National Novel Writing Month officially kicked off yesterday. If you’re anything like many of my followers, you’re raring to take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words over the next 29 days and counting.
NaNoWriMo is a chance to let your creativity shine as you experience the sheer joy and abandon of the writing process. There’s no need to second guess yourself, backtrack, or rethink your decisions. There’s no judgment if you misspell a word or don’t get the plot quite right. You can always revise, and at the end of the month, you have a solid block of raw material to work with as you do so.
However, as anyone who has done NaNoWriMo will tell you, taking on the challenge involves some planning. In fact, one of Inkling’s Instagram followers who regularly does NaNoWriMo wrote that if you don’t make some plan about what you’ll be writing, you’ll waste a lot of time floundering around when you should be getting words down.
To be clear—according to the official rules, planning your project is allowed. The only strict regulation is that you may not type a single word of it until the stroke of midnight on November 1.
But today is November 2, and all bets are off. Even if you weren’t planning on doing NaNoWriMo, you can still jump in.
Here’s the thing—I’m not big into NaNoWriMo. I’m pretty left-brained as writers go, and the whole thing just doesn’t really fit my writing process. But one thing I am great at as a writer is organization. I’ve found some awesome ways to nail down my ideas and keep a record of what’s happening in my projects so that coming back to them and adding to them is easier and more efficient.
So, please indulge me as I share with you some of my recommendations for organizing characters, story ideas, scenes, plots, and more! I hope that as you prepare to do National Novel Writing Month—and even if you aren’t—you’ll learn some helpful techniques.
By the way . . . they’re all free.
Organize Your To-Do List and Plots with Trello
Trello is a free productivity tool that lets you keep track of your to-do lists and projects through boards. Designed to look like a bulletin board, Trello enables you to brainstorm ideas, categorize action items, and more.
The obvious way to use Trello for writing is to create a book to-do list. I’ve set up columns for each stage of the writing process, including research, drafting, revising, and editing.
I’ve used Trello in a few different ways for my fiction writing. The first is to brainstorm story ideas, but I’ve also created character bios, setting up a list for each character with their attributes and important moments in their stories on the cards that you can make in each list.
Another way I’ve used this tool is to plot out books. Here’s a screenshot of a board I set up for a version of my book, The Goodbye-Love Generation, that never materialized. The book took place over a period of 50 years, so I arranged the events of the book in columns representing each block of time.
Regardless of how you use Trello to set up your to-do list or organize your story, it makes it easy to track where you are in your story, how you define your characters, and what you’ve completed so far.
Workflowy Lets You Make Your Own Wiki
I’m brand new to Workflowy and am still finding my way around, but a writer friend told me last week that the last time she did NaNoWriMo, this free desktop application saved her sanity. It helps you organize large amounts of information in a document, then link different sections of the document together.
Workflowy lets you create documents with bullets that are fractal—every bullet is its own document, and the whole thing is interconnected.
My friend said that she used it to organize all the research she did for a historical novel, but the most efficient way to use Workflowy is by making a Wiki for your book. You can create different pages for your characters, events, and settings.
You can even write an entire book within Workflowy, with each chapter linked to a bullet in the main document. The document is literally endless and can be morphed into any shape to suit your project.
Since outlining is a crucial part of NaNoWriMo success, this app can help you put together a comprehensive, interactive book outline that you can work from as you move throughout the month.
Create a Virtual Notebook for OneNote
I know many writers who keep Book Bibles for their fiction projects—comprehensive notebooks with all the details about the story’s characters, world, plot, timeline, etc. OneNote lets you take this same concept and make it digital, with all the elements of your book right at your fingertips.
Each notebook you create in OneNote lets you build different sections that you can set up for different parts of the book project. Like Workflowy, it allows you to create an interconnected document, but without the fractal Wiki-based aspects.
If you’re looking for a way to keep notes on your characters and make an outline of your chapters in a manner that replicates the experience of using a notebook, you’ll enjoy the layout of OneNote.
Any of these tools will help you be more organized this National Novel Writing Month, stay on top of your word count, and build a terrific story in the process.
Bonus Tool: The Ultimate Writing Project Workbook
In addition to the above application, I recommend my resource from Inkling Creative Strategies, The Ultimate Writing Project Workbook, which continues writing prompts, tips, templates, worksheets, and more for figuring out where your book is headed.
Click here to grab yours for FREE, and best of luck with NaNoWriMo!