Playing Favorites. October has long been my favorite “time of year.” Born and raised in Minnesota, I have fond memories of crisp air, turning leaves, pumpkin harvests, and the first tickle of wood smoke in the air. Autumn has always meant spicy smells and sharpening focus … and a creative high. For whatever reason, story ideas have a way of happening in October. No matter when they’re actually published, many of my books had their beginning now, during the bountiful season in which I was born.
Tips and Tricks. They’re everywhere right now. Lists and checklists, reminders and suggestions, hints and hooplah. Everything is helpful, if only because trying things will help you figure yourself out. “What works” is a little different for everyone. Getting comfortable with the creative process is a whole lot like finding your voice. It comes with practice, and NaNoWriMo offers that in spades.
Swapping recipes. Since I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, cooking analogies work for me. And trading tips before NaNoWriMo is a little like swapping recipes, because the way I cook can only be called adaptation. I’ll follow the recipe the first time, but after that (once I have a feel for the recipe), I wing it. Swap out ingredients. Mix it up. Improvise with what I have on hand. Give it a twist. I guess that makes me a kitchen pantser.
My approach. So I’m going to give you a peek at my own process. Not because everyone should follow my example. But because you might find something you can try, adapt, and put to good use.
- Name everything. Before NaNoWriMo, I take the time to name everything I might need—people, pets, towns, schools, local hangouts, streets, etc. Because nothing slows me down more than staring into space, trying to decide what to call my MC’s two cousins on his mother’s side … or that quirky history professor … or the tea shop where Aunt Elspeth plays bridge with her friends.
- Write a Summary. Even before I write a story, I’ll write imaginary back cover copy. My spiraling ideas need that anchor. Introducing the character, his crisis, and the ensuing conflict in a succinct fashion keeps me focused. I know where I’m going.
- Chapter Titles. I’m mostly a pantser, making up a story as I go along. But it’s this stage in my creative process that makes me a plantser (part plotter, part pantser). I like to make a loose list of events that need to take place. For some books, I’ll even pick chapter titles. This table of contents isn’t set in stone. Stories tend to change as I write them. But I start with vivid moments, then build the story around them. What led to this? Were there consequences to that? Where should I introduce this thread? How can I shake things up?
- Word Sprints. If there’s one thing I’ll forever be grateful to NaNoWriMo for, it’s this. From the moment I discovered word sprints, they’ve been the foundation of my creative process. I’d define sprinting as writing non-stop (and as fast as possible) for a set period of time. The goal is output. The results are messy. But all those crazy, wonderful ideas end up captured on a page. This is the raw material from which you’ll craft your story.
There are lots of word sprint timers out there, but I’ve been using Write or Die since my first go-around with NaNoWriMo nearly a decade ago. Since then, Dr. Wicked has updated the program with snazzy new features: Write or Die 2.
- Writing Partners. Twitter is my social media of choice, so naturally, I gravitate toward this platform when I want to buddy up. One easy place to join a sprint session is at @NaNoWordSprints, which hosts timed sprint sessions (and prompts) around the clock. You could also join a group doing #1k1hr (a thousand words in one hour). If you want to join me for a round of sprinting, message me @ChristaKinde. Or else on the NaNoWriMo site, where I’m participating as CJMK.
The Stuff of Stories. At the end of November, I’ll have 50,000+ sprinted words. Random scenes, dramatic sequences, scenic descriptions, introspection and interaction, dialogue snatches—the stuff of stories. As I said earlier, this is the raw material. Later, I’ll go back and put everything in chronological order, close the gaps, account for those little surprises even I didn’t see coming, and then … start turning the ungainly heap into a manuscript. Usually at the pace of a chapter a day, life permitting.
How do you approach NaNoWriMo?
One of my writing buddies this year is my daughter (research assistant, proofer, cover designer, sometimes co-writer, and creative collaborator). Add Elza Kinde to your buddy list on the NaNoWriMo site! : )