October 29, 2019

NaNoWriMo Is Coming…Are You Ready?

NaNoWriMo 2019 Writer participant badge

Winter…er, NaNoWriMo is coming. Many writers will spend the month of November dedicating every spare minute to writing as they participate in National Novel Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo or just plain NaNo).

Usually this time of year I’d be offering my Lost Your Pants? workshop to help writers get their story idea into shape before the first of November. But all my work on my new workshop—Between the Sheets: Create a Deeper Romance with the Romance Beat Sheet—meant that I didn’t have time to give my biggest, longest workshop too.

Never fear, I can share the many years worth of “NaNo Prep” posts to help get you off on the right foot with NaNoWriMo. *smile*

How Much Do We Need to Prep for NaNo?

A common assumption about NaNo is that people write gibberish (or close to it) to meet the word count demands, cramming 50,000 words into a 30-day deadline. To be sure, some people do write messy stream-of-consciousness rambles that don’t add up to a story. But NaNo writing doesn’t have to be poor quality.

Are you ready for #NaNoWriMo? How can we *get* ready? Click To TweetI’ve participated in NaNo for eight years, and twice I’ve “won”—meaning I successfully reached 50K words. (Two of the years I “lost,” I participated as a NaNo Rebel and finished the books I was working on, so those are still a “win” as far as I’m concerned. And the other years, I still got words down, and some words are better than no words. *smile*) Every NaNo book I’ve written is published (or will be published), and one NaNo story won the National Readers’ Choice Award, so I know what the quality of NaNo writing can be.

In other words, how much we need to prep depends entirely on us, our writing process, and our goals for the experience.

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?

What type of planning should we do to get ready for #NaNoWriMo? Click To TweetMost 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:

Bonus Resources

If you’re participating in NaNo this year, I wish you luck! I’ll be doing NaNo this year too, working on a nonfiction project. (Buddy me!—I’m Jami Gold. The NaNoWriMo site redesign wiped out all my buddies. *sob*)

Are you planning on doing NaNo? Do you feel ready for it? If not, what aren’t you ready for? (Do you have any questions that I can help with?) What do you find harder to write or plan: plot or character?

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Comments — What do you think?

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I love NaNoWriMo! But, I’m not really prepared this year. Part of the problem is that I sort-of did my own NaNo this October. I had this story that just flowed out of my head and onto the computer screen in less than 3 weeks. It was amazing– and I’ve never had a rough draft of a manuscript come together so quickly. But, now I’m pretty much out of ideas for what to write about this November… Feel free to “friend” me on the NaNoWriMo webpage. I use the nickname “Reprieve26.”

Deborah Makarios

I’m not NaNo’ing this year, alas – still up to my eyeballs in rewrites. But this sort of planning is evergreen, I think, November or not.

Lindsey Russell
Lindsey Russell

I’m envious of anyone who enters NanNo. I’m far too slow a writer to ever contemplate it – I’m lucky if I manage 12,000 a month! Good luck to everyone taking part this year.


I’m doing Nanowrimo for the first time! I’ve sent you a buddy request, it’s the wine drinking unicorn 🙂

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