October 16, 2014

NaNo Prep: Are You Ready to Start Drafting?

Screenshot of a blank Scrivener project with text: Are You Ready to Start Drafting?

It’s almost time for NaNoWriMo, when thousands of writers will try to cram 50,000 words into a 30-day deadline. If you’re participating in NaNo and anything like me, you might be freaking out a little as November nears.

Yes, that’s right. I’m doing NaNo this year and feeling a little stressed. Although this is my third year with NaNo, this will be my first time doing it “for really-real.” *smile*

In 2012, I wrote 60K during November, but that was to draft Act Two and Three of a book I’d already started. In 2013, I only had 30K left to go on my work in progress, so I couldn’t even try for the 50K mark. But this year?

This year, I’m starting a new story from scratch on Day One of NaNo. Just the way we’re supposed to do it.

As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, this “from scratch” aspect is why I’m eager to explore my story idea through the method I’ll be teaching in my upcoming “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story” workshop. This time, I need to get ready. *grin*

Of course I am a pantser, so what I do to get ready for drafting by the seat of my pants is different from what those who plot their stories in advance do to get ready. But I figured now would be a good time to review two different approaches for starting any draft—NaNo or not—pantser or plotter—and update one of my posts about knowing what to plan in advance.

The Two Types of Story Planning

Posts abound this time of year about planning for NaNo so your story will end up as a decent first draft. But do you know what kind of planning will help you the most?

At their essence, all stories are about change. Most stories consist of (at least) two arcs tracking that change: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. They start at Point A and things happen in a cause-and-effect, action-reaction chain to end up at Point B.

Story/plot arcs are about the “what” or the “why.” What happens to make things change? Why is the story happening now and not a year ago?

Character/emotional arcs are about the “who” and the “how.” Who is facing the obstacles and has to change to succeed? How are they changing?

Most stories are a mix of those plot-driven and character-driven questions. But we might not need to plan ahead with both. Some of us can write by the seat of our pants (pantser) with one type of arc more than the other type.

We don’t want to spend hours working through a character background sheet if we’re good at winging the character aspect of our story. Alternately, we don’t want to waste time completing a story outline if we’re good at making up the plot turning points as we go. So we need to figure out what style of planning will work best for us.

The Basics of Planning for Plot

If we’re better at making up characters as we go along, we might want to focus our planning efforts on the main story turning points.

  • What drags the character into the story and forces them to make a choice to get involved?
  • What raises the stakes and tension during the middle of the story?
  • What’s going to make the character lose hope before the end?
  • What’s going to push the character to change and face the obstacles at the end?

We can plan a lot more, obviously, but that gives us a starting point and an ending point. That Point A and Point B will give us a direction as we write. And even if we’re the pants-iest pantser, that much planning is less likely to freak out our muse than doing a full story outline.

Plot Planning Resources:

The Basics of Planning for Character

On the other hand, if we’re better at making up scenes and plot points as we go along, we might want to focus our planning efforts on the character arc. That means we have to know the character’s Point A and Point B.

Some people find character arcs harder to “see” because they’re more mental than physical. But in character terms, Point A and Point B means we have to know their destination (what they want) and their beginning (what’s holding them back).

  • What does the character long for and desire? (story ending)
  • What choices are they making that keep them from their dream? (story beginning)
  • What do they learn? (how they change)
  • What are they willing to do at the end that they weren’t willing to do before? (story climax)

Character Planning Resources:

Worried about Getting Stuck?

If you’re worried about getting stuck midway through your story, my “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story” workshop shares additional planning layers we can use at any point in our drafting process.

Many of us who write by the seat of our pants can get through the first part of the story by winging it. But if you’re anything like me, sometime in the middle of the story, we might slow down and get stuck for what should happen next.

The tools I share in my workshop help with planning both the plot and character arc, as well as seeing the conflicts and obstacles we can use in the middle of our story to kick start our writing again. When we have to get in 50K words in 30 days, we need to quickly overcome those times we’re stuck. *smile*

And I just have to share this testimonial from two days ago because it made me squee and then blush and then squee some more:

“This is the BEST online workshop I’ve taken … Using this method, I was able to fast draft THREE 100k manuscripts in 2-months a piece (over only 8 months). RECOMMENDED!!” — Jennifer Rose

I’m offering my plotter and pantser-friendly workshop in two weeks (October 28th and 30th), just in time for NaNo. But if the days/times aren’t convenient for you, note that everyone who signs up receives a full recording of the class and a thorough handout. And if you’re doing NaNo, come buddy me so we can cheer each other on.

Hopefully, these tips will be enough to get us all started. My beta buddy Angela Quarles and I had a brainstorming session this past weekend, so I have the basics ready for NaNo. But with every story, I still freak out that I don’t know enough. Luckily by now, I’ve learned to trust my muse, so I’m trying to hold the freak out to a minimum. Good luck to us all! *smile*

Are you doing NaNo this year? Do you feel ready for November? What do you plan or prepare in advance? Do you have a harder time with plots or characters? Can you pants one of those but not the other?

Join Jami in her upcoming workshop:
Get ready for NaNo by learning how to do just enough story development to write faster with “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.”

Pin It

Comments — What do you think?

