to you from the inky beyond – they will berate you for choosing to write XYZ for NaNo instead of them – they will seduce you with the promise of vastly exceeding the potential of XYZ – and they will claw at your gut with the double-edged sword of guilt and accusation. You must fasten a muzzle on them and shut them out for the next thirty days. After that, you can embrace like long lost bosom buddies and ride off into the sunset.

B. New Story Ideas – These little lovelies will come to you with all the sinuous promise of nubile temptresses, clamoring for your affection and posing suggestively before you. The only way to stop their onslaught is to grab your pencil and dash off their basic premise and then file them away until December 1st. Mark my words: if you just try to shut them out they will haunt you one way or another. They’ll either keep yapping in the back of your brain like an ice pick chipping away the gray matter or dissipate until all that remains is the vague feeling that you just lost the best idea you ever had.


In a scene from one of my favorite movies [Con Air] serial murderer Garland Green says: “One girl, I drove through three states wearing her head as a hat.

Ooky as that sounds, it’s exactly what we do as fiction writers. We get in our characters heads – and in return, they get under our skin.

Below are two of the ways I foster that writer/character symbiosis. Not only do these little devices serve as Story Assistants, but when I’ve lost my way or need fresh inspiration they act as Story GPS, putting me back on the right path pronto.

1. Make a soundtrack of musical cues.

Make a playlist and burn the cd to carry with you everywhere

  • I listen to my novel soundtrack almost exclusively during November. I let the music seep into my skin and settle in my bones. I let the rhythms haunt me and the lyrics enthrall me.
  • I use the music for two specific purposes: (1) as a representative of the novel as a whole (2) as the essence of a character or scene.

Examples From This Year’s Novel:

My main character is embodied in Collective Soul’s “December”, Bobby Pinson’s “Don’t Ask Me How I Know” and Everlast’s “Pain”

A road trip is characterized by Fu Manchu’s “The Mongoose Flies”

2. Make a storyboard of visual cues.

Make a pinboard collage of images that tie into or symbolize bits of your story

  • To demonstrate this concept, go to pinterest and search for storyboards.
  • Each piece on my storyboards represent an essential element or symbol of the story and in the thirty seconds it takes to skim down through the images, I get sucked into the character’s world and mind and unravel another bit of his soul.


My Neurotically Detailed NaNo Notes In Nice Neat BULLISH Points

Account For Every Day

  • Make a list with thirty lines and plug something in for every day
  • Account for holidays (Thanksgiving) and other family days (birthdays, etc.)
  • Add in a planned sick day or free day to give yourself some wiggle room
  • Adjust your list (from above) and word count to account for the holidays and free day

Exceed The Daily Word Count

  • Don’t get behind more than a day because it is absolute hell to play catch up
  • The NaNo word counter (for some inexplicable reason) will NOT match your word counter so don’t pronounce THE END at 50,000 – aim for an extra couple hundred words to be on the safe side

Clear Your Schedule For The Month

  • If you blog, write or rough draft your posts ahead of time
  • Keep your day job workload as light as possible
  • Keep your social schedule as light as possible
  • Advise family and friends that you’re going into hibernation for the month

Make A NaNo Schedule

  • Schedule your NaNo writing time
  • Schedule an alternate writing time in case of disaster (!)

Take Care Of Your Body

  • Get the optimal amount of sleep (7-8 hours for most people)
  • Eat well – protein/carb/good fat
  • Exercise every day – never underestimate the power of a good walk – it has solved many a plot tangle while conveniently trimming your thighs

Keep Prime Resources At Your Fingertips 

  • Keep your story notes on the desk for easy access
  • Keep the writing manuals/handbooks you swear by on your desk for quick reference
  • Keep your story notebook with you everywhere you go – you never know when that missing piece of the puzzle will drop into your lap

Put Fun On The Schedule

  • Plan a NaNo Co-conspirator Day and write alongside a buddy for the afternoon
  • Plan a Day Off Of Work for the specific purpose of knocking out two or three day’s word count
  • Plan a NaNo Away Day to change up your schedule and momentum – go to the local coffee shop and write 2,000 words, meet a pal for a long chatty lunch, go to the library and write another 2000 words, etc.

Don’t Lose Hope

  • Read a book you love and let it remind you why you love to write
  • Get encouragement from a NaNo pal, favorite writing quote or a bowl of ice cream
  • Remind yourself not to get caught up in the Right Brain vs. Left Brain Struggle
  • Watch a favorite tv show or movie to remind yourself how a good a great story or great character makes you feel and then use that euphoria to send you back to your NaNo project.
  • Talk to your characters – tell them your fears and worries – share your hopes and dreams for them – and see what they have to say in return (trust me, they ALWAYS have something to say!)
Wishing you every inky success this November!
– Lady Bullish

Bonus Material

My Own Little NaNo Ritual:

  1. Sit down at desk
  2. Light a Monkeyfart candle (bubblegum and tangerine scented)
  3. Open my story journal
  4. Turn on some classical music, a movie soundtrack, or my novel playlist.
  5. Open a blank page and write.
  6. When scene is finished, print, staple and put in drawer.
  7. Turn story journal to the next day’s material and peruse.
  8. Close journal, blow out candle, begin day.

Suggested Reading:

For NaNo Inspiration and General Writing Instruction

Where I learned what I know about writing thus far