Friday, 28 October 2011

NaNoWriMo #06: Back Up, Back Up, Tell me what you're gonna do now!

It was 1983 when I chose my options for O' Levels in third year of high school (for younger readers, I was in year 9 and they were more or less the same as GCSEs). 1983: the year before Mark Zuckerberg was born and a whole 12 years before Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at university. Of course, there were lots of other (more significant) things that my O' Level choices preceded. However, I opted for Computer Studies, so these seem the most pertinent.

I don't want to get bogged down in techno-babble here, so I'll just point out that when I was finishing my O' Levels (May 1985), computers didn't have hard drives. True enough, Commodore released the 128 PC that year, which came with a MASSIVE 128K of RAM and a ROM slot, but you know what school budgets are like. We couldn't afford new computers, or even such luxuries as floppy disc cloners. We could only just afford a floppy disc each and our computer room was equipped with 8 mismatched, ancient computers (an Acorn, a BBC, a couple of Commodore 64s, a Sharp MZ something or other and 3 Sinclair ZX Spectrums).

For my Computer Studies coursework I created a searchable recipe database - you know the sort of thing - you tell it what ingredients you've got and it finds recipes that include these:

banana AND baked beans AND egg NOT soap

It's a simple Boolean (logical) search which scans the data entries looking for those containing all three of banana, baked beans and egg, but not soap and, let's face it, most recipes don't, but then I haven't yet seen one with banana AND baked beans in it either.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? The current OCR National Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) in ICT includes a database task within it - one miniscule task! Nowadays we have Microsoft Access, MySQL etc., all nicely pre-programmed, idly awaiting our inputs and queries. And we have hard drives. And pen drives. And 'The Cloud'. And email. And wireless transfer. And...

Cut to the interesting part: my recipe programme worked perfectly, although I couldn't tell you a thing about how I managed it, considering that nowadays my knowledge of BASIC extends to little more than this:

10: Print "Hello world";
20: Goto 10;
Run


It was the final week before submission and I booted up the Sharp MZ whatever, my favoured computer, ready to do one final tweak and tidy. I inserted my floppy disc and turned to my pages of handwritten code, glancing over them whilst I waited for the disc to load.

Except it didn't.

I tried another machine (the C64s were OK - we had one at home and it was fun to play on, after the 10 minute wait for the game to load), then another and another, but to no avail. The disc was corrupted. My coursework was lost. Forever.

The only backup I had was the hard copy - pages and pages of pencil scrawled BASIC, scribbled out, arrows all over the place. Even if I'd had a full complement of code monkeys at my disposal, there was no way they'd decipher that lot in time to save my O' Level. In the end it was all I had, so that's what the exam board got and in return I got an E. Pathetic.

It's little consolation to look back and know there was nothing I could have done. And yet, whilst it would have been nice to get the O' Level, it was the best lesson I ever learned about computing: back up everything.

You'd be amazed how often students tell me they've lost their work, because it's no longer on their user drive, pen drive or other singular location to which it was saved. Sometimes it's an excuse, but often it's not and there really is no excuse for that, not with pen drives, hard drives, CD burners, Google Documents and so on. You can even email it to yourself at a different account (or the same one - it'll be in your 'sent' mail then). This isn't intended to be an exhaustive list of backup options, which would be lengthy enough to win NaNoWriMo and then some.

That's an awful lot of preamble to make a simple point, I appreciate, but picture this: you're well into NaNoWriMo (or any other writing project), with thousands of words under your belt already. Suddenly your document corrupts or simply vanishes.

"Phew!" you say, "I'm glad I saved my novel on my pen drive too!".

Back up your novel, at least once a day and preferably in more than one location. Also Save regularly - CTRL+S / cmd+S should be second nature to a writer. You really can't overdo it; even losing 100 words is 100 words too many. Do you want that A*? Or will you settle for an E?

I thought not.

