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 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 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.
If 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.