Write Romance? Sign Up for Jami's New Workshop on the Romance Beat Sheet! Click here for more information...
  Subscribe to emails for Comments/Replies on this post  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Great advice Jami, and I look forward to using your tools as well. It’s my first year with NaNo, and I’ll be adding this post to my growing list of resources to help me out next month!


I’m still deciding which project I’m doing for NaNoWriMo. I could do book 5 in a series I’m working on (which will be depressing), a mishmash of a novelette (ending 1 series) and 2 novellas (continuing another series), book 3 in another series, or a stand-alone that has the potential to take off but I don’t yet have the cover image for (though I’ve designed it).

I’ll also have life stuff going on + posting my NaNo on Wattpad. *gulp* So that mishmash option might work well with the life stuff, but not so well with the NaNoWriMo… Though I suppose I could just title it “NaNoWriMo 2014, and whatever I work on, I work on. Hmm.

I’m currently leaning toward the book 5 in the series, because I have books 1–4 already on the site (two in first draft form). We’ll see what happens.

Joanna Aislinn

Excellent, detailed post, Jami, loaded with info for the keeping. This one will be book-marked for sure. Thank you and all the best come November!

Stephanie Scott
Stephanie Scott

Your posts are so detailed and full of great resources! Thank you for listing so much here, I’m bookmarking.

I’ve done Nano 3 times exactly by the rules, from scratch with the 50k goal. This year I am nervously considering breaking that rule (but really, who cares?) to rewrite last year’s Nano. I had a nice little story which I really liked, but ran into problems several times, even in revision, because the stakes were not high enough. I had all kinds of tension and stuff going wrong, and added more stuff going wrong, but that fundamental character choice and risk was just not there.

Since I love my setting and the characters, I decided to take them and create a new story. My critique group helped me use some plotting charts (courtesy of Robin Perini’s website) to map out inciting incident, first turning point, mid turning point, crisis/black moment, and resolution. It was painful but support really helped. I like to develop those things during the writing, but I also don’t want to spend months revising a novel that lacks a large enough main conflict and has low stakes. Not again!

The Michael Hague Story Engineering stuff is also a good tool to combine (I think you have his stuff meshed in with a beat sheet, right? I’ve tested that out too). The character’s essence and what they fear and how they betray their essence and all that.

Thanks again for a great post!

Stephanie Scott
Stephanie Scott

Now I see you did link to Michael Hague! I took his session at RWA 2013 but hadn’t directly applied it to plotting work until now.

Emma Burcart

OMG! You just shined the light on the issue I couldn’t figure out! When I get the idea for a story the entire character arc comes to me in one clump, and I can see the entire thing. But, where I struggle is the plot. I like to figure out what is going to happen and how to raise the stakes, but I’m so focused on character I often lose sight of that. Now I am going to go look at all the resources you listed under plotting and stop worrying about the character arc because I’ve got that. You just changed my life! 🙂

Julie Musil

Yay for NaNo! I’m working on my snowflake now. Next up? Scenes on index cards! Good luck to everyone who’s doing the challenge 🙂

Sonia G Medeiros

I’m looking forward to this year’s NaNo. Two years ago, I was in the middle of a story but joined as a rebel. Last year, I was still mucking about in the same story and decided not to join. This year, I’ve completely reinvisioned my story (because the other version just wasn’t working…hence all the mucking around). It’s been tempted to get started before now but we’re so close to NaNo, I’ll just hold off until Nov 1 and go for a NaNo win.

Thanks for the worksheets!

Glynis Jolly

I won’t be doing the NaNa, at least not yet. I’m to methodical for it. Still, this post is great. I’ve bookmarked it so that when I get to my 1st rewrite, I can do it with a level of sensibility.


[…] Jami Gold shares her thoughts on NaNo prep as well. Are you ready to start drafting? […]


[…] anyone is preparing for NaNoMo and want good advice, read Jami Gold’s blog on this topic. She talks about tracking two types of  arcs: a story/plot arc and a […]


So glad to find your site, a good friend just recommended you. I’ll be doing NANOWRIMO first time this year and am just at the point of deciding on pantser or plotter, and your post makes it very clear which of these I can, and can’t do best.
Fantastic to ‘find’ you and your great advice!
I’ll look for you on the NANOWRIMO forum also.
Looking forward!


[…] we get too deep into that mess of a story, let’s see if we can fix our idea with a bit of planning—at least of the kind of planning that will help us the […]


[…] Everyone is different as far as what they need (and every story might be different). Some need to plan characters and can work out the plot events by the seat of their pants. Some need a strong outline for the plot and can pants the characters. Or any combination of neither or both with those. […]

Denise Yoko Berndt

Great and inspiring advice – thank you. While we’re nowhere near November, I’m planning to write a first draft quick in June so this was all immensely helpful.


[…] we have several story ideas ready to draft so we can be productive right away? Do we have plans to improve our chances at good income (writing […]


[…] Planning Smart: We don’t want to spend hours working through a character background sheet if we’re good at winging the character aspect of our story. Alternately, we don’t want to waste time completing a story outline if we’re good at making up the plot turning points as we go. Learn what style of planning will work best for us. […]


[…] Planning Smart: We don’t want to spend hours working through a character background sheet if we’re good at winging the character aspect of our story. Alternately, we don’t want to waste time completing a story outline if we’re good at making up the plot turning points as we go. Learn what style of planning will work best for us. […]


[…] plan the story elements we need in advance […]

Click to grab Stone-Cold Heart now!