I write backwards. That is to say, I don't work off an outline. Sometimes, a scene hits me so strongly - usually while I'm driving and can't write it down, ugh - that I have to open a new Doc and write it out so I can plug it in later. But for the most part, I start at the start and work through to the end, working off a mental outline. It's only after I'm done that I make a written outline, during editing, to ensure all the plot points connect. I like the organic process.
But NaNoWriMo is coming up, and that means 50k words in one month. It's a hard run to the finish line, that doesn't allow for dithering or second-guessing. So you've got to get organized ahead of time. So what's a non-outliner to do?
World-building isn't just for fantasy writers. The landscapes of your book - states, cities, countries, neighborhoods, houses, bookshops - go a long way toward making the story and its characters feel like real people. And world-building takes time and research. Before NaNo begins, ask yourself where your characters live and work, and what those places look like. Study photos, and small cultural nuances. Get on Google Earth, zoom down onto the streets. If you're making up a town, write out a list that contains as many details as you can provide. I've got maps, first-hand accounts, old photos, and history texts to help me with mine.
Get to know your characters well beforehand. Whether this is through listing their traits, or writing short drabbles about them, it's important to know the characters inside and out so you'll know how they're going to move the plot along, and how they need to grow and adapt throughout.
This is the biggie. It's important to leave room for organic story flow, but in order to hit that word count goal, you'll need to sketch an outline for your book. My project is a story I'm going to break into segments and insert within the larger body of the whole book. So I'm coming up with an overall outline, and then deciding where I need scene breaks; good places for the story to pause. I'm starting with the overall arc, and then refining it so that it fits the ready-made gap that it needs to fill.
Create a writing schedule that you'll be able to stick to for the month, give or take. Be sure to include breaks for meals and snacks, time for exercise, and the all-important down time. I write best when I'm reading engaging books, so have reading material at the ready. Get your story playlists in order on your iPod and have them at the ready. Plan to get plenty of sleep and keep yourself away from social media as much as possible - it's a productivity killer!
Most of all, remember that, at the end of the day, this is just a silly thing writers do to help with word count, and if you don't reach your goal by the end of the month, no sweat. Good luck, writers!