10: Backup "novel";
20: Goto 10;
Run...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

NaNoWriMo #05: time to fatten the word count

By way of preparing for this post, I was perusing the discussion in the Down and Dirty Tricks for reaching word count thread. It didn't turn out well, which is why I'm going to start with the biggest, bestest tip for succeeding in your writing:
DO NOT GET DISTRACTED!
Later I will share with you precisely what distracted me, because it is superbly funny, but also contains many excellent examples of how you can boost your word count this November.

However, as regards the 'Down and Dirty Tricks', there are two schools of thought here:
  1. Do everything you can to boost your word count;
  2. Write sensibly and produce 50K+ of decent fiction.
I wouldn't be the first to point out that the two are NOT mutually exclusive and there is a tremendous amount of middle ground here: the main criterion will be what you personally intend to achieve through NaNoWriMo. Do you simply wish to make it to 50,000 words? Do you want to finish the story? For me, it is about finishing a half-decent novel, i.e. something I can later regard as a good rough draft, which will of course need some rewriting, reorganising and a lot of editing, but is basically 'there'.

Whatever your motivation, there are pros and cons to artificially 'enhancing' your NaNo novel.

Do Dares
Other than starting and joining word wars in the NaNoWriMo IRC chat, I have to say that the only other trick I've used came from the 'Dares' discussion. Dares take the form of including a specific thing in your story, with bonus points (single, double, triple) for how far you go with the dare. The one I opted for was to include an instant messaging dialogue in my novel, where one of the characters didn't know how to use it (bonus points), involving a character that appears nowhere else in the story (double bonus points) and a secret relationship between two of the characters (triple bonus points). I should get quadruple bonus points for also managing to involve a horse (not a Mister Ed type, hoofing away at a custom-made keyboard, I should add), but anyway...

I'm not generally in favour of including random dares just for the sake of it. However, thinking carefully about how to include them coherently has the obvious immediate effect of adding words, but can also spark the imagination. From the instant messaging 'chat' between my characters, I developed a whole new sub-plot, so whilst the chat itself was only a little over 1,000 words, I estimate it added around 5,000 to my novel overall.

For this year's dares, visit the Dares 2011! topic.

Do not use Contractions
In the long term, avoiding contractions is probably one of the most pointless tricks for adding unnecessarily to your word count, assuming that you intend to do more with your novelling output than merely declaring you won NaNoWriMo. For example:

With Contractions:
"Let's go and eat ice-cream."
"Can't. Not allowed."

Without Contractions:
"Let us go and eat ice-cream."
"I can not. I am not allowed."

By removing the contractions, I can add an extra 8 words, which, over the course of a whole novel, would be a significant increase. For the purposes of NaNoWriMo (especially if you sign up to the regional word wars), this is an excellent device, but as far as the authenticity of dialogue is concerned, it doesn't have any at all. Making characters believable requires them to talk like real people, which means they will use contractions. If you get it right, this also means they will be unique and identifiable from each other, because they have their own little nuances of speech.

To illustrate: no-one could have been more surprised than I was myself to find the 2009 Star Trek film threatening to boot Ghostbusters off the number one spot in my all time favourite films, where it has stubbornly remained since its release in 1984. I've watched Ghostbusters too many times to know how many for sure, so I know there's nothing deep or meaningful in the dialogue or storyline and the actors are pretty much hamming it up all the way to the sticky marshmallow-coated end. Yet not once have I questioned the authenticity of 'The Boys' and that, more than anything, is down to the script-writing.

On the other hand, Star Trek XI has some incredible dialogue and characterisation: in all cases, the re-casting of the crew of the USS Enterprise 1701 (Kirk et al) is perfect and I could amble on at length here in praise of the casting director and the actors, but for one little bug-bear. At the end of the opening scene, where the Kirks are discussing names for their soon to be infamous son, his mother suggests naming him after his paternal grandfather Tiberius, to which his father exclaims "You're kidding me". Later James T. Kirk uses the same phrase, at which point I fleetingly registered that this was a nice touch, a subtle demonstration of how like his father he really is. Alas, a bit further on McCoy also uses it and it grated.

