1) Know what you're doing: Kind of obvious right? I mean you can't do anything until you know what you're going to write. Is it romance? Fantasy? Sci-fi? Crime fiction? None of the Above? All of the above? Some made-up genre that combines other genres? Figure out what your story is and it'll help you with a lot of the other stuff you'll need to do.
2) Who are you? I mean this in two ways: who are you as a writer and who are your characters. Let's do the characters first, okay? You need to know the goals, challenges, weaknesses and strengths of any major character including good guys and bad guys. Don't worry too much about description right now (unless they're missing an eye which is a weakness) but concentrate more on who your character is and what they want to achieve in the story.
As for you: What kind of writer are you? Are you someone who can write for hours on end (welcome to the club) or are you someone who writes for 15 minutes, breaks for five, writes for 15, etc? Can you pump out 10K or more in a day or are you limited to the bare minimum? Knowing how you write is important during NaNo because along with planning out your novel you've got to be able to plan out how you're going to reach the 50K.
3) So this happens, then this: Start planning out what happens in your novel. This is where the pansters mainly go "ah heck with it" because they usually only have a vague idea in mind, sometimes not even an ending. The planners will start making chapter by chapter play by plays depending how much they plan. THIS IS TOTALLY DEPENDANT ON YOU AS AN AUTHOR AND NO ONE IS RIGHT OR WRONG. Yes it had to be shouted and yes it's dependant on the tip above.
I fall in between: I NEED to know my ending but I don't need to know every detail before I write anything. Most of the time my characters will lead me along and fill me in with subplots. The only time they didn't was in Testing Grounds and I coulda killed 'em.
4) Organize: make sure that along with your story work-book (or Word Doc) you've got somewhere to jot down some notes. You need to remember who's dating who, what your character looks like and all the subplots going on at one time. It's a lot to remember so don't feel bad or whatever if you can't remember it all. Make sure everything is organized in a system that works for you and easily accessible whenever you're writing.
5) The Inner Editor: MOST people will tell you to shut off the Inner Editor. I'm simply going to say this: if you've learned to work with it then don't shut it off. If you can't work with your Inner Editor then shut it off. I mention this because there's still two weeks before NaNo. This is the time you should be using to learn how to write without the editor if you have to and getting their den ready so they don't bug you if you can't work with them. AGAIN: TOTALLY DEPENDANT ON YOU. This is where knowing who you are as a writer helps.
6) Research: anything that you need to research this way you don't have to go to Google in the middle of a writing session to figure out how many police officers are in a certain city so you can make your made-up city seem more realistic. I just did that during the writing session before this blog post. ;)
7) Have a plan: and I don't mean just for your novel. Plan out when you're going to write, where, and for how long. This goes back to number 2 because you can't figure out where, when and for how long if you don't know what kind of writer you are. For me I know I can only write weeknights. On the weekends I'm planning to write all day from 8AM to about mid-night. So I've informed the people who might bug me not to bug me. They'll message me sure, but they won't expect a quick response.
8) Make sure that everything is done: As in if you know you've got a paper due in the beginning of Nov., get it DONE before November. If you know you're moving, pack the things that can be packed away before November. If you've got family coming, pencil them in at a time you don't normally write (that's reasonable). If you've got a trip planned (right here), make sure you've prepared as much as you can before the trip so you're not scrambling the day or two before. Less things to do = less stress = more writing.
9) Go with it: Don't be afraid to change your writing times, your plot or anything else if something comes up. Life happens, characters want to go in a different direction, and we don't have complete control over everything no matter how much we think we do. Just go with it especially if it can't be helped. Try to make the best of it.
10) Have fun: NaNo isn't about killing your hands/wrists/brain and exhausting yourself to get 50K. It's about having fun while writing. So don't think it's the end of the world if you "lose" because really everyone who writes anything when they haven't before (or even if they have) is a winner. If you can't make the 50K then you've got whatever you did get when you didn't have it before.
Unless you're used to writing huge amounts of words in a short time don't try to tackle OVER 50K. It won't end well. BUT if you find yourself over 50K with more story and some days left in the month feel free to keep going. And welcome to the "overachievers" club...which brings me to my next point.
11) Overachievers and you: For the love of all that is NaNo DO NOT be afraid, intimidated, jealous, mean towards, etc, the overachievers. We're all writers working towards a goal. There's no need to call someone who's "won" NaNo in week 1 (or day 1) a cheater. And just because someone has "won" NaNo doesn't mean that they're immune to plot/character/novel problems.
I understand jealously (heck I'm jealous of the people who can get a million in a month but I still like them), I understand the intimidation, and all that other stuff but none of it is an excuse to make someone feel bad about getting over 50K. None of it is an excuse to make your regional overachiever leave the region because of stress. It's happened, I saw it happen to someone I know well(ish) and it's not fair for anyone.
It will make the overachievers reluctant to help you if you need help (I know I am once the bar is full) and that's bad for everyone involved. The overachievers are likely some of the best motivators in NaNo: they know what it takes to get 50K, they know how to get 50K and they're willing to help you get 50K if you're not insulting them or making them feel bad for being over 50K.
On that same token if you are ahead of the game it's no excuse to make fun of someone who might be struggling. You motivate, you help, and you cheer. You don't bring down, tease, and ignore. NaNo is not a competition against other people. It's a competition for yourself. You're "competing" to force yourself to write more, faster. NaNo is not around to bully people who are ahead or behind you.
12) Know the rules: of the forum. Take a brief look over them and make sure you're not posting things in the wrong place or breaking some other rule. If you're not sure go for the best place that you can think of. Ask a moderator: they're nice and they don't bite. Also make sure you know how the site works so you won't be struggling to find something or someone during the month. This is the time to do it so don't be afraid to do it. We were all there once so we're not going to think you're stupid for asking something that's obvious to us.
That's all I can think of right now. I'm always willing and free to chat so if you find me on the NaNo forums don't hesitate to PM me, reply to a post or generally chat. I might take a while to respond and PM'ing is probably the best way to get a hold of me. My name on the forums is Dairenna and this is my avatar:
I'll see you all there and until next time comments, questions, rants and generally anything else can be directed to the comments.