Nanowrimo Pre-Season Novel-Writing Training

So it turns out I’m writing a novel next month. At least, that’s what Jodie’s decreed — and a smart man knows when not to argue with a strong woman. As mentioned a while back (Possible Pre-Season Training for a Novel-in-a-Month?  October 02, 2008), I’m going to enter the National Novel Writing Month Competition (or Nanowrimo) for 2008. The goal? To see if, during only the 30 calendar days of the month of November, I can write a 50,000-word novel.

Naturally, an undertaking such as this requires some serious pre-season training. The need for pre-season training has some background though, so I’ll start with that, and then get to my pre-November regimen.

Why the training is so essential

The novel idea is there, and has been in my brain for a long time. In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that I’m 1) terrified, and 2) terrified. There’s no rational basis for this, either; I’ve actually successfully completed Nanowrimo twice, in 2001 and 2005.

But here’s the thing: this particular novel has been in my head for at least 5 years, and above all my other ideas this one is the one I want to write the most. And now, I’m actually going to attempt it. It’s terrifying. Exciting, yes, that too. But terrifying.

What if it’s crap? What if I can’t do it? What if it’s not only crap, but I can’t do it?

The answer is simple, and this simple answer is also my only defense against the fear: at least I will have done something. I write and edit for a living, and I’m fond of saying, "You can’t edit what isn’t there." It’s true; you have to have something in order to shape and trim and polish it into a finished, goal-accomplishing piece of writing. And that’s where I am now. Writing this novel — not any novel, but this novel — is something I need to do for me, something I need to do so there is something there, that I can then work with.

Hence the training.

Anthony’s Nanowrimo Pre-Season Training

Here are the things I’m doing to help me prepare for Nanowrimo 2008:

A strict literary regimen. Athletes monitor their food intake; I’m monitoring my literature intake. During October, I’ve been on a strict reading diet of books that have some similarities to the style and substance of the novel in my head, such as:

  • Terry Pratchett Discworld novels (both ones I hadn’t yet read, as well as re-reading old favorites such as Mort, Witches Abroad and Lords and Ladies)
  • William Zinsser’s On Writing Well (5th edition). Zinsser’s plain talk
    on good writing has been with me since college. It’s been far too long
    since I read this, and it has been a joy to rediscover the wisdom and
    craft of this book. It’s also helped me be more mindful of the
    mechanics and techniques of my writing and its underlying style.
  • Bill Bryson (such as A Walk in the Woods). That dry wit, the vivid descriptions, how I laugh myself hoarse — and all this humor, so skillfully mixed in with so much fact and research — is why I love Bill Bryson’s books.
  • Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Same as On Writing Well, it’s been far too long since I read this. From now on though, I believe I’ll take Zinsser’s advice to heart: a writer should read The Elements of Style every year.


I can’t actually begin any work on the prose of this novel until Nov. 1. But until then, I can work on the elements of that novel, such as:

  • Character development. Who are these people who are in the book in my head? What makes them tick, and what does it matter that they’re alive? What are they doing? How do they interact? On a one character per day assignment, I’ve been brainstorming notes on each major character, and minor characters on the whole, for this book.
  • Themes. What is this book about? What universal truths does it touch on or reveal or seek to prove or disprove? Honestly, I’m not much of a "theme" guy, and I don’t expect this book to go smacking anyone over the head with a moral of the story. But there are themes, truths, that I want to be cognizant of. Their words, and the underlying cosmic and personal forces underlying those words, I will weave throughout every word.
  • Plots. A harder one, and the one I’m now brainstorming the most. Much of this will be left until November, as I generally prefer to leave plots to the grand, renowned, ancient school of "winging it."
  • Structure. Chapters? Big ol’ sections? None at all? I think that there may be overall large sections comprising the book, but within the large sections there will be no chapters, only delineated sections (usually marked by double space between an end paragraph and a beginning paragraph). To paraphrase Pratchett, I agree that life doesn’t happen in chapters, and books don’t need to either.

Above all, however, I’m doing one thing:

I’m believing in myself. Jodie believes in me, and that certainly counts for a few somethings. But I have to believe in me too. And it’s not about having done Nanowrimo twice; really, that’s not relevant — all that’s relevant is whether or not I can do it again. It’s about how I really can write this book. I want to. It’s there. And it needs, and wants, out.

That’s my training. That’s my hope, my belief, my strength. I’m going to write this bloody book.

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