Preparing for NaNoWriMo & Feeding the Muse to Go the Distance

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yosi Lazarof

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yosi Lazarof

All right, new flash. Writers are different *head twitches*. This might not be news to any of you, but I imagine some of you are in denial. I know I was for ages. As I mentioned in Friday’s post, there are a lot of activities we must do to write great stories that, to the outside world, look a lot like goofing off. We aren’t goofing off (though without discipline it can become that).

We must fill our creative well before we write, or we have nothing to draw from.

Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping.

Regular folks who clock in and clock out of jobs in cubicles are grazers. They do the same routine day after day. *munch, munch, munch*. I feel this is often why creative people feel so stifled in these environments. We’re tigers stuffed in a non-tiger role.

TIGER BLOOD! *giggles*

Strong writers are apex predators who lurk, plan and power-up until go-time.

I spent two and a half years researching for my latest book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. I read a lot of books on neuroscience, sociology, communication, the history of communication, leadership, sales, etc. This doesn’t look (to many others) like working. Yet, it was. I was filling my mental reservoir. When my hands met the keyboard, I wrote almost 90,000 words in six weeks.

Same in fiction. I knew I wanted my book to involve Mexican drug cartels. What did I do? I watched A LOT of documentaries, read books, articles, blogs, collected images, and played video games.

Yes, video games. More on that in tomorrow’s post.

Take Time to Fill Up

Too many writers fail to finish NaNo because they haven’t fueled up properly. If one studies any endurance athlete, what do they do before an Iron Man or the Tour de France? They EAT. A LOT. Endurance athletes know they need the extra weight because it isn’t uncommon for participants to lose as much as twenty pounds by race end.

Yet, how many of us go into writing a book with a malnourished, anorexic muse?

Feed the Subconscious

Part of why I love NaNo and Fast Draft is it does a number of things. First, it tires out the analytical side of the brain that wants to edit and make everything “perfect.” DON’T EDIT. If you’ve taken time to feed the muse, your “Boys in the Basement” could be doing some seriously cool mojo, and if you edit that out? You can benevolently tank your story.

Often a lot of the subplots or cool twists and turns come from all the stuff we fed the muse ahead of time. For instance, there is a scene in my book where they find an old drug house and of course teenagers and addicts have been in there and there’s a ton of graffiti. There are the usual pentagrams, devil-worshipping symbols, goat heads, gang signs, profanity, etc. but my fingers typed (seemingly of their own accord) that there was also a veve of Papa Legba.

Veve of Papa Legba courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Veve of Papa Legba courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Huh? Voo-doo in southwest Texas? Where did THAT come from?

Probably a documentary. I began to backspace over it, but then let it ride. My character (who is a tad on the geek side) notices the veve, recognizes it, and finds it odd and “out of place.” This is all that is mentioned of the veve in this book…because my subconscious already had the plot for Book Two and it will apparently involve Voo-doo and Santeria.

My subconscious must have pulled up the multiple news stories of bodies with hearts removed (or headless) who were presumed to have been killed in ritualistic fashion by cartel leaders for otherworldly protection over their operations. My muse was placing the perfect bread crumb in the story to lead to the next one.

But what if I hadn’t “wasted” all that time reading and watching documentaries? What would my muse have been able to draw from? A bag of stale Goldfish or a buffet?

Another reason I love NaNo is that once we tire out the analytical side of the brain, we can fall into a sort of trance, much like a runner’s high. This is where the muse hits overdrive, and, since we are SO immersed in the story, we become part of that world.

This means we’re less likely to lose ideas or make major mistakes because we’re hyper-familiar with the terrain. If we start writing, then put a book away for a month and try to pick it back up, we need to do a lot of refreshing and the story can become jaunty and incongruent.

I recommend an earlier post Write FAST and Furious! Learning to Outrun “Spock Brain.”

My recommendation before writing ANY book is total immersion. I read a lot of submissions and many of them have a bunch of fluff and filler and that could have been avoided if the writer had more research to draw from. It’s easier to use setting powerfully if we’ve researched the terrain ahead of time. What do people in certain roles or regions talk like? The more facts, images, and stories (even news stories) we have in our head? The richer the work and the easier to give our writing texture.

Tomorrow, we will discuss some ways to fill the muse. And yes, a lot of it might look like goofing off, but runners preparing for a mega-marathon do a lot of what looks like eating a ginormous bowl of pasta or downing special protein drinks. Not especially glamourous, but essential for success.

Another HUGE help for NaNo is a solid core story problem. I strongly recommend my antagonist class TOMORROW. Use WANA15 for 15% off.  Also, Jami Gold has an AWESOME Plotting for Pantsers TONIGHT. Use the promo code gopants for $10 off!


