12 Vital Preparatory Steps for NaNoWriMo

Thanks to the Office of Letters and Light, November poses one of the greatest challenges for writers: drafting an entire novel in one month. With a 50,000 word threshold, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) completion represents dozens of hours of work. To be sure, the challenge shouldn't be taken on lightly—which is why October is the perfect time to start preparing. Here are 12 vital preparatory steps for nailing NaNo this year.

1. Decide Your Level of Commitment

Fifty. Thousand. Words.

Many initiates into NaNoWriMo fail to realize just what that means. It's easy to think back to that one time when we wrote a 15-page paper in a night, or that day of binge-writing that added 30 pages to a novel. There's a great difference, however, between a single binge session and the sort of consistent, substantial writing that's required for NaNo.

It's a great project. An impressive accomplishment. A good way to get that writing habit ingrained. But it is not easy. Decide now if you're ready for this. There's no way you'll conquer this challenge if you aren't committed to it.

2. Clear Out Time in November

Once you've decided to tackle this project, you'll need to figure out where you'll find your writing time. During November, you'll learn to write in a variety of tight timelines and awkward positions—while waiting for a friend at a cafe, while sitting on the bus, or when your boss is away. You'll be doing yourself a great favor if you also manage to clear out solid chunks of time.

Setting aside specific writing time is especially important in the first week of November. If you fall behind in the first week, you're doomed. If you get ahead, the momentum will carry you.

3. Let People Know

You can give yourself a motivational boost by being public about taking this challenge. More importantly, your friends and family should probably be warned that you're going to be a hermit (and sometimes a rather stressed hermit) during the month of November.

4. Get Started on the NaNoWriMo Website

The NaNoWriMo website has improved immensely over the last few years. These days, it includes a blog, forums, help pages, and much more. It's free and simple to get started, so why delay? Get over there.

Whether you've written a novel before or not—whether you're a NaNo newbie or veteran—writing 50,000 words is no small feat.

5. Get Connected with a NaNo Community

The best way to connect with a NaNo community is to find one in your local area. Look at this list of regions to find which group is closest to you. If you can't find a WriMo community in your area, you can hunt down online support via the NaNoWriMo forums, the Facebook group and official page, Twitter, or even through LitReactor's forums.

The major benefit of being connected with a WriMo community is that it provides you with opportunities for “write-ins,” where you're surrounded by other people who are dedicated to writing. Online write-ins can also be found via the web sources mentioned above.

6. Organize Your Team

Beyond whatever WriMo community you get involved with, it's useful to have a close-knit group who will help you. Know other writers? Enlist them as part of your NaNo writing squad. Have a spouse, partner, or best friend who doesn't write? Ask them to be your cheerleader this November.

7. Lay Out Your Ideas

There is no one “right way” to prepare your ideas. Some people like detailed outlines of their work, while others prefer free-writing a few paragraphs about their core plot points. Pick whatever method works for you. At the end of the day, the reason to lay out your work right now is that it gives you time to daydream about your plot and get pumped about your novel.

8. Flesh Out Your Characters

The more developed a character is in your mind, the easier it will be to move your plot forward organically. While there are plenty of ways to get a better sense of your character, this in-depth character questionnaire was built with NaNoWriMo in mind.

9. Develop Your Setting

Think about where your story will be set. Is it a fantasy world? If so, it's a good idea to make any core decisions on the religions and magic system of that world. Is it a story taking place in Chinese opiate dens? Then do your research in advance.

Don't be so detailed that you paint yourself into a corner, but don't put yourself in a position where you'll need to take a major break to answer core questions about the world of your story.

10. Get Into the “No Edits” mindset

Editing is fine if it helps you keep your novel on track, but finding the “right word” should be left for later. This can be tough, so I'll try to put this even more bluntly:

Be prepared to write crap.

I firmly believe that every writer has about a thousand rubbish pages in them. Before you get to anything good, you have to get those pages out of your system. At the equivalent of roughly 200 pages, the 50k words for NaNo put you well on your way. If that's all NaNo accomplishes for you, it's worth it. There will be plenty of time to edit after November is over. For the duration of NaNo, however, just focus on giving yourself materials to work with in the future.

11. Put Together an Emergency Kit

Caffeine. A favorite playlist. Chocolate. You get the idea. At some point, you'll be ready to break under the pressure of this month-long writing marathon. Give yourself a resource to help you out of those difficult situations.

12. Get Pumped

This is an awesome project. Whether you've written a novel before or not—whether you're a NaNo newbie or veteran—writing 50,000 words is no small feat. Beyond being an accomplishment in and of itself, it also helps you network with fellow writers, develop a writing habit, and get your creative wheels spinning. NaNo may be hard, but it's well worth getting excited about.

What other preparatory steps have helped you in the past? Let us know in the comments, below. And for those of you who are about to write: we salute you.










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L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami October 2, 2014 - 3:04pm

Commitment is the worst bit. I'm called so often by family members, I literally have to shut the phone off in order to get anything done. Yet I'm the one being lectured to for like not being available in November. When I said multiple times, it's Nano Fucking Remo. There is a reason I don't use skype anymore.

If I didn't have fucking advertisers calling me day in day out I would actually have some semblance of a plot planned out in advance. But wonder why I'm irritable, it's because of advertiser shits.

I'd probably only get to like 5,000 words for that reason.

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list October 2, 2014 - 8:59pm

I only finished NaNoWriMo once. It was rough. I was in my senior year of college, working two jobs, and always on the verge of losing my shit. The reason I finished (and survived!) is because I specifically chose to write a story that made me happy. It was a plot I'd been toying with for several years, but I always talked myself out of writing it. I also decided that I wouldn't inhibit myself. When I write, I often worry about what others will think. With this one, I let myself write what I wanted to write. And I bribed myself. Writing became a reward, and it forced me to do my homework, so I could get back to my story and characters.

So much passion and love went into crafting it. Even now, I am in love with that novel. I began polishing it the summer after I wrote it. Let it sit for a few months and began a second round of edits and re-writes this summer. I'm convinced it's one of the best things I've written because it is the most honest. Anyway---I'll stop gushing about it now.

One of my students saw my NaNoWriMo poster on my wall and told me she was planning to attempt it this year. As her teacher, I feel imense pride that this teenage girl wants to challenge herself to write that much in such a short period of time.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer October 6, 2014 - 7:32pm

My girlfriend is the local municipal liaison, and we met through NaNo. It's a big deal every year. The last couple of years I was in grad school and was a "rebel." I set a goal of 25K. Another good idea is to find a group in your region that is supportive and involved. We have a close NaNo core that keeps in tough year round, and has write-ins regardless of whether or not it is November. As a result, there are always active people available for support. Some regions don't have that and you are left to drift or succeed on your own.