11 Essential Steps to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

You’re fresh, and ready to start writing. Day 1 of NaNoWriMo is easy.

But what about Day 30? That’s another story. 

Here are the 11 steps I use to prepare for NaNoWriMo. These steps will turn next month’s writing challenge into 30 days of simplicity.

Follow this guide, and you will finish NaNoWriMo feeling like a champion.

Let me show you how easy it is:

1. Claim a Powerful Reason

Why do you want to write a book?

Everyone needs a reason. Even your characters need a powerful motivation.

If you’re serious about winning NaNoWriMo this year, you must write your reason down in big, bold letters.

“I am going to write a book in November, because I ______________________.”

Make it personal. Make it important. This simple statement will keep your mind clear and focused over the next month.

In the long, dark nights ahead, this will be your secret weapon.

2. Create Your Best Writing Schedule

Here’s some quick math:

NaNoWriMo Goal: 50,000 words

Average Writing Speed: 500 words/hour

Time to Finish: 1.67 hours of writing… every day.

The truth is, most books clock in around 100,000 words. So that last number becomes to 3 hours and 30 minutes of writing, every day.

Quite. A. Task.

Parkinson’s Law claims that “work expands to fill the time given.” For example, f you have an hour to clean your room, it will probably take you the full hour to do so. But if you only have 5 minutes…

Here’s a useful corollary to the Law: 

“If you plan out the time, it will get done.”

A simple, recurring writing schedule does two amazing things for you:

  1. It removes the need to use willpower to start writing
  2. It blocks out the time, so you have no choice but to write

I write every single day, starting at 7:30 am. It’s a very simple schedule, and it takes almost zero discipline to get started. Because what else is happening at 7:30 am? 

If mornings don’t work for you, find a time that strikes a balance between PEACE and ENERGY. It must be a distraction-free time, where you still have plenty of fuel to get into the flow of writing. 

Are You Serious About NaNoWriMo?

Then, go start your new writing schedule today. 

Decide on your writing times, and make sure you sleep at a reasonable time. When I was in college, I tried to write a 60-page paper on 4 hours of sleep. 

In a word… it was Brutal.

One last scheduling tip: 

Block off at least one hour for every writing chunk.

Any shorter, and you will spend more time getting into the flow – than actually being in the flow. This will slow you down massively, and hurt your average words per hour. 

Feel free to steal my schedule, or make it your own. You can also see how I’ve structured my writing schedule for 2020 in this post here.

3. Deputize Your Loved Ones

From November 1st to November 30th, your writing time is SACRED. 

Anyone who interrupts your sacred writing time is an agent of evil, a spirit demon with fangs and a forked-tongue made bespoke by Beelzebub himself. They will vampire your time… and your soul.

OK, maybe not your soul. Maybe they just love you and crave your attention that much.

But you must let your loved ones know how important NaNoWriMo is to you. Share this month-long journey with the most important people in your life. 

Show them why you’re doing this. Get them excited to support you:

Better to have a writing ally than a time-sucking spirit demon. 

4. Get Vicious with Your “Real Life” Chores

  • Your pup’s Vet appointment.
  • That 17-page paper for history class.
  • The leaky faucet in the bathroom you’ve been meaning to fix for 3, 6, or is it 9 months now? 

Whatever it is, get it out of your way.

Nothing will overwhelm you faster than a dark, whispering voice in the back of your mind saying, “Hey, what if you procrastinated on writing to do something productive instead?”

Writing is productive. But life is urgent. 

Take hold of life today and make work for you before NaNoWriMo starts. When you enter November with a clean slate, instead of stress and anxiety… you will write with love and passion. 

It’s invigorating. There is no other experience in the world quite like it.

5. Join a Tribe of Motivated People

These are my favorite places to connect with other writers for NaNoWriMo:

Support groups provide competitive drive, inspiration to keep going, and best of all accountability. The power of external accountability is a much studied phenomena. This alone will wildly improve your chances of succeeding. 

How to Prepare Your Novel before NaNoWriMo Starts

You can either write fast or write well… 

…unless, you’re prepared. 

These last six steps will show you how to get your book ready for NaNoWriMo, so you can double (or triple!) your writing speed… without losing a drop of quality.

6. Decide What Your Novel is About

Write what calls to you. It’s as simple as that. 

Author Jerry Jenkins outlines the mechanics more clearly in this article. Here’s a summary: 

First: Recognize the “Germ” of Your Story 

Do you have any memories of being overly curious or painfully tense? 

These memories can come from your own life, someone else’s experiences, or even your favorite TV shows, movies, and books. 

All you need is a spark.

Something that holds your interest, that fuels your imagination until it blossoms into a bonfire of emotions… you should write about that.

Then: Start Brainstorming Your Idea

“Write it down.” Start etching out characters, places, ideas, and even narrative threads. 

All you want to do at this point is to expand your idea into a full-fledged story. You can write with as much, or as little, structure as you like.

