How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: Your 4-Week Success Plan

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: Your 4-Week Success Plan

If you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November , you’re likely gearing up to plan your novel in October. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days takes work, and starting the month prepared makes it easier to hit your goal — or even surpass it.

Since all stories are about an interesting character solving an interesting problem in an interesting way, your first step is to figure out your main character(s), the story problem, and the main goal.

In a few sentences, describe what this novel will be about. This summary will be your guide for October, and help keep you on track all through November.

Week 1 (October 1 to 7): Focus on the novel’s setup

Beginnings introduce the characters, story problem, and story world or setting to readers, and they set the stage for the rest of the novel.

A strong start will provide you with solid scene goals, giving you something to write about every day.

Things to determine:

How the protagonist is introduced

What traits do you want readers to know right away? How might you show those traits in action? What likable qualities does your protagonist have? How can you show those qualities in your opening scene or first chapter?

The problem the opening scene deals with

An opening with an interesting problem to solve gives the story drive and the characters reasons to act. What problem might your protagonist face when the novel opens?

Remember, the goal of an opening is to a.) hook readers and b.) lead the plot to the core conflict of the novel.

The inciting event

If this event did not happen, there would be no novel. It either drives your opening, or is the bridge between your opening scene and the beginning of the middle (act two).

Week 2 (October 8 to 14): Focus on how problems get solved in the middle

This middle is where the bulk of the novel unfolds as your characters work to resolve their problems and fail a lot. The number of attempts and failures will vary by the type of story, as thrillers have different expectations than romances.

Things to consider:

How the setup transitions to the middle

Everything in your beginning will lead to the middle, where the protagonist will make that all-important choice to accept responsibility for resolving the plot, and move into act two. The opening scene leads to the inciting event, which leads to this decision.

The major problem or event revealed in the middle

Adding a big shake up, problem, or reveal at the novel’s center can prevent the all-too-common boggy middle. The mid-point event creates the goal and problem the second half of the middle will have to resolve, and set up what will happen in the ending.

How the middle transitions to the ending

The protagonist has failed, feels utterly lost and hopeless, and things are at their worst. What the protagonist does here will launch the ending and lead to the climax of the novel.

Week 3 (October 15 to 21): Focus on how the novel ends

The ending is how the novel’s core conflict problem is resolved. It starts with the protagonist at her lowest point and drives her to the ultimate showdown with the antagonist.

Things to determine:

How the protagonist plans to defeat the antagonist

Although the plan may (and often does) fail, this is the goal that launches the ending and propels the protagonist to the climax. What are some of the steps that will take the protagonist from hopeless to victorious (or hopeless to defeated, if that’s how it ends)?

How the novel ends

You might not know the details at this stage, but it helps to have at least a general idea of how the core conflict of the novel is resolved.

How the protagonist is changed by the experience

In most novels, the protagonist grows and becomes a better person by the end of the novel. What changes for your protagonist? How is she better off? How is she worse off? What did she learn?

Week 4 (October 22 to 28): Focus on major turning points of the story

Flesh out whatever you need to write your novel.

If your story is character-driven, you might plan the character arc and focus more on the internal journey of your protagonist and discover the plot as you write.

If you’re a plot-driven writer, you might prefer to map out the major plot points and figure out who your characters are by how they solve those plot problems.

Whatever your process, look at the key turning points and elements you need to keep your story moving forward. I suggest aiming for three major points per act (beginning, middle and ending), but develop as many as you like to keep your plot on target.

Final Days (October 29 to 31): Write a query pitch

It might sound crazy, but I recommend writing a rough query pitch to make sure you have enough figured out to write your novel.

The query letter format is a fantastic way to verify the necessary elements of your plot and characters, and find holes before you fall into them.

NaNoWriMo is a lot of fun, and a good way to whip out a fast first draft. Plan accordingly, and you’ll be able to hit or exceed your daily word-count goals and reach your 50K.

Are you doing NaNo this year? How much to you prep for it?

Want a chance to win a 10-page critique from Janice? Leave a comment to enter (don’t forget to click to submit on the widget!). The winner will be randomly chosen at the end of the month.

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73 comments

  • Janice Hardy says:

    Thanks so much for having me!

    • Kaye says:

      Thank you so much for this. I have just signed up & never attempted this before, so all advice gratefully received.

  • Just an awesome post!

    I’m 2 out of 3 on NaNoWriMo. The first time was a complete mess and I needed to stop before I lost my mind. I went in the second time with a game plan and not only succeeded, but the book ended up getting published. I didn’t plan as much ahead on the third attempt, and even though I hit the 50,000 words, when I ended up with was (and still is in parts) a complete editing nightmare.

