Oh god, is it that time of year again already? I haven’t even strung up the traditional decorations of crumpled-up notepad pages stained with salty tears 😦 I have, however, started to plan my novel.
Yes, I know. Since I started NaNoWriMo in 2012 I’ve never planned. I’ve been a ‘pantser’ all the way. Then I realised everything about this year’s was complicated enough to require actually putting in some effort before I start writing the damn thing. This won’t just require planning- it requires RESEARCH.
It’s not like I haven’t had to do it before. My first effort was a political satire I didn’t finish, where I had to read up on more Coalition policies than my blood pressure could handle. The second novel, as you might have spotted, involved researching both Edinburgh and Peru in the 80s, a horde of mythical beasties and learn a second language for my bilingual main character. Last year’s turned into a historical YA with time travel, and I blame being taken round a local family tomb for that as yet unedited fiasco. What’s this year’s plan, I hear you cry? Och, I thought I’d stick with something simple, so I’m going for a middle-grade Western set in Bolivia between the War of Independence and the War of the Pacific.
So, my first bit of veteran advice is if you’re planning to write about something that’s going to need a great deal of knowledge-cramming, get an expert. That could be the lovely staff at your local library, a chum who’s studying your subject area, whatever. I was very lucky, before I had the chance this year to visit South America, to have my friend Emma help me out. She works in Bolivia, speaks Spanish, Quechua and Gaelic, and generally rocked at making sure I didn’t make any massive cultural howlers. I got a live text message criticism of my manuscript as I was wandering round The Kelpies, gently pointing out that no, my characters wouldn’t have learned Quechua at school and actually, I used a future perfect in that tense bit of Spanish dialogue. Oh, the humanity.
My second pro tip would be to stockpile for the writing apocalypse. When NaNo approaches, basic things like ‘cooking food’ and ‘remembering to go outside’ sort of fall by the wayside. That’s why I strip supermarket shelves bare of Pot Noodles, ready meals, the entire chocolate aisle, and their gallons of terrible premixed mulled wine. In fact, as I’ve had a bit of a bad writing week because of brain reasons, I’m planning to spend the weekend in my third triumphant year making turrón de doña pepa, a dessert so sugary it basically shoves your dentist in a cannon and fires them into space. I’ve also just taken delivery of a crate of Inca Kola, Peru’s answer to Irn Bru and a shade of yellow so radioactive it’s rumoured to be powering Hinkley Point.
Also, make playlists. Music without lyrics, whether it’s classical or my favourite synthwave, is great for prodding the old grey matter into action. Music with lyrics can sometimes do the same, though I know a lot of people get distracted by tuning into the words. I’ve wanged on about why music is so important to my writing before, but it can be so good for sparking ideas. A diet of 80s music interspersed with prog made The Silent Storm happen. Last year’s NaNo, Gulliver’s Foot, was powered by the 70s. Thanks to a friend of mine, the playlist for the as yet unnamed 2015 NaNo is looking like 90s indie/dance. At this rate, next year’s will be soundtracked by Taylor Swift and Olly Murs, which will probably be classed as ‘retro’ by then and make me shrivel up further with age. These grey hairs are getting hard to hide with purple hair dye, y’know. Still, at least I’ve never fallen down stairs at a gig, so who’s the real winner here?
Finally- and this is so important- fellow writers will help you through. Got a writing group? Take your work-in-progress along and share your woes. Not been to a NaNoWriMo write-in? You should, they’re brilliant for ailing word counts. Despairing at your life choices and wanting to give it up altogether? Go down the pub and I bet you’ll find there’s loads of writers in the same boat, from the unpublished to the bestseller. (And if you’re in Edinburgh, the Literary Salon is the best little sanctuary for writerly types ever.) If it’s all getting too much, go for a wander, visit the library, have your long-suffering husband bring supplies of alcohol and chocolate. And if all else fails, always remember the wise words of Tiny Potato.