What are your thoughts? What are some things you do to prepare to write a novel? Do you find yourself stuck partway through and have to go do more research because you know you didn’t prep well enough ahead of time?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for all your author branding and social media needs, please check out my new best-selling book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.


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  1. Thanks for a great post.

    I so agree with total immersion idea! I find that if I’m not writing that way, my stories, ideas, etc. are completely pieced together. They don’t play nicely.

  2. Thanks for this post today. I realized that I was so dry in my writing, I desperately needed time off, so if I tackle NaNo soon, or when I (re)tackle my next story, that I’m replenished. So I downloaded all sorts of stories to my Kobo e-reader (hint) to read on the treadmill while I walked. I’m so happy I’m doing it.

    • Chris on October 15, 2013 at 9:46 am
    • Reply

    Ha, I recognize that Papa Legba Veve. I’ll take that as a sign, and as you’re the second advocate for NaNoWriMo this morning, perhaps it’s time to move on from editor submission hell and give it a go. Thank You.

  3. Am tossing up whether being in the throes of a divorce makes NaNoWriMo more, or less, feasible this year – I’m sure as heck tired enough for my muse to roll unimpeded!

    1. Great place to channel those emotions ;).

  4. My muse is hungry for sunshine, fresh air and young adult fantasy (the stuff of my WIP). I’ve been feeding her one to three fiction books per week and also trying to digest Orson Scott Card’s “How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy” before November 1. I plan to have all my major beats plotted (thanks again, Jami Gold) before I start this marathon (although I really like the triathlon reference….thinking it could be a great metaphor for the three phases of creating a book – writing, editing, marketing).
    See? My muse is devouring everything in sight!

    1. Whaddaya know – I’m reading the same book! I love the bit where he discusses how ideas form and connect in his mind – sadly I can’t draw for peanuts, let alone doodle maps while pretending to listen to people 🙂

    • Lanette Kauten on October 15, 2013 at 10:05 am
    • Reply

    Last year I wrote a novel set in Hungary. I did as much research on Hungary and Romani (Gypsies) as I could before taking a trip there. Partway through the first draft, I hit a wall. But that was okay because two weeks later, I went on my trip. While staying at a hostel, and being the only one there, I locked myself out of my room and spent the night in the lobby. I got on the hostel’s computer to send an email to the owner, letting him know this stupid American lost her key. But here’s the cool thing: Hungarian keyboards are different from those in the English-speaking world, and I used the frustration of trying to type on it and applied it to my next scene. After that, no more blocks, and I wrote a good portion of the novel while in that beautiful country because the setting and the people inspired me. Talk about total immersion!

    1. So cool!

    2. So cool you were able to visit!

  5. I personally believe anyone can be a writer under the right conditions (the write conditions as I refer to it) But as these conditions differ for each of us, most of us shall never decoder our inner writer, all this conditioning we do to ourselves is of vital emittance. Which is why I need that apple juice in prefer to perfect my craft, my mine must be in the most creative state practical.


    • Jason Gallagher on October 15, 2013 at 10:46 am
    • Reply

    Is NaNoWriMo useless if you have little to no preparation, research, or prior immersion? Would the month of November be better spent on immersion? How do you know when you’ve exhausted the immersion stage and are ready to write?

    1. You have two weeks to immerse. You never know when it is enough and we can get sidetracked over-researching. But going into NaNo with no building supplies is a faulty plan.

  6. Ain’t that the truth! I’ve been in immersion for a werewolf story I want to write, where people hunt werewolves with specially-trained eagles (based on that sport in Mongolia). I’ve also turned up some really interesting stuff about Slavic demon-and-sorcerer-fighting werewolves, and that’s itching to go in a story somewhere. Not sure I can do Nano this year (I’ve won three and lost two), also my current WIP is rolling along nicely and I don’t really need Nano.

    • Melissa Lewicki on October 15, 2013 at 11:03 am
    • Reply

    Thank you for this post. Now I know not to feel guilty for spending most of yesterday reading about the Kickapoo in Texas. I want their casino to be part of my NaNo book.

  7. Excellent point about feeding the muse. In my WIP, a spirit guide comes to this world in the form of a kitten. I’m not sure where that came from, but I was able to explain it creatively. My beta readers tell me that the cat is their favorite character!

  8. Great post & so very true.

  9. Great post and reinforcement for me while I’m kind of struggling with my Nano story idea. A light turned on for me this summer at Midwest Writers Conference when a presenter spoke about using setting to establish plot and characters. I actually did this without realizing the first time around, but it really helps to be conscious of it. Entire subplots can evolve from knowing a town or geographic area, even if the story is fantasy, the location can be based on real places, or a mix of places with a made up name.

    I think the research part is really helpful in crafting characters so there is heritage to pull from. My Nano story will be contemporary but I’m reading the history of the region (good ole Wikipedia is a great place to start) and it’s already shown me conflict from their early settlers which I think could still be evident in today’s setting.