    So the moral of the story is…plan ahead. And I’m pretty sure that if I do attempt it again this year, your post will be my success template. πŸ™‚

  • Jennifer says:

    Janice – nice article. I always have a rough outline ready for NaNoWriMo, but I’ll be using your suggestions to plan out my month a bit better! I like how your suggestions give each week a new focus. And I particularly liked your suggestion for a query letter! Thanks much!

  • Terri says:

    This is a wonderful breakdown for a week to week plan for NaNo. I am a pantster who is for the first time trying to do this with planning and an outline. This week to week is so simple to follow. Thanks for sharing!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Oh good, I’m happy to hear that. I’m such an outliner, so I always worry about you pansters on these types of posts. I do try to keep things spontaneous enough for those who don’t like to outline πŸ™‚

      If it helps, I like to break my weeks into acts–week one is the beginning (act one), week two is the first half of the middle (act two a), week three is the second half of the middle (act two b), and week four in the ending (act three). That lets me focus on 25% of the story every week. That might be loose enough to work with your process.

  • Bev says:

    Great breakdown. Usually I have not been this detailed before NaNoWriMo – this should help a lot. Thanks!

  • Brandon says:

    Great tips, Janice! I already have a detailed outline, but there are still a few problem areas I need to work out. I’d never thought about using certain weeks of the month of October to work on specific parts of a WIP, but it’s genius! My current WIP is an updated version of my NaNoWriMo project from last year, and I’m hoping to make more progress on it this year than I made in 2015 (I hit my 50,000 word goal on the very last day, but wasn’t satisfied with the end result). I have a feeling these tips will help me out!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Thanks! Maybe it’s the organizer in me, but I’ve always found setting aside time for certain tasks makes them easier to accomplish. I know what I need to work on and I can ignore what isn’t on that list.

      Good luck in November!

  • Thanks for the great article, Janice. This goes a long way toward helping me find some traction regarding what constitutes a novel-length idea. Important on November 1, I think, to write and never look back (well, not until December 1, that is!).

  • Vidya Sury says:

    Very nice, Janice. This will be my fifth year with NaNoWriMo and I am stuck with several drafts. I write way past the 50K enthusiastically and then, end up catching up with other stuff after Nov and my drafts sit and collect dust. Sigh. This Nov I am planning to polish up some of the nonfiction ebooks I am working on. Thanks for the great tips.

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Most welcome. At the risk of sounding too sales-y, my revision book just came out this month, and it could help you with all those dusty NaNo drafts. It’s very hands-on and leads you through the revision process like an editor at your side. πŸ™‚

  • Wooohoo! I’m so excited
    This will be my first time joining and writing in NaNoWriMo. To complete a novel/ 50 000 words in a month sounds like one hell of a challenge. I’ve been both a plotter & a pantser so it’s going to be interesting to see which side wins this time. Thanks for the amazing wisdom & advice shared here. Goodluck with all your writing.

  • I’m planning on doing NaNo for the third time this year. In my first 2 attempts I went in and just wrote. I did have a rough idea of where I was going, but only in my head. I succeeded in year 1 but failed in year 2.

    Thanks for this post. I think I’ll follow it this time even though I’m not a plotter by instinct.

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Even a general bullet point list and a basic story framework can help keep you on track if you prefer a more pantser approach. I’d imagine after two years you have decent idea of what you need to know to hit your goals, so you can always plan just enough to guide you. Unless you think you’ll have fun plotting it all out, then of course, go for it πŸ™‚

  • M.R. Buttars says:

    Great post! This helps so much with planning my current project, as well as my Nanowrimo prep work. I especially love the idea of figuring out the core turning points that often trip me up. I’ll write knowing my beginning, often midpoint, and ending, but with little clue on how to realistically get my characters there. πŸ™‚

    Also love the idea of writing a query pitch before the draft and my brain gets muddled with all the details of a full-length novel. Thanks for sharing!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      I write a query for every book before I write a single word. It’s one of my favorite plotting techniques.

      And this would absolutely work any time for any book. You could even double it if you wanted to write a draft in a two-month cycle. Month one is the first half, month two is the second.

  • Nice way to break it down. I always wait until November to start doing anything, mostly from procrastination, so I’m rarely too successful at NANOWRIMO. I’m going to try and follow your advice and change that up this year!

  • Ginny Q says:

    I have this great idea, and I’ve written a few chapters, but what’s holding me back from sitting down and just pumping it out (a la NaNoWriMo) is that I want/need/know I should outline, but the outlining part seems so intimidating (even with the workbooks I have to guide me through it). Your breakdown makes it seem much less scary, and it’s inspired me to plan (even if it’s rough) during October so I can pump it out in November. Thanks!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Oh good! I hope this looser outline format works for you and helps you get past your sticking point. Outlining doesn’t have to be intimidating. Just a few points can be enough to keep you on target.

