What's in your NaNoWriMo Survival Kit? marismckay.com

NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

I know it’s only September, but I’m seriously excited about NaNoWriMo. It’s never too early to start planning, right? I actually decided on my novel idea last month. Even more shocking, I’m still in love with the idea. I’m a planner but not usually that much of a planner.What's in your NaNoWriMo Survival Kit? marismckay.com

While we’re talking about planning, what’s in your NaNoWriMo survival kit? Are you loading up on tea or coffee? Keeping  a lucky notebook on hand? prefer a certain writing program? Share your must-haves for November in the comments! Here’s my list this year:

  • Notebooks. Because one can never have too many
  • Pentel RSVP fine point pen with violet ink (what? isn’t everyone that picky about their pens?)
  • Laptop. How did people survive before they could edit their work without re-typing everything?
  • Sticky notes. I no longer outline without them
  • An outline (or the beginnings of one) written on said sticky-notes and affixed to the bedroom wall
  • Lindt and/or Ghirardelli Chocolate
  • Character sketches. An essential part of NaNoWriMo prep
  • Notes on novel setting, including history, politics, foods, religion, etc.
  • Medieval Names Archives. The go-to place for your fantasy and historical fiction naming needs
  • Immune-boosting essential oils to reduce risk of illness from lack of sleep
  • For this particular story, Folger editions of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One, Henry IV Part Two, and Henry V
  • NaNoWriMo.org. For pep-talks, word-count tracking, accountability, and procrastination on the forums
  • Music. Usually I plan the music to the feel of the story. Not quite sure what I’ll go with this year
  • Lapdesk and pillows for writing sessions in bed
  • Flash drives (two of them) and GoogleDrive for backups
  • Pinterest board to collect inspiration. I’ve already started mine:


7 Strategies for NaNoWriMo Prep

National Novel Writing Month is less than 1 month away, and I have no idea what I’m going to write. Or, rather, I have too many ideas:

  • Should I go with the super-human dystopian YA novel that I almost wrote last year?
  • Perhaps I continue work on the sequel for The Heather and the Falcon? It’s already started, but just barely, and I could easily write another 50,000 words on this story.
  • Maybe one of the ideas in my writer’s notebook would make a nice novel. There are so many of them to choose from.
  • Or is there a new, undiscovered story lurking somewhere in my unconscious just waiting to be pulled out and set on paper?

Whichever one I choose, I’m going to approach planning for this novel the same way I did in 2011 and 2013, the years I “won” NaNoWriMo. It’s been a good strategy for me, so I thought I’d share my tips with you. I hope you’ll find them useful!

  1. Write a one-paragraph description of the story’s main conflict. You want to clarify the central focus of the novel early on. It might change as the story develops, but having a guideline helps with later plotting.
  2. Draw a map. Both my novels have been fantasy, but don’t ignore this step for real-life settings. Being familiar with your story’s geography limits the need for looking up where the characters will be traveling or how far they are from a place, and that leaves more time for writing.
  3. Name the main character(s), and write a character sketch. By the time I start my novel, I have a name and complete physical description for my MC, along with their Myers-Briggs type, archetype and basic back-story. At least two full pages in my writer’s notebook are devoted to them. There’s a huge amount of information out there on this topic, and I’ve been collecting it on my “Building Characters” board on Pinterest, if you want more ideas.
  4. Repeat step 3 for important secondary characters. The better you know all your characters, the easier they will be to write. For the MC’s love interest or best friend, these character sketches might be quite extensive. For a character that’s not as important, a paragraph or two can suffice.
  5. Make a list of names. Even if you have lists of all your characters ready, you’ll always need more names and it saves time if you don’t have to look any up. I draw a line down the middle of a page in my writer’s notebook, then write male names on one side and female names on the other. This leaves just enough space for a brief description of each character I assign the name to.
  6. Write a flexible plot outline. When I was taking creative writing workshops, my professor told us to never decide the ending before we start writing. For something like NaNoWriMo, it helps greatly to have a direction, but don’t set your outline in stone. Some writers will lay-out 40 scenes in detail. I usually opt for a bullet-point progression of main plot points, which allows for flexibility in the scene structures as my characters develop. For my NaNoWriMo novel last year, I thought one of the three main characters was going to die, and by the end of the story they ended up killing the character who was supposed to kill them. Since I didn’t feel bound to a ridged plot outline, I just let their character develop naturally.
  7. Choose a point of view. There are few things more annoying than starting out a story in fist-person point of view and then deciding to switch it to third person. Or vice-versa. It’s almost impossible to catch all the “he”s or “I”s and change them to make the story consistent again. So pick one now, and stick with it. My 2011 novel had one main character, and was character-driven, so it’s first-person from her point of view. My 2013 novel followed three characters, so I wrote it in close third-person.
Creative Writing, Writing Tips and Prompts