  10. Thanks for this post. I always feed my muse before starting a novel by spending at least a month researching, including some hands-on experiences, if possible; people-watching to cast my net for possible characters; and being nice to myself (sleeping in, taking days off, etc.) Writing a novel can be such a long, hard slog – it helps to be rested and rejuvenated before you begin.

    • Roberta Ann Busard on October 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen,

    Wondering if you work one on one with a novel needing restructuring and, if so, costs, etc. Also, are the upper levels of your class one on one or small groups? Sounds like such a great way to get help! Thanks!


    1. Those are the upper levels of my antagonist class. You get the class and notes so you know what we are doing and the upper levels I work one-on-one with you and your idea to shape it into a plot.

  11. i am starting my fifth NaNoWriMo challenge. I won all four of my previous the NaNoWriMo challenges. Usually I begin in August thinking about my upcoming novel. Most of the time by the time that NaNoWriMo begins on November 1st, I have major character sketches finished, initial historical research, and an outline that I will try to follow during the next thirty days. I usually finish well before the final day of the month.

    This year my approach is a little different. I have been reading techniques on how to better write my novels as well as writing articles about what I have read. This year I am also going to be working on a historical whodunit. I have some ideas on what I need to write, but I’m not as prepared as I usually am with the content of the book. I do have a title though: In the Shadow of the Millpond.

  12. This is the first year I’ve decided to fully commit to NaNoWriMo, and with my little 19 mo now in tow, I knew I’d need extra motivation. So to gain some of that motivation, I stated my own NaNoWriMo Pregame challenge! LOL. The winner gets a free manuscript evaluation by me, but I get the real prize–lots and lots of writing buddies to keep me accountable.

    I already have my whole plot in my head. Today I’m picking out the outfits for my characters, so as I’m writing I don’t have to think what clothes fit the characters. I know… I’m incessantly ridiculous about details, but from what I just read in your post, I think you probably get it.

    I want to be so ready to write this book, I feel like a rubber band stretched back ready to just explode forward. I might even buy a “Warning: Bio Hazard” sign for my door, so no one thinks about stopping by for a “short visit.” LOL. Maybe that’s too much?

  13. Great post to fire up for the big trek. First time for me this year too but my muse is ready to be persuaded in a new direction from my existing WF romance-thrillers. As a panster down to my boots I shall immerse determinedly and hope the discipline catalyses new captive energy. It’s sort of getting to be a ghostly Halloween type of period so you can see the direction I may be going in. But hey I’m aiming to write for 25 days – that’s only 4 sides of A4 a day – doesn’t seem quite so bad ….

  14. Last time I did Nano, my first child was a month old and I took on the challenge to prove to myself my writing career wouldn’t end with motherhood; I got perilously close to finishing, but my hand gave out (was doing the novel longhand in a giant spiral notebook) and switching over to the computer stopped my momentum dead. But I knew what was going to happen, at least, and proved to myself — more importantly! — it was feasible to combine young kids with writing.

    I’m now considering Nano again as I’m having our second baby and, I guess, feeling the need to prove myself again… but considering my due date is smack in the middle of November this time, I’m not so sure the timing is right for a personal quest…

    I do agree with immersion before writing, though, and this is coming from a devoted non-researching pantser. I’m wrapping up a novella with historical basis, so I was forced to do a little preliminary research before sitting down and hammering the thing out — and I got caught up in the research. I spent 3 weeks eating, sleeping and breathing Imperial Russia, the Romanovs, and lurking on a paranormal forum gathering all the material I needed before I wrote down a single solitary word.

    Now, I’ve officially spent too long editing the thing, but the first draft came hard and fast and my edits, while dragging on, have not diminished my enthusiasm for the story. And I’m usually the type to throw out first drafts because I’m so sick of it already that the idea of reading it, much less editing it, makes me want to lie down.

    So I’m seconding Kristen: Immerse! Immerse!

  15. I’m reading and planning and immersing to get ready for NaNoWriMo, and I’m looking forward to it this time.

    I highly recommend taking Kristen’s antagonist class if you feel that something’s missing because your “bad guy” is a wimp or barely there.

    • melorajohnson on October 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm
    • Reply

    Well, I was born in the year of the tiger. I’ve always found that when I immerse in some information, I eventually reach an escape velocity where my brain starts synthesizing everything I’ve been reading and watching into something else. Thanks for the reminder. I haven’t been researching lately and I definitely want to be ready come November 1st.

    • emrosebee on October 15, 2013 at 8:03 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen,

    I’ve been lamenting that work will prevent me from taking your antagonist class, but since it’s an online class I decided it might be worth it to ask; is there a way I might be able to register and then receive the transcript of the class and any handouts, etc?