  • Taren Randal says:

    I wasn’t ready last year, but I plan on participating this year with my second rough draft. Getting an opportunity to have my manuscript evaluated by a professional writer/editor is an added bonus.

    • Taren Randal says:

      I already have my plot outlined, and I’m currently working on character sheets. I think I’ll let it percolate for most of Oct while I revise my other manuscript.

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Very nice. Outside feedback is so helpful πŸ™‚ It’s hard to read our own work objectively.

  • December says:

    This is my 3rd NaNoWriMo. Last year I’d just had a baby and dint get to do as much as I wanted to. The year before I rocked it and wrote and finished a rough draft for the first time ever. Still unable to decide what ill write this year but I’m such a planner. I love your tips. Thanks

  • Braylen says:

    Wow, this really helps! πŸ™‚ I am new to the writing world, so I am always coming here for advice! I have like this whole series in my head planned out . . . but you know how it is, getting it out on paper πŸ˜‰
    This is great help!!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      That’s the hard part πŸ™‚ Sometimes just sitting down and forcing yourself to do it can get things started. Once you start, the rest is much easier.

  • Inge says:

    Do you guys take a month off from your regular jobs (as far as you still have one aside from writing :)) for this? Because I can’t see myself writing this much just in the evenings with everything else going on! 50 000 words, wow, that’s something like a 6 month output for me with dedicating every free minute to writing… I was actually planning to take some time off somewhere in the next months just to finish the editing of my manuscript, not even writing anything new… Very impressed with the people who manage to generate this much output in so little time!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Some do, some don’t. Most can’t. I got up at 5-6am every day, wrote all morning, then worked, then wrote again in the evenings. Fitting writing time into your day is one of the harder parts of NaNo.

      But you don’t have to do the whole 50K if that’s impossible for you. It’s a good motivator to try to train yourself to write a little more, so maybe you pick 30K for your month and adjust your daily word count goals. Use it as a motivator to increase your writing speed, but choose what word count you want to hit πŸ™‚

  • LΓ³ri says:

    This is one of the greatest articles for kicking off your novel!
    However a little delayed, I will start doing it in November πŸ™‚

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Thanks! You’re not delayed. October is the official planning month for NaNo. You have a week to decide what idea to plan out. πŸ™‚

  • Joanne P says:

    I’m a NaNoWriMo first timer, so this is a great help for the sprint. My last novel took me a year to write (I guess “write and edit” is more appropriate, so I don’t truly know how much was “write” and how much was “edit”). I will be using this year to draft a novel I have had lurking in the back of my mind for about 3 years.

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Good luck! A lot of writing and editing happen at the same time. I tend to think of the small edits I make as I write as part of the drafting process, and editing/revision is reserved for any changes made after I’ve decided the first draft is done. I imagine everyone has a slightly different definition though πŸ™‚

  • Leah says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us. This seems like a great way to prepare for NaNo. I usually just wing it and am usually disappointed by the second week. Hopefully, this will allow me to make it through successfully.

  • Michelle says:

    Ohh this is my year to do Na No Wri Mo! I have the story in my head, now I have a plan to execute it. Thank you so very much!

  • Helen B says:

    Excellent piece, and timely for me!

    I’ve been on the fence as to whether or not to do NaNoWriMo. Reading this has made up my mind: hell yeah!
    πŸ™‚
    Thanks for the tips. Now; hurry up, October!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Yay! Glad I was able to help you decide πŸ™‚ Nothing says you can’t start now. You can probably get some prep work done to prepare for the prep work -grin-

  • Leslie Shearn says:

    I find that my work grows primarily in my mind in perfect order. There has been one subject that will not leave me a moment’s peace. The only way for any relief is to write it. Thank you for all the tips that will aid in the realization of this story.

  • Julia says:

    Thanks for the article. This is the ultimate motivator; I have been writing on and off my first novel and I needed this push to get it all going. I will take the Nanowrimo challenge ! Thank you!

    • Janice Hardy says:

      Most welcome! You can also look on their site for local groups near you. I found a fantastic bunch of writers a few years ago, and we met every Sunday and Tuesday to write at a Starbucks. It really helped keep me writing and focused and was a lot of fun.

  • Herb says:

    Good stuff, Janice! I see the total logic of the plan you present. I’ve decided to try your approach this year. I completed one NoWriMo project and published it about a year later after severa major edits. I’m going to use your plan. Wish me luck!

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