Prepping Without Plotting

This article was originally published in The Writer’s Everything, Issue #001.

So what does it take for you, as a pantser, to prepare to succeed in this year’s NaNoWriMo competition? How about we start with your day-to-day life.

First, don’t plan on going anywhere during NaNoWriMo! As soon as the first of November comes around, you are officially a hermit. You are an introvert. You are a homebody. Tell everyone what you’re doing. Tell them your plan. Make sure they know how important it is for you.

Now, let’s say it’s not possible to avoid traveling in the month of November. Well, in that case, it’s time to start considering what utensils and apps you’re going to be using to write down your story.

There are plenty of options available. The first thing you have to decide on is if you want to write your notes long-hand, or record them digitally.

If writing with the ol’ pen and paper is your modus operandi, then you have countless options in notebooks, anywhere from a dollar to a couple dozen bucks. Think about how large the notebook is going to be. Do you need to fit it in your pocket, in your center console, in the drawer of your desk? Or would you rather have as much real-estate as possible, to fill each page to the brim? Do you care about the quality of your paper, or is it all the same in your mind?

Once you decide on a notebook, you also need to choose a writing utensil. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend my favorite pen, namely the Pilot G2, because it tends to smear as I write. I believe that’s a problem with most gel pens. Honestly, if I had to recommend any pen, it would ironically enough be the Pentel R.S.V.P. It’s one of the cheapest available, but it makes a terrifically clear line. But of course, once again, there are endless options, from cheap to expensive, from ball-point to fountain.

What if you want to go digital? Well, in that case,  you have three options.

First, you can type on a screen. There are endless mobile apps that are just fantastic for writing, and along with those note-taking tools, you have a selection of keyboards to help you transfer your thoughts to the page at rapid speed.

If I had to suggest, my favorite combination would be Evernote with SwiftKey. I’d choose Evernote for its user interface, as well as the ability to log in on my laptop and have instant access to them. SwiftKey has been my go-to for years because of its swiping abilities, allowing me to type as quickly as I can think.

If you’re on iOS, however, you can’t do better than Scrivener. The mobile version is very close to the capacities of the desktop version, and they have syncing functionality as well.

Second, you can type on a physical keyboard, I completely sympathize with your desire. I am personally incapable of developing solid prose without the use of a physical keyboard. Your options for physical typing are as diverse as tablets with keyboard covers to laptops to desktops.

Once again, you have your pick of writing software, from Evernote to Scrivener to bibisco to Microsoft Word to Pages to iA Writer. It may take a little time, and a little experimentation, but I have no doubt you can find the perfect app.

Third, you can record your voice and either transcribe the recording to an app later, or use transcribing software to do it for you. Personally, I’d only suggest this method if you’re performing a task where typing is impossible, such as driving or physical activities. Even then, you need to take care to not do anything unnecessarily risky.

Now, my final two suggestions to help you to prepare for NaNoWriMo come dangerously close to plotting, but perhaps they will work for you.

What am I referring to? Well, first would be establishing what your setting is beforehand. Sure, you don’t want to plot your story, but if you give it a little bit of thought, you can still decide on what era and world your story is going to take place in, whether its historical or modern or fantasy or second-world or futuristic or a galaxy far, far away. There are all sorts of options open to you, and really, it all depends on what type of genre you want to write in.

And then, the last thing you can do to prepare to succeed in NaNoWriMo is to identify what your POV, your point-of-view is going to be. You have multiple choices. You can write in first person, “I eat the food,” third person, “He eats the food,” or the extremely rare second person, “You eat the food.” You can also write in present tense, “I eat the food,” or past tense, “I ate the food.” Knowing what POV you’re going to write in ahead of time can save you much hassle and effort when you begin to write your NaNo-winning manuscript.

The Writer’s Everything

This article, as well as many others, have been featured in previous issues of my writing journal, The Writer’s Everything, in which I, along with occasional guest contributors, provide essays, guides, encouragement, motivation, writing prompts, character bio development kits, and anything else that can help you turn your dream of becoming a writer into a reality.

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