NaNoWriMo 2018: The Lengthy Prologue

The time is upon us.

I’ve been preparing for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for several weeks. Last year’s attempt fizzled out for a number of reasons (and for the best — much of what I was satirizing in Doctor Who seems to be rectified with the new series). Here’s what I’m doing differently this time around.

1. A new outline strategy.

Way back in days of yore, I wrote my outlines using bullet points. When I wrote in Scrivener for several years, I relied on its bulletin board UI to organize scenes. But when I stopped using Scrivener, I had to think of something new.

I tried lengthy, present-tense prose synopses for a while. I had gotten used to writing these for submission packets after the fact, so why not write it up beforehand to see how an agent would read it? I figured if the narrative were condensed in a story-like format, I could better see the forest for the trees. But picking out individual trees (or chapters, rather) became difficult, and under the time pressure of NaNoWriMo, carving out little chunks of narrative from a super-condensed version becomes harder.

So this year I’m taking a page from Scrivener and using a spreadsheet to prep my chapters. (Scrivener has an alternate UI for the bulletin board that displays all chapters and scenes in a table.) Each row is a chapter, With cells for act number, chapter title, POV character, location, synopsis, etc. I can still see the story unfold, chunk by chunk.

2. Scheduled writing times.

To understate things, I’m busy these days, so I have to block out my writing time. Since I’m doing so much pre-writing, in theory I should be able to allocate enough writing hours to keep up, so long as I don’t slow my pace. This might end up being less “2 hours every weeknight” and more “just before work, during my lunch break, and while I’m eating dinner,” but we’ll see.

3. Old-fashioned Word Docs.

I am so sorry, Scrivener fans, but there’s no going back.

Besides my need to structure my outline just so, Scrivener had so many other hang ups that I had to leave. Its auto-formatting would chew up things like block quotes. I treat scene breaks like punctuation, so its scene-level granularity never made sense to me. Its default font isn’t very legible, and pasting differently formatted chunks from other documents meant having a mish-mash of font families and styles. And so on.

Scrivener only made sense for editing, but you don’t want to attempt that during NaNoWriMo.

I tried composing in markdown, but the conversion tools leave a lot to be desired. Google Docs is almost there, but longer documents would become difficult to manipulate.

This year it’s just LibreOffice: the aforementioned outline spreadsheet, the manuscript file, and other miscellaneous suppport docs (like character profiles) can all be written in it. I do most of my composing on my laptop anyway, so I’ll always have access to it.

I’ve considered using my iPad, but I have yet to try out different office suites available for iOS. The hardware is certainly capable enough (I even have a decent keyboard so I can type at regular speed), but if the software isn’t ready yet, I’d rather stick with my laptop for the time being.


I almost considered skipping this year, or participating in a limited fashion, just because of how close I came to burnout a couple months ago. I even — gasp — took a break from Aikido (perhaps for the best, as I had a great deal of wrist/arm pain towards the end). However, I needed to keep writing. If I could have only one thing in my life that wasn’t an obligation or responsibility, it had to be writing.

Keeping myself healthy and well-adjusted for the next month and a half is paramount. Hitting 50K isn’t as important as getting enough sleep and eating something, anything with fiber.

I’ve had to pull away a bit from social media and YouTube. Twitter, that 24/7 shouting match, turns my intrusive thoughts into all-consuming thought spirals. I was falling asleep to YouTube videos for a while. And I only keep Facebook on my devices for Messenger. A funk can easily derail my progress, and my chances of winning this year are slim enough as it is.

There’s always the chance that my story idea could be half-baked. This year’s idea is more promising, as I’ve written over half the outline already in great detail, and I know the ending and all the story beats. I sometimes can pick up my half-baked NaNoWriMo manuscripts and finish them, but not always, and the ones that are ready to go by November 1 always turn out better.

So that’s the plan. I’ll check in periodically during November. See you soon.

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