It’s that time of year again—cooler temperatures, pumpkin spice lattes, and National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. If you’re wondering how to prepare for NaNoWriMo—and whether it’s even possible to prepare for writing an entire novel in a single month—you’re in the right place.
NaNoWriMo is a challenge that every author should attempt at least once: write the entire first draft of a novel, from start to finish, in a single month. This might sound terrifying, but the daily word count to complete a 50,000-word novel is actually quite manageable: 1,667 words a day, assuming you write every day.
Of course, developing a daily writing habit is the hardest part of writing a novel, and that’s where NaNoWriMo comes in. Do you need to cram the novel-writing process into just 30 days? Nope. But can it help you finish a novel in weeks instead of years? You bet.
Official NaNoWriMo rules state that you can’t start writing that novel until November 1, but there’s plenty you can do ahead of time to prepare! So heed our advice, and take advantage of the lead time to do a little bit of prep. NaNoWriMo actually offers a multi-week prep course for the hardcore planners out there, but don’t despair. Even with just a few days to go, you can set yourself up for success this November.
Here are our top 5 tips for how to prepare for NaNoWriMo.
#1: Schedule your daily writing time and targets
Pick the time of day when you plan to write each day for NaNoWriMo, then actually block off that time on your calendar. Whatever you do, don’t plan to “write when you can.” That catch-as-catch-can time somehow never seems to materialize, so set your writing time aside in advance!
Also, craft a writing schedule that works for you. Maybe writing 1,667 words each day works just fine, or maybe you need to scale back during the week and write more on weekends. Whatever your ideal writing schedule looks like, add that to your calendar too.
This daily planning process helps a lot with eliminating overwhelm. 50,000 words might sound like a crazy number, but 1,600 isn’t so bad, right? Approach NaNoWriMo like eating an elephant—one bite at a time.
#2: Create an outline (even if you’re a pantser)
Have you ever noticed how writing gets more manageable if you have something on the page, even if it’s not all that great? Our brains sometimes get overwhelmed by the vast potential of a blank canvas. But make a start ahead of time—even a modest one—and at least you’ll have something to react to.
Plotters have an advantage with challenges like NaNoWriMo for this reason, but for pantsers, even a high-level outline will do. Just brainstorm a few broad plot points and write them down so you start to understand the beats of the story you plan to write. These can always change later if the characters take charge and demand it. It’s still your story, after all! But an outline helps the writing continue even when you’re staring at an empty screen and wondering what the heck should happen next.
If you’re not sure where to start with an outline, try the Snowflake Method. You begin with just a simple sentence or two, and expand outward from there. Pantsers can stop whenever they feel ready, and plotters—well, go nuts.
#3: Get your notes and research together
If you’ve been jotting down notes and collecting images, music, or other inspiration related to your writing project, gather it all in one place, whether that’s a physical notebook or a folder on your desktop, so you don’t have to search for it on November 1.
If you need to do any research to answer questions that came up as you wrote your outline, do it now. That way, you won’t get distracted by an internet rabbithole when you sit down to write. You can always put a pin in things and come back to them later. In November, your focus should be getting the first draft down, not getting every detail pitch-perfect.
So pull together Pinterest boards, Spotify playlists, images, and notes that you plan to use in the writing process, and organize them in a way that makes sense to you.
Another helpful exercise during this stage is to flesh out your characters. Do some character development exercises or create a character Bible so you aren’t fumbling for those details in November, either.
#4: Prep your workspace
If you can, clear your writing desk of anything that isn’t related to your novel. Make sure you have a functional keyboard, working computer with word processor, and any other writing tools you plan to use during the month.
Once your desk is tidied and your tools gathered, lay everything related to writing out on your workspace so it’s highly visible and catches the eye. These might be things like:
- Notebook and pens
- Snack station
- Mug for tea/coffee
- Laptop with Draft2Digital sticker
Whatever creates a comfortable and focused vibe for you, set it out and practice writing in that space without interruption at least a time or two this month.
Which leads us to . . .
#5: Warm up your brain
Think of NaNoWriMo as the marathon of writing challenges. Just as you’d limber up your muscles and do some (okay, probably many) training runs before committing to a marathon, it helps to warm up your writing brain before November 1.
You can go about this in a few different ways:
- Practice: Write 1,000 words a day or so for a few days ahead of November 1. Bonus points if you can do this during the same time each day that you plan to write during NaNoWriMo. We recommend writing first thing in the morning, before the rest of the day can derail your writing schedule—but go with whatever works for you.
- Read great books: Consume literature that inspires you and gets your creative juices flowing.
- Participate in writing exercises: Use this as a time to explore your characters, your setting, and other elements of your novel that could use some fleshing out before you start to write.
Writing a novel is a big undertaking. The challenge of NaNoWriMo is to condense that marathon it into a one-month sprint. Do yourself a favor and prepare as much as you possibly can before November kicks off.
During the challenge, reach out to other writers for encouragement and support. The NaNoWriMo community organizes lots of events, both in-person all over the world and online.
And of course, we at D2D are always here to cheer you on from the sidelines. Let us know how you’re doing in the comments below!