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5 ways for Mac users to get ready for NaNoWriMo

You've heard me talk about National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, before. It's the annual event aimed at getting potential bestsellers out of the minds of would-be writers and onto paper -- virtual or real. The idea is that most people have a couple of good novels hidden inside them, and that they just need a push to get those words written. NaNoWriMo involves starting to write on November 1st, and having at least 50,000 words written by the end of the month.

Seeing that NaNoWriMo begins in about two weeks, I thought it would be a good idea to do some recruitment and provide some ideas on how you can get ready for this event. From what I've seen over my 25 years as a Mac user, those of us who "think differently" are more apt to be creative and participate in something like NaNoWriMo.
1) Sign up! If you haven't already signed up for NaNoWriMo, what are you waiting for? It doesn't cost anything, and it's necessary for you to be able to publicly track your word count and receive hints and tips along the way. Every year, the brains behind NaNoWriMo get a few guest writers (published and usually famous) who send out emails during the event, providing ideas and encouragement to the writers.

To sign up, just go to http://nanowrimo.org and click the Sign Up Now! badge at the top of the page (see scrennshot below). Just enter a user name, an email address, and a password, then agree to the terms and conditions, and you're ready to roll.
2) Choose your weapon. No, I'm not suggesting that you need to choose between a saber or shotgun for a plot point in your novel, but that you need to figure out which Mac application you'll be using for your writing. I've looked at a lot of writing tools over the past few months, so now you know my ulterior motive -- to get you writing in NaNoWriMo! What you use is up to you, but there's just one important thing to remember -- your tool will need to be able to give you a word count.

Last year I used Microsoft Word. It was perfectly adequate to the task, and I may just decide to use it again. You could use any tool that automatically counts how many words are in your document. You're going to need to write an average of 1,667 words per day to meet your objective of writing 50,000 words by the end of the month.

If you're undecided on what to use to write your tome, take a look at our earlier posts on Storyist, TextExpander, WriteRoom, myTexts, Ulysses, and Scrivener. Now is a good time to make the decision, as you'll want to be familiar with the tool before you sit down for your first writing session on the night of November 1st.

A couple of other thoughts about the tools you use. First, whatever you do, be sure to make a backup. The last thing you want to do is to get to 49,000 words and then lose your novel! I'm using Time Machine backups to a Drobo, putting a copy into Dropbox, and another copy into my iDisk. This is done each and every night when I'm done writing. Second, think about other features you may want in your tool. Storyist and Scrivener both include virtual corkboards on which you can pin photos of characters or locations, keep notes on specific issues, etc... I'm leaning a bit more towards the minimalist tools that just let me write, as I have a good idea of the organization of my story and the details of the characters. Your mileage may vary.

3) Organize your time. Here's where you will most likely fail in your attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Writers often underestimate how long it is going to take to write those 1,667 words every day. I recommend that would-be novelists use iCal, Things, OmniFocus, or other tools to block out time to simply sit down and write. I found that if I set up a time every night to grab my MacBook Air and sit in a quiet location, then I'd do the work. If you realize that you have a few days during which it will be impossible to write, you can plan on adding a few extra hundred words every night for the week ahead so you'll still be ahead of the curve by the end of the month.

4) Outline your plot. Once again, you can choose from a huge toolbox of outlining tools. Since I'm going to probably use Word again, it's logical to use its outlining tools to develop the major plot twists for my story. If you're the type that wants to have control over every aspect of the story, you can always use OmniOutliner or a similar dedicated outlining tool to create a very granular plot plan. Remember, you don't have to do detailed outlining. Last year, when I did my first NaNoWriMo, I had no outline at all -- I just built the story line as I went along. This year I want some more structure so I'm putting together an outline of the key points and the characters involved in each.

5) Get social and start writing. Part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is not only letting the world know how your book is coming along, but also getting to know other writers in your area and suffering through the process together! If you're not already on Twitter, join. If you are, let people know how you're doing by tweeting your total word count every day. Encourage other writers, or if you need encouragement, ask for it. You'd be amazed at how many folks will drop everything to help you over a particularly sticky point in a story.

Whatever you do, don't get discouraged. Get on the email lists for your local NaNoWriMo group, but be sure not to spend too much time keeping in touch with other writers; after all, you do have a book to write. When November 30th rolls around and you've written well over 50,000 words, you're going to feel like you've really accomplished something. Even if you never sell your book, you have done something not many people can say they've done -- you've written a book.

Let us know if you're going to be writing for NaNoWriMo, and we'll keep an eye open for tweets from you.

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