I started doing NaNoWriMo in 2002, and continued on steadily until about 2007, “winning” each year and setting new challenges. Over the next couple of years following, I tried it and stalled out, and then eventually decided that NaNoWriMo wasn’t a good practice for me anymore and I haven’t even attempted for the last three years.
Being a chronic overachiever, I wanted to do more than just 50,000 words; I wanted to write a whole novel–usually in the 80-100k range for me. In my second winning year I achieved 50,000 words in about 10 days, and finished the novel at 100k words in 22 days. It was a rush, and a lot of fun and I’m glad I did it, because it taught me what I could do when I put my mind to it. (Even if I never touched it again.)
During Novembers, I always went in with a plan–some kind of outline. Unlike Mike, I didn’t start thinking too hard about it several months ahead (I was working on other novels the rest of the year). I like to write while the fire is hot–if I’m feeling passionate enough about a story that I can write 50k in a month, then if I start planning it in May, it’s going to be written long before November rolls around. I’m fickle and when I’m invested in a story, I turn out the first draft quickly. Any story I started planning now, well, honestly, I would probably be bored of by the time November rolled around, and I’d start on a new idea instead.
That said, the years I faltered, I didn’t have much of a plan, and I’m certain that’s one of the reasons I didn’t complete. (Another reason was burn-out, and that’s what fed into lack of planning.)
So, I agree with Mike in that a plan is going to make your trip through November easier. I usually started digging into my planning and research in September or October, and inevitably during November, I would make changes to my outline as I ran into issues or had new ideas. But I had something going in, and that’s important. My outlines ran anywhere from 2 pages to 20 pages, and some stories worked well that way and others didn’t.
As we get nearer, I’ll talk about varying story-survival techniques that have (and haven’t) worked for me, and maybe you’ll find something that sparks an idea for you.
So the question, of course, is do I plan on doing NaNoWrimo this year? Truthfully, I haven’t decided. I don’t have any burning stories that scream “write me in November” at the moment. If I do between now and then, I may dive in. If I don’t then I’ll cheer on Mike and the rest of you from the sidelines.