5 Ways This First-Timer Prepared for National Novel Writing Month

5 Ways This First-Timer Prepared for National Novel Writing Month

Editor’s Note: Each year, nearly 500,000 writers all over the world dedicate themselves to completing NaNoWriMo, a month-long sprint to write 50,000 words. This year, author and first-time participant Lou Paduano will document his experience. This is the first installment of his journey.

National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, around since 1999, now hosts millions of projects in a month-long sprint to reach a target word count of 50,000.

As many of you know…that’s a lot of words.

Despite NaNoWriMo popping up on my radar each year, this is my first time taking on the challenge.

I’ve never considered NaNoWriMo as an opportunity — and I don’t say that to sound dismissive. For me, writing was always something I did anyway. Write a book in a month? How about write a book EVERY month!

NaNoWriMo: More than just a challenge

Despite having the drive to write each and every day, though, this time, I took the leap when NaNoWriMo came around. For me it was more than just the challenge set by the site; it was a challenge to hit a difficult deadline and put writing first for one month.

Taking on a project of this magnitude always goes a little (okay, a lot) smoother with solid preparation.

How to prepare yourself to reach your NaNoWriMo goals

In order to make the most out of the experience, I wanted to hit the ground running.

To make that happen, here are five things I did to make NaNoWriMo a less stressful and (hopefully) more rewarding experience right from the start:

1. Outline

The “pantsers” in the audience are cringing right now. The plotters are cheering my name.

Each side has merit. But I’m on the side of the plotters, because there is no way to tackle a project this size without some direction.

Whether your plot notes are single sentenes or whole pages, break down chapters and sketch out dialogue to help stage each scene. Having that spine prior to sitting down to write each piece gives you something to fill in rather than having to pull every detail from the ether.

Outlining and organizing, of course, isn’t easy — but it’s safe to say it’ll help you stay sane later.

2. Draw out your character arcs

Alright, you caught me — this is more outlining.

But instead of plot, let’s get character centric. After all, focusing on the development of your characters is incredibly important to the overall narrative being told.

Figuring out the arc of each of the principal and secondary players on both sides of the field is crucial to making this draft a success. Not only does it help you become aware of your characters’ overall motivations throughout the work, but each arc provides an entry point into every scene either as a tension builder, background information or a direct action.

You can find a more advanced breakdown of developing character arcs in Janice Hardy’s NaNoWriMo prep article.

3. Make space in your day-to-day

I am a stay-at -home dad with two beautifully time consuming toddlers…not exactly conducive to my month-long sprint toward draft completion. I have one word for this: BABYSITTERS.

For me, it’s toddlers. For you, it might be your day job. Or your freelance clients. Or other family obligations. No matter the personal responsibilities, NaNoWriMo will be a heck of a lot harder if you don’t plan to make space around them.

I spent October planning for what I’d do with said toddlers during November. For each week, I pulled in family for babysitting duties to free up an extra four to six hours of work time (instead of my standard nap-time sprints and late-night adventures).

Ask for help. Switch up your writing space. Accept that your routine might be disrupted.

There are a million distractions in our lives. We all need exactly one million less for November, so it’s up to us to do what we can to prepare for them.

4. Prepare your research

There are always questions lingering after the outline phase.

The science or the rationale for certain actions needs to be clarified. Simple facts need to be double checked.

Setting up a system to track your questions, then figuring out some, if not all, of the answers leads to less time spent bombing around the Google machine when it comes time for drafting.

5. Choose your entry point

Do a final read-through of everything you have so far: Outline. Character arcs. Research.

Then, figure out where to start.

Getting started tends to be the hardest part — so take the path of least resistance. For me, that’s never chapter one. Look for a chapter that is screaming to get written. It could be the last chapter.

Whatever chapter has been hiding behind your eyelids every night for weeks, that is where you want to start first thing November 1.

Snag a quick victory amid a mountain of challenges for yourself. It’s what will keep you going.

