Written by Sarah Yoon

Many NaNoWriMo contestants remind me of doomsday preppers. Maybe you’ve barricaded yourself into your room, stocked up all the snacks and fuzzy socks that you’ll need for the next month. You’re revved up, ready to go, and absolutely terrified that you’re not going to make it through the apocalypse.

By the end of the month, your chocolate supply won’t make any difference on whether you win or slink out halfway. Don’t get me wrong, stopping in the middle is okay—the zombies aren’t going to get you–it’s just an honest way of saying “I’m done with what I can write for now,” rather than blazing into another 30 pages that veer completely away from your original story. However, exploring unexpected terrain can be surprisingly helpful.

To prepare for the long haul, you need two key components: story flexibility and a battle mindset.

Story Flexibility: Keep your Options Open

    • Allow for growth and change. If you dictate every step of the way, your characters will drag their feet. But you can take another approach. Set them free, and they’ll take you places that you’d never imagined. To get characters to this point takes a lot of solid development and background work.
    • Develop emotional stakes. If your characters aren’t as developed as you’d like, you’re not too late. If they are emotionally involved in the story’s conflict and action, they’re more likely to pull the story along with them rather than the other way around.
    • Build backstory. To launch your characters forward into action, look back. Find patterns in their life choices and discover motivating experiences. As you write these scenes, you can count it as part of your story for now. You may have to cut it later, but remember to save it for reference. It will help you in the long run.
  • Battle Mindset: Steel your Psyche.
    • Crush discouragement. When you get behind, don’t dwell on your so-called failure. We all get sick, busy, or just plain tired. Don’t wear yourself out by trying to hoist the ‘lazy man’s load.’ Intersperse a few writing sessions throughout your day so that the word count feels more manageable.
    • Find community. Before you get stuck in your own head, talk with a fellow war buddy to bounce ideas off of. Fellow writers can give you some insight into the story. Sometimes all it takes is to say it out loud, and the words help knock inspiration loose from your cranium.
    • Think ahead. Rather than starting with the negative, “I’m not going to get behind,” be positive. Think to yourself: “I’m going to get ahead.” Sentence by sentence, scene by scene, you can stay on top of things. If you stay only one day ahead, you will feel a greater sense of creative freedom.

Reading advice all day won’t help unless you start working on it. So what are you doing to prepare for the battle?