NaNoWrIMo tips

4 Things To Do To Prepare for NaNoWriMo

4 Things to Do To Prepare for NaNoWriMo | Writing Between Pauses

It’s NaNoWriMo prep season. If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, I have a blog post for that. But long story short, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, an event where everyone tries to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo since 2010; I’ve won 5 times so far, which means I have 5 50,000 word novels floating around. For some, NaNoWriMo is a chance to binge write a novel they’ve been working on for years. For others, NaNoWriMo is just a fun month to write a novel.

For me, NaNoWriMo is all about having fun, writing a novel that I want to read, and feeling the joy of success afterwards. Usually, by November, I’m feeling a little “burnt out”—I spend most of my waking hours grappling with words in some form of another. I work as a digital marketing content strategist and copywriter; I maintain a blog; and my main hobby is creative writing.

However, oddly enough, November is often the thing that refreshes me for the next 12 months. It is sandwiched between my two big blogging challenges, Blogtober and Blogmas, so by January 1, I’m feeling decidedly ready for anything.

I’ve written a lot of posts about NaNoWriMo previously, especially about how I handle the task while also caring for a child. I’ve shared my planning strategy for NaNoWriMo, my typical prep, my tips for succeeding, and preparing for NaNoWriMo in 3 steps.

Every year, I feel like I tweak my NaNoWriMo process just a little bit in a way that makes a huge difference in my ability to succeed. This year, I want to share not just how I am preparing for NaNoWriMo, but also my schedule for doing so. So these 4 steps are all about setting deadlines for myself.

Ready to prep for NaNoWriMo? If you’re planning to go for your first NaNo this year, or you’re an old timer like me, I hope you find some value in this timeline. Let’s jump in!

1. By October 10: Pick a Topic & Sketch Your Plot

By October 10, you should know the basic form of your novel: the genre, what happens, and a few climactic points you want to hit in your writing. This is always my first step when beginning to prepare for NaNoWriMo (and I’ve outlined it in detail before in my posts). But my basic process is to have a notebook or Google doc dedicated to notes for my novel where I include all the basic information. This includes:

  • All my characters names, basic descriptions, and basic information that may come up (like birthdays, important events, and character traits)

  • A synopsis of the novel

  • and at least 3 important plot points, twists, or scenes I need to include for the plot

From here, I can begin working on the outline of my novel.

2. By mid-October: Write an Outline

Speaking of outlines, I always write from an outline for NaNoWriMo. That is: I’m a planner, not a pantser (aka flying by the seat of my pants). I divide the 50,000 word minimum into 10 chapters of 5,000 words and then divide each chapter into 5 1,000 word scenes. I then plan out each scene in basic detail: my point for a scene might be anything from “introduce [character]” to “[character 1] fights with [character 2]” to already fleshed out dialogue and scene details. They can be vague or descriptive. But the important thing is: I get the outline on paper so that I never find myself stuck on day 10 of November.

I try to have my outline completed and in a Google doc by October 15, or October 20 at the absolute latest. This makes the run up to November way less stressful.

3. By October 20: Sign Up on NaNoWriMo

This is a basic step, but every year, I find myself scrambling to remember my NaNoWriMo password. It was only last year that I reminded myself (by putting it on my calendar) to log in to NaNoWriMo.org before November 1 to set up my novel. Tracking my word count is a lot easier when I use the NaNoWriMo website because it gives me a daily word average, an average words per day I have to write to get to 50,000 words, and much more, as well as a graph of how I’m doing comparatively to everyone else. Plus, to officially win, you have to validate through the NaNoWriMo website. So, sign up at nanowrimo.org by October 20!

4. By October 30: Plan Your Writing Schedule

I’ve mentioned before that in November, I keep my schedule really strict when it comes to writing. I set aside two hours every night (or on the weekend, every morning) to really get writing done. And in that time, I have to meet my daily goal or exceed it. If I don’t, I’ll probably fall behind—and once I fall behind, it’s really difficult to catch up again! So, by the end of October (but before Halloween, because obviously, you need that night to celebrate!), have an idea of what your writing schedule will be. Maybe you’ll take your laptop to Starbucks every day during lunch to write. Or maybe, you’ll wake up an hour earlier to get writing done that way. No matter what, pick a schedule that works for you—you can even test it out a few days in October to see if it’s good for you—and stick to it.

How I Plan to Win NaNoWriMo

How I Plan to Win NaNoWriMo | Writing Between Pauses

I wrote last week about what NaNoWriMo is and why I personally choose to participate. 

This week, I wanted to talk about my NaNoWriMo process. I’ve touched on this a few times here and here, but I’ve never gone in depth. 

I have a really specific process for outlining for NaNoWriMo. You read that correctly: I’m a planner, not a pantser. (Confused by those terms? Click here.) 

The very first year I did NaNoWriMo, I was a pantser—and it is crystal clear in the novel I produced! It is easily my weakest year. However, since then, I’ve written outlines and followed a detailed plan. I’ve worked out a system that absolutely works for me and if you’re already struggling to stay afloat this month, I think it can work for you too. 

1. Write a Synopsis

First things first, I write a brief synopsis. This is just my idea. Usually, it’s something very simple like: a marathon runner witnesses a gruesome murder. As she tries to put the pieces back together, the victim’s identical twin destroys evidence of her sister’s secret life. This is the basis of my idea: no more, no less. (This synopsis is verbatim from my 2013 novel.) 

2. Write 3 plot crucial points. 

The first point is usually the beginning piece of information in the synopsis; in my example, it’s the murder that the runner witnesses. The second point is usually the climax of the story, when the tension is highest; in my example, the climax was the arrest of the killer. The third point in the conclusion; in this case, it’s the murderers trial. 

3. Start Your Outline

From there, you have all the information you need: beginning, middle, and end. Now, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty. When it comes to writing a detailed outline, I have a very specific process. Here it is. 

A NaNoWriMo novel is 50,000 words; so, I plan 10 chapters that are 5,000 words, at least, each. Each chapter has 5 scenes of at least 1,000 words. If I can plan more words or more scenes, that’s great, but that is the bare minimum. 

On my outline, I name each chapter, identify each scene, and briefly describe each scene. It might be something as simple as, Rory, the runner, returns home to find her boyfriend, James, has left her a letter. Or, it might be something as complicated as: Molly returns home to search her sister’s bedroom, where she finds a black notebook that her sister used to journal and a stash of cash, as well as other assorted possessions that seem out-of-character. 

I also usually place my big three plot points: the beginning plot point usually goes in chapter 1 or 2; the climax usually occurs somewhere between chapter 6 and chapter 8, and then chapters 9-10 deal with the conclusion. 

Outlining in this way always gives me a scene to work towards and a goal to hit. I know when I start a new scene, I need to write a bare minimum of 1,000 words. And as I’m writing through the month, I may add additional scenes or break scenes up into small, vignette-style scenes… but I always have something to move on to, even if I’m experiencing writer’s block. 

4. Edit your outline. 

I usually write my outline in September. Yep, September! Then, in late October, I read over the entire thing and make any changes: I add details, write character descriptions, move scenes around, add scenes, change plot points… Basically, I fine tune everything so that when November starts, it’s as easy as pie.