As autumn arrives, the countdown to the famous NaNoWriMo challenge begins. In this writing marathon, the groundwork you lay in
October Preptober could make the difference between a harsh failure and a winning certificate.
If you’re unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, envision a month-long writing challenge that has passionately engaged hundreds of thousands of people annually since 1999.1 Come November, armed with only the seed of a novel idea, your mission is to conclude the month with 50,000 words comprising your story.
While some meticulously prepare for months in advance and others plunge headfirst on November 1st, most non-professional writers fall somewhere in between, needing a balance of preparation and creativity. This is why Preptober, preparing for NaNoWriMo throughout October, exists.
In this short series of four blog posts—one per week until the start of NaNoWriMo—we’ll provide you with tips to prepare for this exciting challenge:
- Preptober 1: Finding Your Story
- Preptober 2: Crafting Characters and World-Building
- Preptober 3: Outlining and Research
- Preptober 4: Setting Your Environment
Let’s kick off this initial week with a gentle start, focusing on some reading and thoughtful contemplation, to help you discover your story.
1. Find Your Call
Explore your reading preferences. What kind of stories bring a smile to your face – something light and enjoyable, a thrilling suspense, or perhaps a romantic tale? Can you recall a character or a unique atmosphere from your reading history? Take a moment to go through your bookshelf or your e-reader’s archives. The aim is to pinpoint a project that will genuinely excite you, keeping you engaged and energized for a month-long write-a-thon. Focus on what you want to say, on what gives you pleasure to express. Try to enjoy the process from the very beginning:
“For about 6 years now, in the time it’s taken to write my biography of John Adams, I have largely abandoned reading anything written in our own day. For along with research of the kind to be expected with such a book, I have been trying as much as possible to know Adams through what he read as well as what he wrote, and the result has been one of the most enjoyable forays of my writing life.” –David McCullough
While some might advise tailoring your writing to what’s popular, never write to impress. NaNoWriMo is all about YOU and having fun. Remember, you’re not crafting a finished novel; you’re in the exciting drafting phase.2 Enjoy the journey!
2. Read and Collect Source Material
Once you’ve identified your writing direction, dive into similar books. Great writers are avid readers who draw inspiration from others. Explore interviews, podcasts, and videos featuring authors discussing their writing process.3
“When I began working on this project in 1996, my goal was simply to write a dramatic account of the battle. I had been struck by the intensity of the fight, and by the notion of ninety-nine American soldiers surrounded and trapped in an ancient African city fighting for their lives. My contribution would be to capture in words the experience of combat through the eyes and emotions of the soldiers involved, blending their urgent, human perspective with a military and political overview of their predicament.” –Mark Bowden on Black Hawk Down
Pay attention to the length and pace of your sources. Will your 50,000 words result in a longer or shorter work? You should aim for a range of approximately 150 to 200 pages. Now is the time for immersive and passive learning before the action.
3. Formulate a Story
The ideal scenario is already having a clear story idea in mind, but it’s perfectly fine if you don’t. You can draw inspiration from various sources:
- Adapt a plot from a movie, book, real-life event, or even a news story.
- Transpose an old story into modern times
- Translate a story from a different cultural setting into yours
- Transform a friend, family member, or your future self into a character. Go people-watching for inspiration.
- Create a setting, whether it’s a town, a world, or something unique; it doesn’t have to be based on your own city or Earth.
Once you have a topic, try to find the driving question of your story.
“Who done it? Guilty or not guilty? Who will win the race? Which man will she marry? Will the hero escape or die trying? Will the body be found? Good questions drive good stories.” –Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
By the end of this week, aim to have a general story concept and a driving question in mind. Leave the detailed outlining for Weeks 2 and 3.
4. Begin Your Writing Practice
NaNoWriMo is essentially a writing marathon, designed to help you establish a lasting writing habit. Much like gradually building up your endurance for running, prepare yourself for daily writing. To reach the 50,000-word goal in 30 days, you’ll need to write approximately 1667 words per day, which is about four pages. Underestimating the daily workload is a common pitfall.
During this first week of October, focus on practicing by writing at least 420 words each day. Pay attention to the time it takes, and aim to increase your daily writing time gradually. Don’t be frustrated by the quality you produce initially.
“I believe that the so-called “writing block” is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance.… One should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.” –William Stafford, from Writing the Australian Crawl
You don’t need to dive into your novel just yet; that’s for November. Write anything that inspires you: journal entries, character descriptions, short stories… If you’re stuck, check our writing toolkit.
5. Get Acquainted With iA Writer
If you’re not yet a dedicated user of iA Writer, Preptober offers the perfect opportunity to explore our app and uncover how it can help you write faster and better.
As a starting point, here are a few features that will immediately be helpful:
- Word Count: Keep a real-time tally of your Word Count as you write. On Windows, you can even set a Word Goal to strive for.
- Focus Mode: The core feature of iA Writer, is a distraction-free environment allowing you to focus on achieving those @*&#!-ing 1667 words per day.
- Shortcuts and Markdown: Keep your hands on the keyboard and swiftly format your work as you go.
We wish you the best of luck in this initial week, and we’ll see you next week for Preptober 2: Crafting Characters and World-Building.
Writers talking about their creative process: Katherine Paterson, Podcast: Storytelling from Legacy Authors, Five Tips for Writing Your First Novel—Brandon Sanderson. ↩