NaNoWriMo’s next session is just a month away. For those of you who don’t know, Camp NaNoWriMo is a version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in which you’re put in a virtual cabin with other writers (assuming you sign up on the official site) and you get to set your own goal. Your goal can be measured in words, hours, minutes, lines, or pages. It’s more laid-back than the regular November session (in which the goal is a set 50,000 words, though obviously you don’t have to stay tied to that if you don’t want to) and you have the opportunity to hang out with a small group of like-minded writers for the whole month of July. (I’m considering putting together a cabin starting with those of you who follow my blog. Would anyone be interested in that?)
Anyway, over the next month my Tuesday writing posts will be crash-courses in prepping for Camp NaNoWriMo, and today’s post is about choosing your idea. I already wrote about this topic back in April for the Alphabet Blogging Challenge in my post “Potential Energy,” so I’m going to sum up that post (you can click through and read the original post afterward) and then throw in some bonus stuff about organization.
As a writer you’ve likely collected inspiration from everywhere and thus probably have a lot of story ideas. You probably have a folder bursting with unfinished stories and half-starts and you’re probably hit with overwhelm like a ton of bricks any time you even think about writing them all in a lifetime. Some of them have probably already been voted into the “DNF” folder where they will remain, gathering dust, until you die and some historian stumbles upon your folder once computers are a bygone technology. (Totally kidding.) So then how do you pick one story to focus on for a whole month? Well the first option is to just not. You could decide up front that you’re going to tackle two (or more) projects at the same time during July. Or you could be a rule-follower and pick one.
But then do you pick the ancient story idea that’s been yanking at you for years, begging to be finished, or you pick the brand new, shiny idea that you just got yesterday that’s also begging you to write it?
If the old story has been tugging on you for years then it’s probably a pretty good idea and you should probably at least give it a chance. In addition to being persistent, the older story idea has been culminating in your mind for a lot longer and is probably further developed than a lot of the other things you might write. So if you have an old story idea that you’d like to write, it’s probably best to go with that, particularly as there’s less prep time for a NaNoWriMo event than a story you can write entirely in your own time.
If you’re picking between two newer story ideas (or two older, for that matter) figure out which one is taking up more of your time. Which are you consistently thinking about and brainstorming (whether intentionally or not)? Which has more pieces that just grip you and won’t let you go? Pick that one. You can come back to the younger idea once it’s had a little more time to develop naturally.
Or, of course, you could continue a story you’ve already been working on, as is my plan (I’ll be working on continuing The Shadow Raven) or you can edit something you’ve already written (like I did in April with The Heart of the Baenor).
If you’re writing a novel for Camp NaNoWriMo, there’s a lot to keep track of. (There’s a lot to keep track of anytime you’re writing a novel, but it’s harder to keep track of the faster you’re working.) You have characters (sometimes a lot of them), sometimes an outline, sometimes a whole new world, and any one of those things can be difficult to entirely keep track of consistently. So how do you organize it? I use this thing:
This is my story binder (if you click that link you’ll go to a post all about it) and it’s where I keep all the pertinent character and world information for my trilogy. (Yes, the entire trilogy. The thing is stuffed.) Most of what’s in here is character information (since the world isn’t a huge part of the story and the timeline is kept on my computer. More on that later.), and I currently have 20 character profiles in there, only eight of which are completed. I really need 51 (and that number will probably continue to rise as it consistently has…). These things get massive. BUT they’re the best for keeping info all in one place, and since it’s a paper notebook you can open it up and flip to whatever spot you need while you keep your story open and don’t have to worry about shuffling windows and tabs and whatever else on your computer. I have extensive character sheets for each of my characters (you can get the template I use by signing up to my email list; it’s in the resource library), but you could just have full profiles for your primary characters to start out and then as minor characters pop up you could add a simple sheet with their physical attributes and a page of notes, for instance, and then put together their full profile later. I believe in the importance of deeply knowing all of your characters, primary or not, but for the first draft you don’t need to know every detail of every side character’s life. You can figure it out between drafts and work it in in a second draft or whatever.
For word tracking I generally stick to the official NaNo site word count tracker during events (on either the main site or the Camp site, depending on the month), but I also keep track with myWriteClub when I remember, I keep track of daily word count in my bullet journal, and sometimes I put a tracker in my bullet journal. (Lately I’ve also been keeping track of word count in an Excel spreadsheet for the Go Teen Writers 100-for-100 Challenge, but that’s not a normal thing.)
Sorry about the poor quality on some of those. But that’s basically the various ways I keep track.
To keep track of time in my novels (which is very important with this trilogy since there’s so much overlap) I use an Excel worksheet (simply because I can insert rows easily). Here’s what my spreadsheet looks like (spoilers redacted):
Off-screen is color-coded peach (I’ve since made all of the peach match…), important things are marked in red (the blank red spaces are where an event was only specifically important to a couple characters (across the top; characters are color-coded by story) but is important to others as well. Scenes might be color-coded for a story because they included characters from book B but the scene was written in book A or whatever. And then I write over on the right what chapter of each book something happened in. I based the general idea off of the POV tracker from Ink and Quills’ story binder printouts (which are awesome, by the way), and then moved it to Excel so that I could easily insert events in between things that I’d already written down without erasing and copying and shifting a book’s worth of events. And then there are other pages for really brief character profiles if I need to quick-reference them and setting descriptions, as well as a couple others that I use very rarely. (I inserted the Ink and Quills POV tracker into the Go Teen Writers story spreadsheet template, which you can find at their respective sites.)
So yeah, that’s how I keep organized. Hopefully at least something in there was helpful (or at least interesting).