Perhaps only I noticed and it really isn't that important. After all, 'you're kidding me' is a common colloquialism, so why shouldn't three different people use it, especially as they're all part of the same starship officers' micro-culture? The problem is that in fiction, such idiosyncrasies are magnified by the context, because the reader / viewer needs them in order to truly believe in the characters. For this reason, Ghostbusters remains as my favourite film, with Star Trek XI coming in a close second.

In summary, if you're short of words for NaNoWriMo, avoiding contractions can help, but you'll need to change them later.

Use (Stupidly) Long Character Names, et cetera
Another popular method of adding extra wordage is to give all of your characters titles, middle names and double-barreled surnames, something like Madame Carole-Ann Elisabeth de Bovoir The Second, CBE. A further tip here is to abbreviate this to something unique as you type, then do a 'find and replace' before submitting your novel for word count validation before the end of 30th November. Here again, it's a great false boost to word count, but in the long run this would really irritate your readers. Let's face it, even if your character was called Madame Carole-Ann whatever, you'd introduce her as such, with an explanation that she was known as 'Carole' to her friends.

Likewise, you could use 'that is' instead of i.e., 'et cetera' instead of etc. and so on - all very proper and really pushing up that magic number, but keep in mind the editing this will require later. For this and other reasons, these are not techniques I would advocate. In my view, you might as well write a single sentence and copy / paste it until your word count is where you want it to be, although again, I am assuming that you are doing NaNoWriMo for more than the chance to see 'winner' on your profile page.

The Department of Redundancy Department
From Joel Stickley's 'How To Write Badly Well':
Kevin entered his PIN number into the ATM machine at a rapid rate of speed. He had a preplanned date arrangement with a female woman and didn't want to be delayed by lateness. If he compared and contrasted Olivia with previous girlfriends he'd dated before, she was universally superior and better in every way.

'Hurry quickly,' he whispered under his breath, his hand advancing forward towards the cash slot where money would come out. He glanced at the LCD display, which was showing an advertising commercial. 'I'm in too much of a rush to have time for this,' he muttered. 'You can keep your added bonus free gift.'

Finally at last, his cash money emerged into view and he grabbed it with his hand. Irregardless of this delay, the end result of his date arrangement would be a new beginning at this moment in time. Little did he know or realise, but his goals and objectives were about to be completely and utterly met in a way and manner it was impossible to over-exaggerate.

As the above demonstrates, repetition and redundancy are the friends of the word hungry. It doesn't make for serious good reading, not 'in the context of your story' good at any rate, although it's hiarious in its own right and there's even better on Joel's blog - the distraction I mentioned earlier.



To cut to the chase (the exact opposite of what you'll be needing to do from next week), there are many ways to add words to a novel and in fact when I say 'do not get distracted', I actively encourage you to get distracted - within your story. Follow tangents to their logical conclusion, for they make excellent sub-plots. Above all, keep writing: use dares to prompt your imagination; explore characters' feelings and motivations and describe everything. You can worry about any redundancies later, after NaNoWriMo, maybe in December, when it's no longer November... any more.


Image from https://snukes.wordpress.com/2008/11/10/writing-is-joy/.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

NaNoWriMo #04: Calendars for your Desktop Wallpaper

Every November, I change the background on my desktop so that it displays NaNoWriMo calendars. These display what your cumulative word count should be on any given day if you intend to hit that 50,000 word goal. This is by far the easiest method for tracking your progress on a daily basis.

Below is a slideshow of the calendars I've collected, plus a Beaten Track / NaNoWriMo calendar in various sizes. Some of the 'third-party' calendars relate to a specific year (mostly 2009) either by mentioning it in the image somewhere, or including the days of the week as well as the dates. Most provide cumulative word count based on a 50K target; the Beaten Track calendars and a couple of others include word counts for 50K, 70K and 100K goals. I've also created various sizes of the Beaten Track calendar, some with a margin on the right / left for Mac / PC layout accordingly.



