To a writer friend contemplating NaNoWriMo...
Re NaNo...you start with as little or as much preparation as you would like. Just don't start actually writing until Nov 1st.
From spending time in the forums ( found at http://www.nanowrimo.org/) , it looks like fantasy and sci-fi folk spend the most time prepping (world building, language generation, character bios, storyboards, outlines, etc.) They have it down to an art. They generate avatars, banners and YouTube trailers. (They also tend to be the people who write 100K drafts or two novels at once. They are not well people :)
I've written three 50K/30 day novels. The first one, Corsica, I carried the first hundred pages around in my head for fifteen years. I'd done most of the research in college. (The second part of the plot still needs help, BTW :) Both NaNo novels I winged (Glorie and Without A Leg.) I had characters and an opening premise. With Glorie I did research as I went along. The Internet loves the Civil War. I made my husband sit through Ken Burns' series the first week :) I had just enough detail as I went along to get myself out of trouble. Never got the geography of Virginia worked out to my satisfaction. Wouldn't dare send it out without a CW buff or two reading it. Without a Leg was easier because I'd lived in Nantucket in the 90's when it was set.
Having the start date is extremely powerful. Once I'd made the decision to write, I carried a cheap notebook around with me. New scenes came to me at night, and I'd get up out of bed and make notes, then transcribe them the next day. Two or three scenes for me would make the minimum word count that day. Then I'd despair that I didn't have anything for the next day. I would do research, think, walk, sit in the hot tub. Usually something would show up. I never ground to a halt.
Occasionally, I'd whine to my husband. He'd say, "Go write."
I use the Randy Ingermanson Snowflake for outlining. I find it organic, because the story grows in detail from all points and not just in a linear fashion. If I got really, really stuck, I'd see if I could Snowflake my way out.
And there are days you cheat. You write backstory. It serves you, answers some question you have. It's going to be cut out of a later draft. You use what's happening for you that day. During Glorie, my mom was in the hospital and the prognosis was not good. In response, I started killing off characters. (She recovered, BTW.) During Without A Leg, my brother was visiting and took me sightseeing to Frank Lloyd Wright's compound in Scottsdale. I made my developer in the book a former Taliesin apprentice.
Oh, and frequently, I get a clear picture of the ending of the book mid-month. I'd write it when I'd get it, and spend the last ten days or so filling in the gaps in the middle.
The reason I thought I was able to do this in the first place...in college I took a screenwriting class. Our assignments (based on Syd Field's *Screenplay*) took us through an index card synopsis and some significant scenes. No full draft assigned. One night, writing on my landlady's computer, I decided I'd write the whole thing. So I showed up diligently for three weeks, late every night, and wrote a scene for every card I had. And I discovered that when I did that (showed up) things happened in my screenplay. Characters took over. It was a heady feeling, staring at my landlady's K-pro (it was the eighties) and watching things unfold in green type on black. It was magic. And it only happened because I accepted that I was doing a ridiculous thing. The screenplay was terrible. But it proved to me that I could sit down and write one.
So it was not much of a jump to writing a terrible novel. Especially when Chris Baty made it sound so attractive.
It's play. It's a kind of writing practice. And you end up with something to improve upon :) which is better than nothing. I think you'll be surprised.