    Thank you! I have really benefitted from your blog posts since I started following you a few weeks ago.


  16. Thanks for this post.

  17. Okay, yet another blog written for me! I think you’re reading my mind and filing in the missing bits I can’t figure out! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been struggling with a sequel and what I really need to do is not think about plot and character, but do RESEARCH! YAY!

    I love you for this! I’m gearing up for my first NaNoWriMo and trying to make the goal (which should equate to half a novel) and I’ve been so freaked because my outline has gaping holes. You handed me a gift with this blog.

    Sorry to be so gooshy it’s been a long week (yes I know it’s only Tuesday 🙂

    • Matthew Randall on October 15, 2013 at 11:57 pm
    • Reply

    Great post. As I read it the song line ‘keep the nightlight on inside the birdhouse in your soul’ came back to me. For this purpose, the muse lives in the birdhouse and the apparent ‘goofing off’ you describe keeps the light on for it to work by.

    I think the need to refuel and reload the muserator is an often overlooked skill required in getting to be prolific. From my own perspective it’s been a major factor in why I could get one book done but then stalled – I had enough creative juice to draw on over life-to-date but then the well is dried up by that first effort.

    Its difficult to change direction when you live a mainstream (e.g. corporate cubicle dweller) life but being a tiger sounds more inviting than being a grazer, so I’d better get on with some re-feeding …

  18. I spent 2,5 hours today wandering around in my city taking random pictures. I feel refreshed and not like I was procrastinating. I’ve hit a point with my outline where I needed to get out and get new perspectives.

    But my story is fantasy. I feel like it’s hard to do research for.
    Though in the library my mind suddenly attached itself to Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose, and I just took it down from my shelf back home. (My father bought it for me, hoping I’d read it.) Suddenly I actually WANT to read it. That must be a sign.

  19. BTW, doing a mood board for a book can be a great idea. My sister is studying to become a designer/tailor and they make mood boards for a collection, meaning they gather adjectives, pictures, music etc. that inspire the theme they want to create.

    1. WOW! I love that idea. Thanks for sharing. I would think that would be awesome for short story writing, too!

      1. Probably, yes 😀 I’m doing a gathering of “elvish” music right now, trying to pick stuff out to listen to before I write. (I can’t write while listening to music, I get distracted) X)

        1. Cool, me too. Not listening to Elvish music, but cannot write and listen to music. I end up typing lyrics bits. LOL.

          1. I end up dancing XD

  20. Reblogged this on Rantings of a Closet Vamp Princess and commented:
    Getting excited. Need to grab an idea and start researching!

  21. Loved the post, I have been day dreaming more about what I want to write for this years nanowrite. images come to my mind as incomplete scenes, but I know once I write them they will be fleshed out. Some of my ideas also come about from listening to radio talk shows. Last year I did not complete the challenge, but I still ended up with a manuscript from what I had written.This year I will manage to finish.

  1. […] « Preparing for NaNoWriMo & Feeding the Muse to Go the Distance […]

  2. […] Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yosi Lazarof All right, new flash. Writers are different *head twitches*. This might not be news to any of you, but I imagine some of you are in denial. I know I was for ages.  […]

  3. […] Kristen Lamb with Preparing for NaNoWriMo & Feeding the Muse to Go the Distance […]

  4. […] Preparing for NaNoWriMo & Feeding the Muse to Go the Distance […]

  5. […] Preparing for NaNoWriMo & Feeding the Muse to Go the Distance | Kristen Lamb’s Blog […]

  6. […] Preparing For NaNoWriMo & Feeding The Muse To Go The Distance […]

  7. […] “We must fill our creative well before we write, or we have nothing to draw from….Too many writers fail to finish NaNo because they haven’t fueled up properly….Often a lot of the subplots or cool twists and turns come from all the stuff we fed the muse ahead of time….My recommendation before writing ANY book is total immersion…fluff and filler [can be] avoided if the writer [has] more research to draw from…The more facts, images, and stories (even news stories) we have in our head, the richer the work and the easier to give our writing texture.” ~ Kristen Lamb […]

  8. […] Training Lean, Mean, Writing Machines.’ Another useful post she wrote is ‘Preparing for NaNoWriMo: feeing the muse to go the distance,’ where Kristen talks about the Marathon process. Around the 10 day mark, when you start to […]

  9. […] Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping. ~ Kristen Lamb […]

  10. […] Lamb has a post prepping us for NaNoWriMo and two things hit me in different ways: too many writers fail to finish NaNo because they […]

  11. […] Kristen Lamb talks about how to be successful at NaNo ( […]

  12. […] Lamb has a post prepping us for NaNoWriMo and two things hit me in different ways: too many writers fail to finish NaNo because they […]

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