I don't know who made some of the calendars (to my shame), so if you recognise your own work here, let me know and I will duly credit it / remove it accordingly. Otherwise, here are the links to the sites of the calendars' creators (all found on DeviantArt.com):

Saturday, 22 October 2011

NaNoWriMo #03: to plot... or not

So, it's 9 days until November 1st - the start of National Novel Writing Month - and I don't have any idea what I'm going to write about this year, but I'm not worried. Well, I am a little, but in a good way. I'm getting that low level stress response - the one which registers as the first twitches of chrysalises rather than fully fledged butterflies in the stomach. It's the same feeling I get when I realise it's close enough to Christmas to start being overtly festive and good-willish - probably around 25th November (this year), thanks to my NaNoWriMo buddies in the US.

I'm not too concerned about the lack of plot or characters (I haven't even decided on a genre) for my novel because I've discovered that this approach works best for me and it's the one advocated by Chris Baty in 'No Plot? No Problem':

"From that first NaNoWriMo, I learned that you are allowed to begin a novel simply by turning on the nearest computer and typing. You don't need to do research; you don't need to understand anything about your characters or plan out your setting. It's fine to just start."

My first NaNoWriMo (2007) was exactly this experience: I signed up on November 2nd and started writing straight away - the first thing that came into my head, all the while knowing (and ignoring the fact) that whatever went down on that page was staying there for the next 28 days.

It went like this:

"Josh didn’t like heights, a fact he was more acutely aware of in this context than in any other, in part because this was a very high platform over a body of water that did not appear vast or deep enough to cushion any fall. This, he had concluded long ago, is not phobic, in the sense that phobias are irrational fears: this was based on the only possible outcome of falling from a great height, which at the very least would involve a certain level of physical injury."

As I typed, the questions kept coming. Where was I going with this? Who's Josh? What on earth is he doing up there? Where is 'up there', exactly? The human mind is an extraordinary piece of kit, for as quickly as the questions formed themselves, the answers appeared like sharp little pins, popping balloons full of ideas so numerous I could hardly keep up. As Chris Baty says:

"If you spend enough time with your characters, plot simply happens. This makes novel writing, in essence, a literary trapeze act, one where you have to blindly trust that your imagination and intuition will be there to catch you and fling you onward at each stage of your high-flying journey."

And trust it you must.

Four years on the finished product, a novel of around 110,000 words, is... erm... not really finished at all, to be honest. For instance, I know there are too many characters, but I can't just cut them from the story, because it is theirs as much as it is mine. Each time I re-read 'Hiding Behind The Couch', I try to convince myself that THIS is the very final pre-print proof-read. Then I start fiddling with it, finding more things to tweak and tidy. Thus, I've recently come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is just publish the thing as a free ebook and move on.

I entered the November of my second NaNoWriMo in much the same spirit - write whatever springs to mind, although this time I did have a back-up plan. If all else failed, then I'd sequelise 'Hiding Behind The Couch'. So I started writing:

"Not the typical murder scene. No dark, rainy street filled with concealed doorways and nooks where dangers lurk, imagined or real. Not even a place devoid of other people that would witness such grisly events with relish. This, an average office in a busy multi-storey block, in the middle of the day, a bright, warm one at that, and the usual staff milling around, mostly temps, armed with reams for photocopying, or otherwise glued to the nothingness of their computer monitors. No-one heard, saw, suspected anything out of the ordinary."

Now here's the thing. I evidently started out with some unconscious intention of writing a murder mystery (something I've not done before and might perhaps consider for November 2011 - I'll see when I get there), but that sequel I mentioned? It was never far from my thoughts. Indeed it was a mere chapter away, although to call it a 'back-up plan' is overstating the case somewhat. It was an idea, nothing more, but once again I had no advanced plot and it still turned out OK in the end. That said, I haven't read it since 2009.

