Well, instead of wrestling with the iPad this week and getting to the same awful place as last Tuesday, I'm doing it right on the Dashboard. In deference to Jeff Cohen, I will only say that I told that Pleasuring machine to go Pleasure itself any number of times. (Incidentally, for a great--and likely out-of-print--book which needed to self-censor what was clearly more colorful language, check out the Late Dick Schapp's wonderful diary of the '69 baseball season, The Year the Mets Lost Last Place. Beside all the cursing, Schapp also slips into Quebecoise French when discussing Les Expos (RIP), describing a pitcher who learned to throw his curve "a Philadelphie, which means the Hard Way." That's become my family's shorthand for anything hard--my son got a lousy grade on a test and wasn't allowed to go on the computer, he was learning about consequences a Philadelphie. But I digress.)
So we're now in week #2 of NaNoWriMo, and as I look through the Twitterverse and FB reports, I've seen a lot of initial excitement of "OK, I've always WANTED to write a book" turn into "Wow, this is HARD." It certainly is. But I think that part of what I'm seeing, particularly from new authors who've never done this before, is the frustration borne more out of a lack of planning than the lack of the germ of a good idea. That's because so many writers sit down on November first, hear an imaginary shotgun go off, and start writing on page 1, with only a vague idea of plotting, character personality, or voice. That's why NaNoWriMo is fundamentally a sucker bet.
What you really need to have done is spent October planning and storyboarding in order to be ready to write in November. Otherwise, there is a good chance that the whole beginning of your project is going to be world-building or meeting your characters before actually exploring their lives. It's novel-writing a Philadelphie.
I'm not saying that you need to actually outline everything. That works for some people, doesn't for others. But I think that a good deal of thinking--whether it's actually writing up backstories or a basic synopsis or sketchy outline of point A to point Z, or staying up at night going through scenes in your head--needs to go on before you start writing November 1. Yes, I know it's Nov 8. But it's not too late to do some of this work. After all, you still have 22 days to write (21 if you are human and take Thanksgiving off!)
And then...it's not over! That's one of the great things about NaNoWriMo. It's entirely artificial. It was started as kind of a kick-start for writers who need to get rolling on projects they might have thought about writing but never got around to starting. So while it pays to sweat for the month (butt on chair, as Ben said, or words to that effect), once it's over, it shouldn't be the end. Keep going. Finish writing. EDIT. Think of the ways to improve the writing/plot/characters etc. It's unlikely that a full, clean draft can be completed in just 30 frantic days.
Then think very hard about whether it's ready-ready. It's a pity to write the beginnings of a good idea, wrap a messy bow around it, and submit it to agents. Some will work--don't get me wrong--but most feel half-baked.
OK, I'm off my soapbox. I've got another topic, so bear with me. (I know I usually have more of a unifying theme, but I also usually don't have a draft eaten by a device.)
I spent one day last week at the Backspace Writers Conference in NYC, talking to both a lot of talented and well-prepared writers and a wonderful array of agents taking advantage of the local site. I spent part of the morning on the general agent panel, and then had what I suspect was a harrowing couple of hours for the authors, where another agent and I (Jason Allen Ashlock in the morning, Meredith Barnes in the afternoon) workshopped either query letters of the beginnings of manuscripts. We discussed everything from length of query to different standards of length of letter, from the very basics of structure (The Hook, Book, Cook method, per Barbara Poelle among others) to long discussions of what makes a memoir big enough to warrant acceptance (Janet Reid's Act 3).
But one of the best parts was hanging out in the Teacher's Lounge, which was where the agents went to check emails and drink water between sessions. It was a relaxed, fascinating, and incredibly collegial bunch of real book lovers who were all excited, overworked, slightly apprehensive about the future, but fundamentally positive. A terrific, productive conference.