Choosing the Right Project for NaNoWriMo

It’s Preptober! (If you’re new to the whole NaNoWriMo world, Preptober is using the month of October to prepare for NaNoWriMo come November.)

In my experience, having done 15 different NaNo and Camp NaNo sessions, I’ve found that choosing the correct project is a huge determinant of whether or not I will have a successful session.

In light of that, here are some of my tips for choosing the right project to work on during NaNoWriMo this year.

Choose something you are excited to write about.

Some of my hardest NaNo experiences have been because I chose a project I wanted to write, but I didn’t want to write it badly enough to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to the prep and writing during the month, leaving me feeling more unfulfilled than excited about the time I had spent writing a first draft.

Don’t choose something based on your excitement alone.

In complete contrast, it is of vital importance not to choose a project solely because you are excited about the idea. My worst NaNoWriMo experience, by far, was last year when I wrote a novel I completely excited about writing, but it was a new idea, it was a new genre, and I was *this* close to never doing NaNoWriMo again because of the project. (more on that story another time)

Just because a project is exciting doesn’t mean it is a good story to choose to write during NaNoWriMo. NaNo is tough, and excitement isn’t enough to carry you through the long days of  the month. The story has to be built on more than just your feelings about it. Does it have a clear plot? Do you know the characters? Do you know about the genre and setting well enough to be confident while writing? These are really important things to consider when that shiny new story idea is practically begging you to write it.

Ask yourself whether you want to tackle something new or familiar.

This question can refer to a multitude of things. It could be in reference to a new genre, a new series or standalone, or style. If it weren’t for NaNo I would have never tried writing anything outside of fantasy. But it isn’t always a good idea to write a story in a genre you’ve never written before for NaNo. While I’m all for bending genres and styles for your story and voice, it can be an overwhelming jump from fantasy adventure to modern thriller and trying to do so effectively doesn’t always happen during a time like NaNo when the amount of words written is more important than the quality of those words.

You have to decide well in advance of NaNo whether you want to take the plunge and do something new or stick to what you know. And once you’ve made that decision, you have to stick to it and remember the extra work involved in writing something new or out of your comfort zone.

Choose a story you know.

This is a bit of tricky step, because it is definitely possible to write a novel based alone on the prep you do the month before, but I’ve found that going into NaNo with a story you’ve been thinking about for at least three months before prep month is a much safer and easier way to tackle NaNoWriMo. Not only will you feel more prepared, but because the story has been building in your mind for so long, its likely that the different elements of the story, like the character voices, will be much more nuanced in the first draft and won’t cause problems during NaNo. (There’s not much worse than hitting a block during November because you haven’t spent enough time with your characters to know how they would react to the events of the plot.)

Try the story out before committing to working on it during NaNoWriMo.

This has been an invaluable step for me when thinking about the projects I want to work on. I know I’m excited for the story, I know it has enough substance to sustain me while writing, and I’ve developed the story to a point where I know enough to write it. The next step is actually testing the waters. Even if you’ve checked the last three boxes, what in theory seems like a good idea may not work in real life. If you go to my Pinterest you will find storyboards for projects I thought I would work on during NaNo only to have tested them and come up with nothing. I don’t know if there is a reason for this, but sometimes ideas regardless of how well you know them, are not easy to write. Four of my pinterest storyboards were created with the intention of being NaNo novels, but after writing a few test scenes I realized that they weren’t projects I would be able to effectively write during NaNo.

Don’t be discouraged by this. Put the idea away for the time being and come back to it when writing to a deadline isn’t an obstacle. There’s a time and a place for that idea even if NaNo isn’t it.

And there you have it. Those are a couple of my tips for sifting through your ideas as you tackle what you want to write for NaNo!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Let me know what kind of project you are thinking of writing this session.

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