On to year three then: this time I did have some clearer thoughts on the starting point (i.e. I knew that a cliff was going to collapse in the opening chapter) and a couple of ideas about the plot (it was something to do with perception-based time travel), but I still didn't plan ahead, essentially due to lack of time. As a consequence and in contrast to the previous two novels, I made it through November with only 18,000 words to spare, which is no mean feat, but not on par for me personally. Nonetheless, I am told it is a decent story, so it became my first self-published novel 'And The Walls Came Tumbling Down', but it made me question whether a detailed plot and chapter outline would improve my next attempt / make it easier.

November 2010: 'The Dream Police' was ready to go. I had a plot, character profiles, chapter outlines - everything I needed to steer my writing through the next 30 days. There was direction, purpose, suspense, mystery and plot twists. The hero had morals and faced tricky moral dilemmas; the narrative offered a social commentary (in response to a prior accusation of class treachery) and the author...

The author was rendered creatively catatonic by boredom, despair and eventually apathy. I faced a new problem: I knew exactly what to write, but did I want to? Not even slightly! For three days, I tried to muster the enthusiasm to continue, all the while adding the missed 1,667 daily words required to my existing overdraft. I was 5K behind by the time I decided that I couldn't just walk away from this.

Contrary to all of the NaNoWriMo advice out there, I binned the lot (or at least I kept it for my word count - regional word wars need us foot soldiers) and started again more than a week into November, so it's no surprise that 'No Dice' limped in with less than 58,000 words and is noteably simple in plot; it had to be to ensure I could finish it in time.

For all of this, I am proud to declare that I have participated and won four times. This year will be my fifth on both counts, because failure is not an option and I will sail to success on this wave of self-belief, with or without a plot. I don't have a secret key, but what I have learned is this:
  • whatever happens, start writing and try not to delete anything;
  • one month does not a good novel make;
  • planning might work for others, but it definitely doesn't work for me;
  • whatever happens, keep writing - every day is best, but catch up if you miss a day;
  • 9+ main characters is at least 6 too many;
  • 50,000 words in 30 days is achievable - possibly even easy;
  • 100,000 words in 30 days is a bit trickier;
  • whatever happens, you must keep writing until you reach your goal.

If it's your first time, it might help to read about other authors' experience, but it might not and I share my experience as an example, not a model. The only wrong way to do NaNoWriMo is to ignore what works for you, which is why it's only 9 days until November 1st and I still don't have any idea what I'm going to write about this year, but I'm not worried.

Friday, 14 October 2011

NaNoWriMo #02: what has it ever done for us?

Try a quick search for 'What NaNoWriMo means to me' and you'll find a mass of evidence that can only lead to one conclusion: there are far more reasons to do it than there are excuses not to. This does, however, come with a prerequisite - that you are considering having a go in the first place.

Many people know straight away that NaNoWriMo is not an event that interests them, although this opinion may be subject to change in later years. The rest of us either fall into the 'I definitely will' or 'I might' categories. To aid your decision, I present here some of the things other writers have said about taking part. I've tried to offer a positive, yet balanced, selection of views, as ultimately NaNoWriMo is not for everyone.

Overall it means getting back together with close friends that you may have drifted away from since last NaNo. People you keep a special room in your heart reserved for, and even though you haven’t seen them for up to eleven months, you pick right back up where you left of. Because these people understand you in a way most don’t.



I think the most important lesson NANO taught me is how to make and keep promises, not to other people, but to myself and only myself.... So when I say that I am going to write 50,000 words in one month NO MATTER WHAT...well, that just gives you an insight to what drives me. How can I believe anything I tell myself if I never follow through with it all the way? Because I think it's possible to lose credibility with yourself.



NaNo has shown me that I can not only write a book in a month, I can write two and even three in a month. I can write scripts and even a musical. It has given me the drive to push myself to limits I never thought was possible and then repeat.



Don’t stop on November 30th. You want to do this thing, do this thing. Your energy and effort can turn NaNoWriMo from a month-long gimmick to a life-long love and possibly even a career. Let this foster in you a love of storytelling made real through discipline — and don’t let that love or that discipline wither on the vine come December 1st.



