It's nearly November. On the first of the month, thousands, if not tens of thousands of people worldwide will try and churn out a novel --an entire novel!-- in just 30 days. Any time you tackle a big project, whether it's cleaning your house or writing a book, it's usually best to go into it as prepared as possible. When it comes to writing... the rules are a little different.
Decide if You'll Plot or if You'll Pants
There's something to be said for spontaneity. Many times when we're tackling a project and we've found some aspect of it that's actually fun, the time flies by. For others, spontaneity just creates blocks. You try and do something, but you really, really don't want to. Or at least, you can't bring yourself to, even if some part of your brain says, "I've always wanted to do this!" Then you look at that intimidating 40,000 word minimum and you start to think "There's just no way..."
The first thing you should do is decide if you're the kind of person who can tolerate spontaneity and works well under pressure (the "fly by the seat of your pants" type), or if you're the sort who enjoys plans, outlines, checklists, and so forth.
Either way: writing a novel can be a messy process. You might find yourself scribbling ideas down in one notebook and writing a scene from your novel on a napkin on the kitchen counter. You might have a detailed outline in Evernote, but you have your novel in Microsoft Word.
If you're the spontaneous sort, you'll still benefit from some organization; use a cloud-based note-taking app like Evernote to keep track of some basics, like your daily word count, what notebooks, sketchpads, or other writing implements and software tools you use (and for what, if you use them for separate things), and where you typically like to write. That way, if you find yourself having written something fantastic but you have no idea where you put your notebook (or even which notebook your idea is in), you can track it down with these sorts of basic notes. For physical notebooks, it's always a good idea to have your name and email (you can use a throwaway one that you don't use often) or phone number on the cover, if possible. That way, if it gets lost or stolen, your precious ideas can hopefully get returned to you.
More of a plotter? Use tools like Evernote, or Literature & Latte's Scrivener to keep track of things, from your characters and locations to individual scenes or chapters. I recommend Evernote; you can create a Stack dedicated to your novel, with the notebooks inside each having notes specific to one area. For example if you have a Stack called "NaNoWriMo 2016 Novel," your notebooks might be called "Characters," "Locations," "Chapters," and "Inspiration." Each notebook can then have individual notes devoted to a single item so you don't get confused. You can also utilize Evernote's tagging system to add additional short tidbits of data to each note. If you have an Evernote Premium account, you will also be able to see Context, or how your notes relate to one another. Plus, everything --from inspirational websites and photos to your formatted text-- will be available on all your devices, synced to the cloud! You'll benefit from the spontaneous act of writing down your ideas when you have them --because Evernote is available on pretty much any mobile device, the web, or your desktop computer. Don't miss out on a great idea just because it's not your "writing time" of the day!
Set the Stage
Where do you like to write? If at portion of your writing time will be at home, prepare for the month ahead by setting up the space so you'll be as productive as possible. That means making it comfortable enough to work for long periods temperature-wise, with access to water and a bathroom, but not so comfy you feel like falling asleep.
Writing can sometimes be a solo act. It can be lonely. But even the most famous of novelists needed to work with someone else at some point, whether it was to get their words out there or just to get a cup of coffee. Establish a support network: friends or family members who know what you're doing and can help you with little things, whether it's bugging you to take a much-needed stretch or remember to eat something that day. You can also find support in fellow writers, both online and off, for ideas, inspiration, and getting through any blocks you may encounter.
Let your family members know you'll need writing time so they won't bug you unless it's an absolute emergency. For those without family or roommates in the house, be sure to put your phone on Silent, if not Do Not Disturb. If you use an iPhone, you can add people to your Favorites contact list. Then, in your Settings > Do Not Disturb, you can Allow Calls from Favorites and Repeated Calls, if people call you more than once in three minutes in case your attention is urgently required.
Budget Your Time
If it was possible to churn out a novel in a day, a lot more of us would be novelists. But "the real world" tends to intrude on our writing time, in the form of jobs that pay the bills, people that need our attention, chores that have to get done, and bodily functions that we just can't ignore. Decide at the outset how you want to budget your time for this massive project: do you want to write at a certain time each day? Doing so means you can easily establish a "Do Not Disturb" period for other people.
If you can't reliably sit down to write at the same time every day, what about setting a goal to write for a given amount of time each day? You might say you want to write for at least an hour each day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and two hours each day on Saturday and Sunday. Whatever works best for you. Just remember: 40,000 words is still the ultimate goal, regardless of how many words you write in a given hour on any given day.
The third option is to set yourself a word count goal each day. 40,000 words divided by 30 is a little over 1,333 words per day. You can think of it that way, or divide it into different chunks, like 8000 words a week. The important thing is that whatever number you pick, it shouldn't intimidate you out of writing. Any progress you make is good progress-- as long as you keep at it! If you have a day when you don't meet your word count, ideally you should increase the number of words you will aim to complete in your next writing session. Have both daily and weekly goals; if you don't meet a daily goal, it's still possible to meet your weekly goal and actually write that novel by month's end.
Know Why You Write
The hardest part about preparing for any large project is getting into the mindset for it. Ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Make sure you have that reason written down, whether it's on a sticky note hanging in front of your computer screen on your desk, or an art piece you have hanging on the wall. Make it your phone or tablet's wallpaper, if you can.
Are you writing because you have a story itching to get out? Will the characters not let you sleep at night? Whatever your reason, keep it in mind while you write, because there will be times when it feels like what you're doing is impossible. You have a great reason for doing this-- and you CAN do it! The first step is getting started.