Each year I've done this, I've learned something new. The first year, I strayed completely from my comfort zone, writing a political pot-boiler. I was so excited about it in mid-September as I plotted it out. Also completely against type for me. I rarely plot anything, but I was afraid to just jump into the NaNoWriMo pool and I thought if I had a roadmap, I'd do better. Well, the book never really caught on for me when I started writing it. It was like giving birth to an anvil, and though I reached 50K, I stopped about 50 words beyond that threshold and didn't look back.
Last year, I took the completely opposite approach. I didn't even think about what I was going to write until I sat down in front of my computer in the wee hours of November 1st. The result was one of the trippiest most amazing and exhilarating writing experiences I ever had. The plot formed in my head as I was writing it, and it was a pure stream-of-consciousness experience. I could feel myself uncoupling from all of the "what-ifs" and doubt monkeys that usually harangue me when I write, and I created a colorful tale with lusty abandon. The basic seed for Archer's Velvet, a surreal contemporary fantasy, was planted that month, and although the resulting draft from that fevered write-a-thon is very ugly and requires a full rewrite from top to bottom, it still remains one of the first projects I plan on finishing at the beginning of next year.
So two years and two completely different approaches and two completely different lessons learned. This year, I plan to bridge the two worlds. Take the Goldilocks approach, if you will. I am writing a YA fantasy. I have the basic premise down (coven of witches), the themes I want to touch on (vanity, insecurity, obligation vs following one's heart), the characters (teenage girl and her family of crones), and the basic story all sketched out in my head. I plan on jotting down some key plot elements, but no more than a few (and really only first act stuff), and I plan to start off November 1st with a very light knapsack of ideas in hand. Not too much, not too little. Just right.
I also have a new goal in mind. Previously, I always used NaNo as a springboard to getting a full novel started. Most of the stuff I write requires a lot more than 50,000 words to finish, and I never intended to finish the book in that month. This time, I want to finish the whole first draft in 30 days if I can. I think it's possible. I don't see this story being of any epic length, and YA novels are typically shorter anyway, I think this is more than possible.
I want a finished draft, and I want it to be semi-neat (as neat as any first draft written in 30 days can be anyway), and I plan to get there with a rough trail map. And probably lots and lots of coffee.