So, I compiled a checklist of the ideal and bare minimum tools necessary to be ready come November 1st--and I will be posting examples from my own notes as I build them, any useful resources I find online to related to these tools, and a Excel spreadsheet template I will use to keep track of my words written during nano. It also doesn't hurt, if you have the time, to do these same steps for your backup novel, the novel you will use in case, after week one, your original idea isn't working out.
But first of all, let's look at the documents that will help you win nano. They are:
- Premise or concept summary.
- Novel synopsis or outline.
- Character profiles.
- World building factsheet.
- Word count tracker.
For staying on track however, a synopsis or outline is an even better tool. It will give you an idea of where, amongst other things, your story is weak or overcrowded on plot. After both documents are written compare the two documents and ask yourself if one deviates too much from the other. If that happens, decide which, premise or outline, you want to revise to match your vision for your novel. Don't have time to write one? Then write just enough scene summaries that your first week is occupied; that coupled with your premise should keep you on track until you have time to develop one during the first weekend. If all that is still a turnoff, then try this trick: after you are done writing for the day, summarize the day's work in a brief line or two. This retroactive outline will let you know where you were and as such give you ideas on where to head in the future--and it will come in handy when you revise your entire novel in the future.
The character and worldbuilding profiles are cheat sheets and while they can be as detailed as you want. For the character profile, include your characters names, most prominent characteristics, relationships to each other, history, goals/motivation, and opposition. This sheet is especially helpful if you do not have an outline, for you can build a novel based on simply pitting characters and their goals against the people, things, and circumstances opposing them.
Just as important is your worldbuilding fact sheets, especially if you made up a world or using one you are not familiar with. This is where your research notes go; this is where your own ideas on what your world is about goes. Start out with the basics of time period and physical setting, then look back at your premise, character sheet, and outline and see what facts you will need to make sense of your characters and plot; for example, if by your outline you, your know your character is going to cast a spell, include a section on your magic system. Will he or she travel? Transporation notes. The trick is to make your notes concise and categorized, for you want to spend as little time looking up facts as possible while writing. Finally, on both of these sheets, leave copious blank spaces for notes. For as you write, you will discover more about your world and characters that you will need for later reference.
Last but not least, the word count tracker. Something that both pantsers and outliners need: something to keep track of how many words you need to write and how many you already wrote. This can be a handwritten document or, my preference, a computer program. I prefer spreadsheets. You can make this as simple or complicated as you want, but the essentials are total word count goal (whether it is 50,000 or more), a daily or weekly word count goal, how many words written, and a count down to how many words are left. Not only will seeing the words build up give you a boost of confidence and motivation, it will give you plan to win Nano or complete your draft.
So there you go, a compilation of helpful tools to keep you focused on one and only one thing during your scheduled nano time: writing.