NaNoWriMo Is Coming

NaNoWrimo 2017 starts on November 1. If you’re new to NaNo or National Novel Writing Month, the goal is to write a novel (50,000 words) starting November 1 and finishing by 11:59 PM November 30. Completing 50,000 words makes you a winner. 50,000 words is quite an accomplishment.

It’s perfectly legitimate to start planning your writing now. There are a number of possible planning tools and techniques, whether you’re an outliner or a pantser. AW member Amy Bai has some excellent suggestions about pre-planning and plotting.

Today I want to focus on three tools for planning. Pen and paper, Scrivener, and Evernote. They’re all three viable options, and they work well together.Pen and Paper

While it’s not kosher to start drafting your novel, you can certainly start making lists of scenes, notes about plot, setting, and characters, or ideas you want to work into the work thematically. Pen and paper can work really well for this because they’re portable. You can take one with you to jot down ideas where ever you are.

Some writers not only use notebooks to store their written ideas, they include images they’ve clipped from magazines or tourist brochures, maps, and other visual inspirations. You can use your everyday composition book, a slightly upscale version (for those fountain pen users) or you can use a scrapbook notebook, or the classic Moleskine notebook. Once NaNo begins, a notebook makes it easy to take notes about where you’re heading plot-wise even when you’re away from your keyboard. There are many writers who write their entire novel by hand; a second notebook for, well, notes, can be useful for them as well. One writer I know likes to use a multiple-color pen, color coding ideas for different characters or themes, or to annotate previous notes as a character develops.

Another advantage pen (or pencil) and paper offers is that you can have your notebook next to you as you keyboard, as a way to quickly jot down ideas without stopping to open a new file.

Evernote

Evernote is an app designed for note taking and research. It’s available for pretty much any Web  browser as an add on, and there are apps for Android, iOS, OS X/macOS and Windows. Evernote is designed to let you open up a note and start typing, or you can “clip” and save Web pages, images or .PDF files to your Evernote notebook. The apps and Web plugins for Evernote all sync, so you can have the same information available pretty much everywhere—even at a library or on your phone or tablet, as well as your computer.

Evernote allows writers to create and share templates, and Evernote.com has offered six free templates with NaNoWriMo in mind (Evernote is a NaNoWriMo supporter).

  • A Story Premise template
  • A Three-Act Story Plotting template
  • A Story Beats template
  • A Snowflake Method Checklist template
  • A Character Profile template
  • A World-Building Basics template

You can even take photos with your phone (including photos of documents you’ve written) and upload them to Evernote.com. A basic Evernote account is free for two devices, which means you can use it on your laptop and on your phone, for instance. You can still logon to Everynote.com via pretty much any Web browser, too.

Evernote has a special offer for those who win NaNoWrimo and write 50K words.

Scrivener

Scrivener from Literature and Latte is really a writer’s toolkit. It’s designed to let you plot, plan, outline, or brainstorm in the same environment in which you write. There’s even a cork board planner with digital index cards. You can store .pdfs, images, text files and web-clippings that you need for research and inspiration right in Scrivener. There are built in word-count and daily tracking tools, and tools to add notes to yourself as you write. A name generator, and lots of other ways to brainstorm, ways to track your research and ideas, and then get everything out of the way so you can just write.

Scrivener comes with a number of pre-built templates (and you can easily create your own). The Novels template includes worksheets to help with character sketches and settings, for instance. And now, with the release of Scrivener for iOS as well a for OS X/macOS and Windows, you can sync Scrivener files between different devices via DropBox.

Scrivener has long been a supporter of NaNoWriMo, and right now, you can download a free and full version of Scrivener that will work until December 7, 2016. And if you complete and win NaNoWriMo by writing 50K works, there’s a special 50% discount (and 20% for everyone else). Here’s the Scrivener offer page on the NaNoWriMo site. And here’s the special Literature and Latte NaNoWriMo Scrivener page with download links for Mac and Windows. This special version of Scrivener includes a template just for NaNoWriMo with pre-built tracking for the 50K goal, and automatic daily session targets based on that goal. Writers who already own Scrivener can download the NaNoWriMo template here.

tcoscrivener2-1-2-cover_502_670_s_c1If you do decide to try Scrivener, you might start looking at it now. There’s a built-in tutorial, lots of excellent videos (at least watch the ten minute Introduction to Scrivener). I can also heartily recommend Kirk McElhearn’s Take Control of Scrivener 2 book. It covers the latest versions of Scrivener 2 for macOS/OS X, Windows and iOS.

