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Hello ladies, gents, and fellow sentient beings! For those of you who know me, you know that I’m kicking into gear for July’s Camp NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo is always an interesting experience and I’ve decided that I’ll be working on Chasing the Dragon in the next month or so.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to talk a bit about pre-planning your novel; aka, brainstorming.

  1. Great Ideas Take Time

There’s a lot of ‘write a novel in 30 days!!’ webinars going around lately, due to the success of NaNoWriMo, but really, 30 days isn’t the magical number for writing a novel or even having a good idea for one. If something is telling you to wait on your draft, wait. Trust your instincts and keep prodding your brain until you figure it out.

  1. Feed Your Brain

It could be that your brain doesn’t have enough new ideas to come up with anything great or interesting to put in your novel. That’s cool. While you’re waiting for the Great Idea, start doing some research.

I know, research is scary and it’s hard to know what to look for. That doesn’t make it any less necessary.

This article on worldbuilding was a huge help to me when I started researching my new story and is a great starting point for anyone creating their own world or trying to figure out what they need to know when writing a different culture from their own.

Or, if you want to go with a more organic approach to research, investigate the non-fiction shelves of your library, switch on Animal Planet or The History Channel, listen to some different music, or try a new activity.

Look at things. Analyze the things. Let your brain sort out what you need.

  1. Use Your Hands

My mom always used to say, ‘If you can’t use your head, try your hands!’ While your head is busy, don’t forget to keep your writing skills up to par.

This can mean writing down need-to-know information for later in your story or writing career. For example, in my research for Chasing the Dragon, I knew I needed to worldbuild from the ground up and so I spent two days researching climates, terrain and weather. Now, all of that information is saved in my ‘Writer’s Bible’ for any other projects I might need it for.

This can also mean writing stories about the novel you’ll be writing. Using this approach leads you away from the dry facts and further into the creative process. I use my daily writing exercises for this and have found some pretty interesting things about my story through them!

  1. Outline Your Story

This might seem like you’re jumping the gun during the brainstorming process, but it’s pretty handy. Even if you’re a pantser, don’t worry! An outline can be anything from an Excel sheet to a few sentences jotted down in a notebook. The purpose here is to figure out the shape of your story.

As a first-time novel writer, my instincts when it comes to storytelling aren’t necessarily what they need to be yet. I’m still learning and I imagine that you are too.

Writing out an outline while you’re still brainstorming allows you to see what kind of story you want to write, before you write it. It lets you play with ideas and themes and conflicts until one really pops out at you. Remember the storytelling blocks that they used to have at libraries? Where it had different words and objects? Same thing. Take the blocks of your story and run them through an outline until it feels right.

  1. Prepare Your Schedule

Part of writing is finding the time and motivation to write. This is usually overlooked in the brainstorming process, but I feel as though it’s an important thing to consider before you leap into your draft.

Want to write the draft in 30 days? Okay, figure out how to juggle your other responsibilities with that amount of writing. Want to write it in 60? 90? Set a timeframe for yourself and figure out how much time you need to set aside for writing and how many things in your life you can rearrange or let side for that amount of time.

Also, during this part of the process, figure out your rewards. Because you will get discouraged. I generally set my rewards at every 10,000 words (which is roughly a week for me). This could mean going out to eat, buying a new book, or even just setting aside a day for other activities instead of writing. Having rewards will help keep you motivated and pushing onward.

How do you pre-plan? Are there any tips you’ve found especially useful? If you’re a pantser, do you do any pre-planning at all?