The Secret to #winning NaNoWriMo
Or how to fast-draft like a BOSS
Okay, to be honest, it’s not really much of a secret. It’s pretty widely known stuff, but it wasn’t until I put all the pieces into action that I realized just how powerful these methods are to fast-drafting and winning NaNo.
Nail down the very basic elements. This isn’t about planning per say, but more about understanding your motivations to write the book and a guide as you write forward. In mid-November, when you’re ready to quit… looking at this document may inspire you to keep going. Ask yourself:
- Why am I writing this book? Why is it so important to me?
- Who is my target audience for this book and what expectations will they have? Do I plan to adhere to those expectations or ignore them?
- What does the general ending look like? (Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know your exact ending scene, it just means having a general sense of where it will end. Example: Boy and girl have HEA // Killer is revealed and caught // The good guys defeat the evil guys).
Now if you area planner and want to go a bit more in depth, you can utilize what’s called a two-tier outline. It’s a middle-of-the-road alternative to full-out plotting and pantsing. Here’s how it works:
By utilizing two tiers — you can begin to map out (very loosely) how the shape of your novel will look. As you start, it may even inform sections of the book you were previously stuck on. The beautiful thing about this method is that you can go deep (trying to map out most of your book) or you can keep it fairly loose by going off a 3 act structure or hero’s journey or whatever method you prefer. So what ARE the two tiers?
Tier 1= Scene
Tier 2= Point
So let’s see it in action:
Scene: A woman returns home after twenty years away to care for her elderly father
Point:This scene is all about the woman’s sense of burden and loyalty but also her desire for reconciliation and redemption. She doesn’t get along with her father, but she feels compelled to take care of him during his time of need though he never showed her love or respect.
Scene:Katie slashes the tires on her ex-boyfriend’s coveted vehicle.
Point:This scene is about revenge, though misguided and wasteful. Katie’s actions are meant to make her feel better, but in the end, it does nothing because her ex is still her ex and he gets the tires changed. Katie has to discover another way to get her feelings out other than petty revenge.
The biggest “point” of this exercise is to marry the emotional why to the actual scene. Otherwise, it just becomes “plot” (aka stuff happening to a character you don’t care about).
This step is all about goal setting. I know, I know. I can hear your groans from here. But essentially, that’s the entire point of NaNo. To reach the goal of 50k words. And without a goal, there’s not much incentive to move forward (which is why I’m such an advocate for NaNo and fast-drafting in general).
So if you’re doing NaNo, your goal setting should be easy. 50k by the end of the month and it’ll take 1666 words a day to get there.
If you’re fast-drafting, set a realistic daily, weekly or monthly goal of your own.
This is one of the most important steps and usually the one most people skip which causes them to stall or quit drafting altogether. In order to fast-draft appropriately you must forget about the small details, descriptive writing and the “unknowns.”
For some writers, that’s extremely difficult. I get it. But it’s a learned skill that will help you write faster and edit even quicker.
How does that look in practice, though? Well, the easiest way to do it is by using the TK symbol.
What is TK?
TK, means “to come.” It’s proofreader-speak for anything that needs to be added. You can use it to stand in for a detail, a date, a description, or even a whole scene. What’s great about using TK in your actual text is that you can scroll through searching for TK — and nothing else in the English language will come up.
Example 1 from one of my WIPs:
Her words hit me in the gut. They hurt far more than I want to admit. Because yeah, maybe a small part of me does want that. But it’s not the whole reason. [More emotional reasoning and internal dialogue TK]
Example 2 from one of my WIPs:
I wonder then, if it was a conscious decision to switch laundry detergents as an adult. And if Sam purposely remained attached to it. If it was her attempt to keep a piece of our childhood or our mother with her. [Full flashback TK]
Example 3 from one of my WIPs:
She hailed from TK city and was a force to be reckoned with. With TK hair and TK eyes, she looked just like her mother. And wasn’t that a shame? To be linked to someone she hated so much?
What you see above are places where I either didn’t know the answer to something OR I knew I needed to add more but didn’t want to stop the momentum/progress I had going. By inserting EXACTLY what’s “To Come,” I know when I go back through what I need to work on and I wasted zero time during the drafting process. It does take time to get used to this concept but try it for one chapter and see how much quicker the drafting goes (and you still don’t lose quality because you know you’ll go back to flesh out those “TK’s”).
This step is all about pre-preparing yourself for revisions and edits. At the end of a writing day, go back through and highlight any TK’s or changes with one of three colors (this is the reason it’s called the Stoplight Method):
Green = easily fixable and changed
Yellow = requires a bit more time/energy/research etc to change
Red = this change will require a lot of time/energy/research/re-plotting, ec.
By the end of the novel, you’ll have a very visual representation of what your editing and revision process is going to look like. Even if you have a lot of red on your pages at least you have already completed the heavy lifting of figuring out what needs to be fixed — and sometimes that’s half the battle!
I’m sure there are many other methods and tricks out there to help you win NaNo and/or fast-draft appropriately, but this method has been tried and tested and it’s something I truly believe in. As NaNo approaches, it’s the perfect time to try it out. I’ll be waiting to hear how it goes for you!
Originally published at medium.com on November 5, 2017.
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