Why Write On Paper?

I have an inordinate amount of writing-related paper. From where I sit now, I can reach ten notebooks of various sizes and two sketchbooks. Two of these notebooks are exclusively designated “writing notebooks,” and most of the others have scraps of stories in them as well. One sketchbook is to record bits of inspiration, and larger one is full of maps. And then there’s the file cabinet ….

Why do I need all this paper if I have a perfectly good laptop? Wouldn’t it be easier to keep character sketches, plot outlines, and such in a searchable and editable format on my computer? In some ways I suppose it might be, but I’ve kept this kind of information in paper form and in neatly organized documents, and I must say I prefer the paper.

There’s just something about the act of physically putting words down on paper that I love. And, if posts I see on Pinterest are any indication, I’m not the only writer who feels this way. There are notebooks all over the house, in my purse, and specifically packed when I go on trips. I need them for when I can’t get to a computer, when I’m writer’s blocked and need to physically write something out, and for outlines that I can easily glance at without opening a different document. As I touched on in last week’s post, this is how I’m outlining my NaNoWriMo novel.

Do you have a writer’s notebook yet? If not, why not start one? Here’s a great article called “Start a Writer’s Notebook” that could help you begin. Reading it makes me realize my own notebooks are more neglected than I thought — I’m going to have to start writing in them more! I’m also thinking I should invest in some nicer notebooks (any excuse to buy new books).

Writing Prompts and articles at MarisMcKay.com

Creative Writing, NaNoWriMo

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

October is of particular note for writers as being the month before November, a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Though it’s bad form — not to mention against the rules — to start writing the novel before November 1st, we can start outlining.

If you’ve not participated in NaNoWriMo before, signing up is the first step. Then comes the novel prep. Now that we’re well and truly into October, outlining my NaNo novel and coming up with character sketches is high on my writing “to-do” list. I just have to figure out which of my ideas I’m going to dedicate 50,000 words to. I don’t normally outline, but I’ve found it invaluable if one intends to write 1,667 words a day. A weak outline was almost as much to blame as bad health for failure to win NaNo last year.

In addition to outlining, I find that stocking up on chocolate (or whatever your writing fuel of choice is) is a good idea. What strategies do you use, or intend to use, to get prepared for NaNoWriMo 2013?


Creative Writing, Writing Tips and Prompts


This is a topic that tends to come up (eventually) whenever writers start talking about writing. Particularly as we come up on NaNoWriMo, you’ll see people talking about being a “pantster” or a “planner.” Do you write “by the seat of your pants” or do you plan out your novel in advance?

I tend to start with a good mental outline for the first half of a story, get a good feel for the characters, and then just start writing. What I usually find, however, is that I have to go back and write out full character sketches and outline the last half of the plot. When my latest short story got stuck, I worked through the book 45 Master Characters to figure out where the plot was going next.

Maybe things would go smoother if I outlined first, but this seems to work most of the time. The only time I extensively outlined was in 2011, when I “won” NaNoWriMo. I actually started with a pretty full outline and full-page sketches for each of the two main characters. That seemed to work well for me to be able to finish a novel in a month, and I’ll try to do something similar this year. What’s your outlining style?

Writing Prompts and articles at MarisMcKay.com