How to prepare for NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts on November 1st. Will you join me this year?

NaNoWriMo brings together people like you and I, who have always wanted to write a book. Be that a novel, memoir or non-fiction (actually I have written one of those!). But like so many aspiring writers, I’ve never seriously sat down to write the book that’s been percolating inside for too long.

Each year NaNoWriMo gives you, and I, a fresh chance to sit down and give it our best shot yet.

It’s like bootcamp for writers who want to get serious.

Can you imagine what writing 50,000 words in one month will do for your writing? If you can’t, here’s a recent post where I tell you about the essential skills I took away from the experience.

It’ll fire you up like nothing else. It’s the best way to learn what being a writer is about. I first did it five years ago. It’s time to do it again.

Of the many things I learned last time, this one is crucial: don’t show up unprepared.

What will you write about on your first day? Will you start with these words: “My novel, 2018 …“ and expect ideas and words to flow?

NaNoWriMo will teach you to focus on your writing, how to make it a priority, how to write quickly and how to write a lot. But it does not teach you about character, story arch, dialogue and all those technical things you should read up on before you start.

Here’s how you prepare for NaNoWriMo

Schedule your daily writing time

Just because you’ve signed up to write 50,000 words in one month, the world around you won’t stop. You’ll still have to go to work, cook dinner and clean up. And you’ll still want to be socialising.

So think about ways you can clear your schedule for a month. Are there any pressing things that you can take care of in October? How about wasting less time on social media? Or maybe it’s time to say goodbye to tv for a month?
You know what works best for you and you also know what hasn’t worked for you in the past. Consider getting up an hour earlier (this works really well for me). How about clearing an entire weekend to really get into the writing flow?

Decide which days will be your writing days (I’ll be writing every day), then set aside a block of time each day. Pencil it in your diary and then stick to it. No matter what. Think of it as a non-negotiable important meeting.

Practice writing sprints

To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you’ll need to write 1,667 words a day. Don’t expect to sit down at your computer on November 1st and to just churn out the words.

Use the remaining days of October to practice. Learn how much time YOU need to meet the daily word-count goal of 1,667 words.

Start small and ease yourself into this by writing say 700 words a day. Or set your timer and write 50 minutes in one hit.

This is also a great way to generate ideas and to explore your story idea further.

Think about writing as a craft. What tools will you need?

A journal: once you get into the writing flow, ideas and story fragments will come to you when you least expect it. At the market, on the way to work, while walking the dogs. Catch them before they have a chance to disappear – because they will. Carry a small pocket journal with you at all times so that you can write it down when it’s fresh. Recording ideas on your phone is another effective way to capture them when they’re fresh.

Scrivener: Imagine a software tool developed by writers for writers. It enables you to store all of your scenes, chapters, notes and research in the one place. It’s life-changing, trust me. It’s helped me to break my story into chunks, chapters and scenes, which feels more manageable than one big idea with a complex backstory. This way, I know which scenes I must write. Find out more about Scrivener here.

A designated writing space: Do you need to sit in a busy cafe to write? Or do you need the quiet of your own office? Whatever it is, be ready before November 1st.

Decide if you are a planner or a ‘pantser’

A pantser is a NaNoWriMo word to describe writers who don’t plan their novels, they prefer to ‘fly by the seat of their pants.’

If you prefer to work out the structure and design of the novel as you write, you are in good company. Margaret Atwood didn’t have a structure for The Handmaid’s Tale. Stephen King refers to outlines as “the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.”

John Grisham’s novels are hardly masters’ theses, despite his preference for outlines.


“The more time I spend on the outline the easier the book is to write.” Grisham


He’s not alone. JK Rowling planned all of her books and John Steinbeck says it helps break through writer’s block.

Think about the structure of your book

I am part pantser and part planner. Writing is a form of discovery for me. That’s the thrill of it. But having an outline has been super helpful in getting some of the key scenes written.

Here’s how I’ve prepared for NaNoWriMo:

  • Set up my personalised template on Scrivener of colour coded chapters & scenes
  • Brainstormed the main turning points of my memoir
  • Wrote chapter headings, identified key scenes, key dialogues & moments of conflict in the story

I am writing a memoir, so setting and character are already fully fleshed  out in my mind.

If you are writing a novel, you should also start to get to know your characters really well and think about setting. If you need to do any research to create either, do this now, before you start.

Read up about the basics of storytelling

If this is your first attempt at NaNoWriMo, it’s a good idea to read up on some of the technical tools writers use. How to use dialogue, how to craft a good story arch, how to write believable characters. Think about timelines, be sure of the genre you want to write.

If you have a favourite book written in a style that appeals to you and fits your project, study it carefully. Learn how the author wove the story. What tense is it written in? What point of view has the author used? How is dialog being used?

Have I forgotten anything?

Please join me in the comments with your best tips or questions.

Let’s do this, together!


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