Full Disclosure: As a nonfiction writer, I honor the spirit of NaNoWriMo by writing at least 50,000 words. I don’t write an end-to-end novel.
In any genre, 50,000 words is a lot of time and energy — something no one has to spare and I feel obligated to finish the month with promising drafts or finished pieces and an outline is one of the best ways to accomplish this. NaNoWriMo allows writers to outline before they write.
Mine is a spreadsheet. The columns are topic numbers, topic description, desired number of words. The descriptions are short phrases like, “Blue and white checkered shirt essay.” I estimate about 250 words per page, keep a grand word count total at the bottom of the word count column, then fill in the spreadsheet until the word count is just over 50,000 words.
What does this get me?
I have done the math. If I write to those topics and page counts, I can write 50,000 words in November. In my mind, finishing then becomes a matter of acting on this plan. I now know that it’s possible, I indeed have 50,000 words worth of ideas in my head.
I never finish according to this plan.
In practice, I’ll write some of these essays and then another idea will bubble to the page and I’ll get sidetracked or be reminded of another essay that I wanted to write. Things happen when I write. But I can still get to my word count destination.
An outline saves me time. When I sit down to write, I don’t have to wonder what I’m doing that day, clear my throat on the page, walk around in circles like a dog several times before settling in. I simply write on a topic on my list. Even if after the first sentence I hop to another project, I go with it.
Getting to the page will be hard enough, so I like to give myself a running start.