I love NaNoWriMo. I love the competition with myself. I love the competition with friends. I love the pure abandon of putting writing first. I love writing rough drafts, so this exercise is great for me. I’ve participated for 4 years now. The first year was so much fun. I wrote a book that will never see the light of day. The guy I planned to be the hero isn’t, and the guy I planned to be the villain became the hero. The story would wake me up in the morning, and I reached my goal a week early. I loved writing that book, but it’s a mess.



As for National Novel Writing Month, they seem to care more about making you feel good than about anything having remotely to do with storytelling. And you'll excuse me if I find that just a little depressing.


But then...
The irony is this: I've just been laid off from my day job, part of the process of outsourcing my entire group and most of my department to cheap contractors in India. Which means that this month I'm going to be writing full time, and after my own experiments with speed writing I hope to write considerably more than 50,000 words this month, and complete the first draft of my own unfinished manuscript. So, in a way, I will be actually participating in National Novel Writing Month, though I won't be registering at the website or anything.

Funny how things work out.



NaNoWriMo gets you into the habit of writing every day, which, hopefully, you can continue beyond the month of November. It forces serial restarters such as myself to keep working on the same damned project, and keep moving forward with it (rather than writing fifty different openings, as I seem to have done this last year.)



If you find yourself writing because you have to write or you will fail, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re writing because you have to finish NaNoWriMo, because you have to win, because quitting means you’re a loser – your attitude needs tweaking.

If you’re writing because you love writing, because writing fuels you, because writing is what you want to do – well, you’re already a success in my book.

If you’ll pardon the pun.

Kyeli Smith - Guest post on http://menwithpens.ca/nanowrimo-failure/


My thoughts? I agree with much of what Kyeli Smith says - if you start NaNoWriMo and find yourself hating every minute of it, then you're doing it wrong, or at least for the wrong reasons. It is meant to be fun, but it's also meant to be challenging, so there are times during November when it isn't fun; nonetheless, the good times should outweigh the bad. However, if you plan on making a career out of writing, there will be deadlines and word counts and occasions when (as in all jobs) you don't feel like working, so don't quit just because you have a bad day.

And if you end up wishing you'd never started NaNoWriMo, but know you can write - indeed, have had some success with writing before - then you can give up without feeling that you've failed. Even if you don't make it to 50,000 words, but you truly gave it your best, then who else can judge your achievements but you? Maybe NaNoWriMo is not your thing - maybe writing isn't either. The only way to know for sure is to try it and see.

Friday, 7 October 2011

NaNoWriMo #01: November is National Novel Writing Month

This is the first of a short series of pre-NaNoWriMo posts, in which I explore people's experiences of taking part in National Novel Writing Month, offer tips and tricks for succeeding, what to do once you've finished your novel and so on.

But first a brief introduction...

For those readers who've not come across National Novel Writing Month before, this annual event was brought into being by Chris Baty, back in July of 1999, when he and 20 of his friends set about the seemingly arduous task of writing a novel in one month. As he explains on the History of NaNoWriMo page, the outcome surprised them all:

"...our novels, despite our questionable motives and pitiful experience, came out okay. Not great. But not horrible, either. And, more surprising than that, the writing process had been really, really fun.

Fun was something we hadn't expected. Pain? Sure. Embarrassment? Yes. Crippling self-doubt followed by a quiet distancing of ourselves from the entire project? You bet.

But fun? Fun was a revelation. Novel-writing, we had discovered, was just like watching TV. You get a bunch of friends together, load up on caffeine and junk food, and stare at a glowing screen for a couple hours. And a story spins itself out in front of you."

Over the past 12 years the event has expanded exponentially, from those initial 21 friends in San Fransisco in 1999, to 32,000 authors from around the world in 2010 (the official number of participants who 'won', i.e. wrote 50,000+ words by the end of November, out of 172,000 who registered). Needless to say, the NaNoWriMo website can often be heard creaking under the strain of so many authors simultaneously updating their profiles and daily word counts, chatting in the forums and sending each other messages, so there is much excitement for the all-new website, which launches next week.