The Free Storytime App and Reading to Kids

story_timeThere’s a lot of information available about how important reading aloud to young children is for not only encouraging children’s literacy but cognitive development in general. It’s also just plain fun for parents and kids.

Storytime for Kids began as an initiative from Denny & Lies Velthuizen, two parents in the Netherlands who wanted to encourage parents to read more to their kids. They created an app for smart phones (Android and iOS) that would make it possible for parents to always have a story at hand to read to their children. The Dutch version was a rousing success, and inspired the Velthuizens to create and English version of the app, and an accompanying website.

The English verison of the Storytime app is free.

Download the iOS app: https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/id1100125739

Download the Android app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=storytime.storytimeliteen

You can search or filter stories based on a variety of criteria, including subject (dragons, or princesses, etc.) and time it takes to read it. The Dutch version is available now for iOS and Android.

You can submit your own stories to be included in the app; while you do not receive pay, neither are the Velthuizens, and you are supporting literacy and inculcating the joy of reading. You can also request your stories be removed at any time. For more information, see Storytime for Kids Questions and Answers, and you can find more information on Facebook as well.

NaNoWriMo Pre Planning

So you’re an old hand at National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as November. You’ve already got your route lined up, and you’re all set to write a novel (50,000 words) starting November 1, and finishing by 11:59 PM November 30.

But maybe you’re new to NaNoWriMo. Here are some suggestions. (You might start by checking out Eldon Hugh’s great post on NaNoWriMo & the Power of Positive Peer Pressure).

It’s perfectly legitimate to mull over ideas, maybe do some free writing or brainstorming or outlining or basic plot crafting ahead of time; that’s not cheating. There are lots of ways writers “plan” their story crafting; whatever works is right for that particular writer and story, and it varies from writer to writer (and sometimes, even from story to story). Here are some possible tools and techniques:

Pen and Paper

For hundreds of years, writers have been using notebooks or paper of one sort or another to jot down ideas, snatches of dialog or scenes to flesh out later, to brainstorm or mind map and to free write. One virtue of a notebook (or index cards) is that they’re portable; you can use them anywhere.

Some people like to use notecards or post-it notes instead of a notebook, possibly color coding based on character or plot line, because cards and post-its can easily be moved around to reflect the bit you’re working on, or to consider a different arrangement of scenes.

Mindmapping Software

Some writers use special mind-mapping software. There are lots of software options, free Web-based apps like Coggle and Mindmup, free for personal use Web-based MindMeister, and paid, online Web-based, or apps for every conceivable kind of computer, smart phone or tablet, like MindNode for OX X and iOS, or the Java-based Freemind for Windows/OS X/Linux. Freemind is completely free; here’s how one writer uses Freemind.

Outlining

Outlines, which can be standard “classical” outline with headings and subheadings, or simply a list of plot points, or details plot summaries are helpful as planning tools for many writers. You can use a WordProcessor (checkout Microsoft Word’s Outline View) or any text editor like Note Pad, of course, or a dedicated app just for outlining, but there are inexpensive and free alternatives.

Oak is a free in-browser plain text outliner that’s useful for quick, short outlines (there’s no built-in way to save; it relies on your browser’s cache or copy-and-paste).

Workflowy is an interesting, free for basic personal use (250 items per month), web-based list-making tool that is surprisingly easy to use, and flexible. A fair number of books began in Workflowy. There are apps for Workflowy (iOS, Android and Chromebook) as well as the Web version.

