Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, starts on November 1. It’s a worldwide movement where writers commit to finishing one novel before November 30 by writing about 1,700 words every day. If you fancy yourself to be an author, you must participate. But don’t just jump in blind. It’s a costly mistake I made.
The biggest error for NaNoWriMo authors is to start on November 1 without doing any prep. That’s a recipe for disaster. Just like stretching before a workout, you need to stretch your creative muscles before writing.
Instead of a list of tools and apps, this article is about personal experience. I’ve failed as a NaNoWriMo participant in the past. For the past few months, I have been actively engaging in creative writing. These are the tools that help me, and will probably help you, in practicing your skill before you start to actually write your novel.
1. 12-Day Writing Plan (Web): Get Started With Simple Writing Exercises
Brian Klems, the editor of Writer’s Digest, has a simple plan to get your creative juices flowing. It’s a 12-day program, with one small exercise every day.
Klems is an author himself, and obviously wrote the program with a bit of experience behind him. At no point does it get overwhelming. It starts you off slow, by just getting the ideas in. It’ll gradually test your writing skills, first with small pieces and later with longer. And it has break days that ensure a different part of your brain is activated instead of just your imagination.
The life of an author isn’t just writing books, it also involves other skills. The 12-day plan even focuses on those parts, like talking to agents or introspective self-improvement.
2. Story Wars (Web): How to Come Up With Unexpected Ideas
Every writing class will teach you one thing: story-telling at its finest is about the unexpected moment. It’s a difficult skill to learn, but it is essential. Story Wars will help you prepare for it.
The site is one of those collaborative storytelling websites, but with one twist. It doesn’t pair you with a partner directly. Instead, you and other writers are invited to add to the current draft. Readers will then vote for their favorite draft. The draft with the most votes becomes the next part of the story. Everyone is then free to participate in the third draft as well.
The community at Story Wars seems to revel in the unexpected. Off-beat yet seemingly logical ideas are almost always voted higher than others. It’s a good way to practice coming up with twists and surprise events — a skill that will serve you well in writing your novel.
3. /r/WritingPrompts (Web): Refresh Yourself With New Ideas and Styles
There will be days when you are sick of writing your own novel. Really, it happens. Your mind is muddled with the different storylines and threads of the universe you created. Break out of that funk by writing something completely different.
The /r/WritingPrompts subreddit now gets a lot of ridicule and hate from its early adopters. But like with anything, Reddit can be productive if you know how to use it. Given the constant barrage of new ideas that users post on /r/WritingPrompts, you’ll quickly find something you fancy. Click the topic and start writing. It’s that simple, and it’s remarkably refreshing.
I started off with /r/WritingPrompts as a regular creative writing exercise tool. It has since turned into a way for me to do something completely different from my “work” or “passion project”. So I’ll look at a prompt and start writing a story in a style that is completely different from mine. If I’m writing a comic scene for work, I’ll write horror or drama on /r/WritingPrompts. It serves as relief and a refresher.
4. Unstuck (Web): Break Through Writer’s Block [No Longer Available]
Everybody gets stuck. Writer’s block is one of the more common ailments that plague those with a pen and paper. Unstuck promises to get those juices flowing again.
Writer’s block is a little more complex. It takes different forms depending on the person. I’ve used Unstuck only once, when I didn’t know how to connect two plot points, but it did work to solve the challenging moment.
The app is free on the Web. It takes you through a step-by-step guide to admit you’re stuck, figure out how you are stuck, and take action to break through the barrier. If you’re facing writer’s block, there is no point in trying to be a hero and say you’ll deal with it. If a tool is offering help for free, take it.
5. Why Do I Write, Anyway? (Web): Start Writing That Pesky Scene
It’s the big scene. You know this is one of the pivotal moments in your plot. You’ve thought about it a million times when you were playing out the idea in your head. And now you don’t know how to start. Don’t worry, every writer has been there. There’s a way out.
I’ve got this one blog post bookmarked. It has four simple tips. It’s less than 500 words. But I find myself going back to it more often than anything else.
When you’re stuck on a scene, there are four options that the blog suggests: don’t go chronological, change the action, change the location, or write for a different character. It sounds insane when you’ve spent so much time building this up in your head. Every fiber of your writing soul will say no, that’s not the “right” take. Take a breath, and heed the advice. See what it does for you, and for your novel.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to take a step back and accept change. This post by Why Do I Write, Anyway? is so good, you might want to make it into a motivational poster and frame it above your desk.
Are You Writing?
Do you have a novel in the works already, or are you thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo in 2016? Which of these writing tips and tools do you think will make the most impact for you?
Let’s talk about putting words to paper.