However, the website is really just a hub that connects the diaspora of participants who also seek out their own local writing groups, log in to the various chat rooms (including the unofficial #nanowrimo chat on irc.goodchatting.com), attend write-ins and so on. There are official 'Municipal Liaisons', charged with co-ordination of local / regional events, answering participants' questions and giving press interviews, as well as submitting the total regional word counts as part of the friendly regional word wars. It really is incredible to think how NaNoWriMo has taken the isolated, pained experience of writing a novel and turned it into a shared community experience. Of course, the novel writing itself is still an individual exploit, but everything about NaNoWriMo is designed to support authors through that process.

Almost half of the funding for NaNoWriMo comes from individual donations, which participants can make via the Office of Letters and Light website (the charity which runs NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy). Aside from benefitting authors directly by supporting their writing, donations are also used to fund the Young Writers' Program, which provides a safe online community for young authors and resources for educators, amongst other things (a summary of accounts / donations can be found here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/wheredowebnationsgo).

So that's the facts and figures in brief. Now I suppose I should tell you why you should participate in NaNoWriMo.

First of all it's an entirely different way of writing. If you've ever written any flash fiction, then you've had a taste of what it's like to write quickly for 30 days without editing, back-tracking, re-reading or doing anything else which might jeopardise your word count. The main goal is to get those 50,000 words written and worry about the rest later. This approach is especially useful if you've written before, but are in middle of an extended hiatus of some sort, as it only allows you time to think and write. There's no room for doubt and ultimately there may only ever be you who reads what you churn out, so you don't need to worry what anyone else thinks. It's equally helpful for first-time novelists, who perhaps have started a few books, but got no further than the first 15-20 pages.

Secondly, it's a great way to get a first draft together. Many 'WriMos' like to plan in advance and arrive at November 1st with a full chapter outline, character profiles and a clear idea of how the story will conclude. Others might have only a basic plan in mind and prefer to see where the story goes. The first time I took part in NaNoWriMo, I started a few days into the month, with no plot and absolutely nothing in the way of characters. By the time I was 15K words into the novel I still had no idea where the story was heading and the conclusion only happened upon me about halfway through (the final novel is 106,000 words in length - about 350 pages in paperback form). I've also tried working from a plan, but rather enjoy flying 'by the seat of my pants', with my characters being far less surprised by their circumstances than I am!

Finally (for this post at any rate - there are many more reasons than three for taking part), if you do 'win' and reach 50,000 words by the end of November 30th (you need to submit your manuscript via the website to verify this), you will have such a tremendous sense of achievement, not to mention collecting 'Winners' Goodies', which include a free proof copy of your novel from CreateSpace (you don't have to use this for your NaNo novel). As part of this 'prize', your novel is assigned an ISBN and distributed via Amazon.com.

What to do next:
  • After Monday 10th October 2011, you can sign up for NaNoWriMo (if you sign up before, you will get lost in the migration of information from the old to the new site).
  • If you decide to plot in advance, start plotting. If you're like me and don't want to plot in advance, jot down any ideas that come to mind, but otherwise leave them alone until November 1st.
  • Read our follow-up posts over the coming weeks - I'll also post the NaNoWriMo desktop calendars I've collected over the past four years - these serve as a very handy reckoner of where you should be in your word count, compared with where you are.
  • Once you've signed up (or indeed if you're already a member of NaNoWriMo), please feel free to add me as a friend - deb248211 - I'd give you the link, but it looks like the migration is underway as I type!

Later in the month I'll also tell you about the Beaten Track pre-publication / e-publication offer for NaNoWriMo authors. And if you already have NaNo novels available from previous years, let us know and we'll add them to the Beaten Track website.

NOTE: it is possible that the links to specific NaNoWriMo pages will no longer work after the site update, so I will come back and fix them next week!