Once you have the emotions and ideas you want for your story, it’s time to start sharpening the details…

7. Start Your Worldbuilding Now

Worldbuilding is a slow process – which is not always a bad thing. But when you have to write a novel in a month, you don’t have time to come up with 50 different flora that grow in your world.

The solution: get it done before NaNo starts. This guide is perfect for ultra-preppers… 

…but if you’re the kind of writer who prefers to write as you go, these are the two most impactful worldbuilding questions:  

  1. What is “off” about your world that can cause deep pain? 
  2. What is unique to your world that your readers will find strangely attractive?

Figure those out before you start writing, and the rest will follow.

8. Discover Your Main Characters

It was November 14th. I was 40,000 words deep into my novel, but there was a growing doubt in my mind…

My main character was painful to write about.

Great characters make great stories. You know you have a great character when it’s fun to write about them.

If you want to avoid the pain of realizing you have the wrong character…

Check out this guide for creating incredible characters. It covers everything you need to know about writing characters: from magnetic heroes to terrifying villains, and everything in between.

Before You Start Writing, Try These Character Exercises:

  • Create a showdown scene between your Hero and your Villain
  • Discover your character’s backstory with a defining moment scene
  • Write a monologue from your character’s perspective about what they most desire… and what they would do to get it.

If you’re going to spend hundreds of hours with these people, you better make damn sure you like them.

9. Hammer in the Stakes of Your Story

What does failure look like? 

Every addicting book has the same pattern: as the story moves closer to the end, the stakes get higher. AND the chance of failure grows closer. 

For example, in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo’s first task is to keep the ring hidden. But when they discover the ring is imbued with a dark power, Frodo must take the ring to Rivendell…

…and when he gets to Rivendell? Even the mighty Elrond shakes in fear of this golden object, for it is far more powerful than anyone had assumed.

Even though the ring has not changed since the start of the story, every new discovery raises the stakes.

Two questions to get you started in your novel: 

  1. What happens if your hero loses their next conflict (argument, battle, quest)?
  2. How could you raise the consequences of failure after each encounter? 

The answers here will help you create a story with a forward momentum that readers will find irresistible.

10. Create a One-Page Outline

On the two ends of the writing spectrum, we have Architects, who plan out everything, and Gardeners, who prefer to discover as they write. 

To the Architects: 

K. M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel is the most comprehensive and helpful resource I’ve found so far. It will teach you how to build your own outlining process, and set you up with a few healthy fundamentals.

If you’re short on time because NaNoWriMo is starting today, you can check her outlining article here.

To the Gardeners or to the Undecided Writers:

I used to think I was firmly in the Gardener/Discovery camp… until I tried my first outline. 

It helped me write faster. It helped my story stay on track. And best of all, it allowed me to build up a kind of “momentum” in my prose. 

Where once I had meandered through my descriptions, now my stories were charged with a kind of speed and immediacy. 

Allow me to challenge your beliefs for a moment: if you have never tried an outline before… please give it a shot.

Here’s a simple system for outlining you can try right now: 

Create a One-Page Outline

  • Split your story into 2, 3, or 4 acts 
  • Write a bullet point for each main character
  • Write a bullet point for every major plot point that changes your main characters (examples: someone dies, someone makes a major choice, etc.)
  • Bookend your outline with two lines about how the story starts… and how it ends

Do not let this outline exceed one page. By keeping it small, you will only focus on the most important moments.

Your one-page outline becomes a map that you can use to refresh your drive every time you sit down to write.

11. Get Organized Like Crazy 

When we’re talking about novels, disorganization can be a special kind of hell.

NaNoWriMo is all about getting into the writer’s flow. Anything that smooths out your research or removes extra work will pay you back tenfold.

This is your final chance to get ready.

Gather all your research, your worldbuilding, even your character name ideas in one place. I keep all of my novel research in a simple “wiki,” split up by People, Places, Historical Events, and Concepts. 

And seriously, if you’ve never done this before: 

Draw a Map for Your Novel

Even if you never use it, drawing a map for your story can help you understand so much about your world:

  • What does it feel like to travel in your world?
  • What are the other possible stories that have happened in your world?
  • Do you have too many locations? Can you merge any two places together?

I use a giant, blank artist’s sketchpad. 

I spend 30 minutes sketching out a few quick maps – just to get the general blobs and distances approximated. 

Then, I’ll redraw the borders and the most important locations of my “official” map. I intentionally leave the rest of the map blank, so I can fill it in as I write. 

Are You Prepared to Win NaNoWriMo?

The spirit of competition AND camaraderie echoes across the world: NaNoWriMo is a glorious time for any writer.

If you’re not ready… it can be miserable. It can feel like you’re failing for 30 days straight.

But if you follow these 11 steps, the words will pour forth from your fingertips – effortlessly. You are going to this month of writing.

Thank you for reading!

Let me know in the comments below: why are you joining NaNoWriMo this year?

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