The Outliner for Giants is free for basic accounts (5 outline/1,000 nodes per outline) but a paid account is just $10.00/year and allows backup via DropBox or email. You can login with a Google or Facebook account. You can use The Outliner Of Giants in many browsers and devices/OSs (there’s a Chrome browser extension), and there are a number of templates to get you started. It’s really easy to export your online outline into your word processor or even a Google Doc.

Fargo is a free outliner/list-maker that relies on DropBox to store data.

Note Taking and Research

Many people use a more specialized note-taking tool or digital notebook app. Note taking apps typically handle text, outlines, images, and allow you to organize your notes in lots of different ways. They let you incorporate data from the Web, for instance, if you’re setting your story in a particular location, you might want to stash photos of the area, or a map, in your notes.

Basic note-taking apps include Microsoft’s free multi-platform OneNote (which works well for outlines or free-form notes), or the Notes app included with iOS 9 and Mac OS X El Capitan.

Evernote is perhaps the ultimate research notebook. First, you create am account (basic accounts are free) on their site. Then, you can clip notes from the Web, including pictures, as well as write notes in Evernote. You can use Evernote via your web browser or using an Evernote app for OS X, iOS, Android, or Windows. Many writers use Evernote to store information about locations, for instance, or to write character notes and rough plot summaries, because it’s easy to write a quick note on one device, and have it saved and available everywhere. A basic account is free.

To kickstart NaNo novels, Evernote has created some free Evernote templates to use in novel planning. Templates include a three act story plotting template, a character profile template, a world building basics template, and others.

Calendars and Timelines

A calendar is a useful tool for planning a story, in terms of things like timing, or the sequence of events in a particular timeline. Sometimes it’s useful to track each character’s personal timeline via a dedicated character calendar. You can easily generate a calendar from a spreadsheet, or make a dedicated calendar in Google Calendar or iCal or Outlook, though if you’re writing before the Gregorian calendar became the standard European calendar, or you’re using a setting that requires a Jewish, Chinese, Hindu, or other calendar system, you may need to be a little creative. Consider using a project management tool or spreadsheet instead of a standard calendar if you need to know where various characters are and what their doing a particular time.

There are Google spreadsheet templates and project planning templates, Excel calendar templates (more here) and calendar templates for Apple’s Numbers. These are not terribly difficult to modify for other dates.

Timeline software might be helpful in terms of plot-planning. Tiki-Toki has a free limited account option (1 timeline with 200 events) for creating a timeline on the Web.

MyHistro combines timeline with Google Maps.

Location and Scene Images

Consider using an album in Flicker or Photobucket or Pinterest to store inspirational images or images that help stage a scene or a location. You can store location or building or room images, or maps, or all sorts of images

The Scrivener Toolbox

Scrivener from Literature and Latte for OS X and Windows is a much loved toolbox for writers, and a long-term sponsor of NaNoWriMo (since 2005). It’s an enormously powerful and flexible app, with a bit of a learning curve, but it’s designed so you can use just the parts that you find useful, and ignore the rest. There’s a basic word processor that’s built in and that exports easily and let’s you track word counts for a doc a session or a day. There’s a corkboard for working with and organizing ideas. It allows you to keep all your notes and research and your ms. in one place, and searchable. It supports backup via DropBox. It’s particularly useful for drafting now and organizing and revising later, or for people who write scenes out of order. There’s a generous free trial, one that won’t expire until December 7, 2015, and that is by far the way to start; people either love or hate Scrivener. And there’s a special offer for NaNoWriMo, including a special version of Scrivener and a discount of 20% for NaNoWriMo participants, and 50% for those who finish.

Do take advantage of all the support for Scrivener, including video tutorials.

Prompt Contest Winner!

So remember the writing prompt contest we had in May? We’re ready to announce the winner:

cover of Scott Hawkins The Library At Mount Char
Scott Hawkins. The Library at Mount Char

With a full 50% of all the votes cast, the winner is Colin Sinclair, with the prompt, “Never try to hang a magician.”

Colin, if you’ll just drop me a note via our contact form, with instructions on how to get your copy of The Library at Mount Char to you, we’ll be happy to send it along!