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Fortunately it seems like Writing About Writing might be in it for the long haul (mores the pity), and NaNoWriMo certainly isn't going anywhere anytime soon (because it rocks!) so perhaps this will be useful next year or as a crash prompt for this year.
So dreaded event, and most amateur writers determined not to be among the 80% who wash out, here is a prompt dedicated to National "Novel" Writing Month and gearing up for the insanity. While the best preparation is, and will always be, a habit of daily writing, here are some "stretches" and "warm up exercises" that will help the event itself not be quite such a shock to your system. A little bit of practice with the logistics of NaNo will probably be more helpful to you than extensive outlining and character sketches.
1- Sit down and write 1667 words at least once before the event. Get a feel for it so you know what to expect.
To put it bluntly, NaNo can be a shock.
If you're a NaNo purist, and you won't start your novel until Nov. 1st, then write something else, but the trick here is that it CANNOT be a free write. Free writing is too fast. You can whip out 1667 words of free write in an hour if you're a good typist. You need to do something that takes creativity. Something where you could get stuck trying to decide what comes next.
2-Time yourself. You're going to need to give yourself a few hours, but it may take anywhere between two and five hours--possibly longer (and very rarely, shorter). Pay attention to whether the session felt unusually easy or unusually difficult to help you decide how much time to allot for writing each day during the event.
Your time will fluctuate from this--and possibly dramatically, but this will give you a rough baseline expectation for how many hours each and every day you will need to set aside for word-smithing. (A good rule of thumb is to multiply this time by 1.5 and block that time off each day.) Also, keep this one truism of novels in mind--you may be faster at the beginning and the end of the month, but it's a pretty fair bet that in the middle you're going to have some long days. That's just the way stories work during their first drafts. Plan for it.
3- Get yourself in the habit of writing. Most people do not quit NaNo because the first day is too hard. They get up, write, and say to themselves "No problem. I wonder why this is such a big deal." Day four or five is about where the burn out starts to kick in--it sneaks up on them like last night's curry. Suddenly they're burning out faster than a boy band in the late 90's. It can really help if you've got a bit of routine already going. It's up to you how close to 1667 words you want to come, but it is undeniable that the more you're in the habit of just finding the time to sit and write, the easier NaNo will be for you. Get a few days in just so you know what the routine is going to feel like and how it's going to impact your schedule.
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