What I’m working on for NaNoWriMo

During this particular NaNoWriMo challenge, I’ll be drafting The Medusa Coin, the sequel to my first novel, Signs of Portents. 50,000 words won’t be enough to cover the tale being told so I’m shooting for 85,000 as my goal for NaNoWriMo.

Go big or go home, right?

You’ll be able to follow along with my progress here (week one is below), as I chronicle my word counts, the mid-month challenges, the bribery I’m using (yeah, I said it) and more.

Week one results

Thanks to preparation based on the steps above, here’s what I was able to accomplish in week one of my first NaNoWriMo challenge.

November 1

  • Word Count – 4,154
  • Notes – Hit the ground running ACHIEVED. Definitely a smart idea to have a babysitter in place for opening day.

November 2

  • Word Count – 2,021
  • Notes – Really thought I could squeeze an extra chapter in during nap time. It’s like the kids know I have work to do!

November 3

  • Word Count – 2,067
  • Notes – Figured out a character’s motivation halfway through the day. Thought I had this all mapped and plotted but definitely like a surprise every now and then, especially if it makes the rest of the draft easier.

November 4

  • Word Count – 4,701
  • Notes – BABYSITTER DAY. Cranked out an extra chapter and planned out the weekend so I have a starting point first thing Saturday morning. Also achieved my first reward for the month – a NIGHT OFF.

November 5

  • Word Count – 6,218
  • Notes – It was Double-Up Day at NaNoWriMo where authors are encouraged to double their word count. I wasn’t looking to participate, but I opened the day with a much longer than expected chapter and the day rolled on from there. I doubt I’ll be seeing this number again this month but, man, it felt GREAT.

November 6

  • Word Count – 5,306
  • Notes – Big day today. Not the word count, but a chapter I decided to draft. One of my cast didn’t make it out alive. There were tears involved. Mostly mine. Always rough to lose a friend, even if only imaginary.

November 7

  • Word Count – 2,038
  • Notes – The work week returns! I knew I’d lose some momentum but, holy hell, is it difficult to crank out a chapter during nap time. Especially now that the lighter side of things are out of the way and I’m into the more involved, more detailed chapters of the draft. Work days are going to be rough.

Are you climbing this mountain with me? Let me know in the comments below. I’ll see you at the top.

Filed Under: Craft


  • Hellen Graham says:

    Very interesting comments all. I have finished one book and have two more in the pipeline. My question is where do I go from here. It’s edited and ready to be published…by a publisher or ebooks? What is the procedure from here to having it published?

    • Lou Paduano says:

      That’s a whole can of worms right there, Hellen. A lot of the answer is dependent on your plans for the work. Do you want to self-publish or query an agent to go the traditional route? There are a ton of resources available here at The Write Life to get you started.

      My advice is, take your time with the research. Figure out what fits your personal goals for your writing career go from there. It took me months to come up with a game plan and I am still putting it together with each new project I finish.

      Best of luck!

      • Hellen Graham says:

        Thanks Lou, yes it is daunting trying to get it right. I have been leaning towards self publishing and need to find out more about it and costs etc.

  • I am only writing my first short stories at the moment and not even sure why I am reading your great post but it has been very helpful and who knows, perhaps I’ll be joining the throng next year. I still have lots to learn but one thing I do know, I love this writing malarky!

  • Ahmad Murtaz says:

    thanks for the nice tips, I am a creative writer and beside I love to write fictional stories too. do you think this tips can help in order to write a better creative or personal stories too?

  • Sandy Sims says:

    I was very excited about Nanowrimo this year because my sister wrote a novel last year in 28 days. I was so very happy for her. So this year, I decided I was ready. I do not have motivation as I have been writing my memoirs for 2 years and have very little to show for it. I thought of it as a hobby and many times I would think about it and then not do it. The writing project of Nanowrimo gave me the motivation that I needed. I typed and typed and typed. But I am a very slow typist and I had a lot of distractions this month. I was helping my sister take care of her sick dog and did not feel comfortable at her computer. The election threw me into a depression that is still upsetting me. I broke a tooth and trouble finding a dentist as I’m new to the city. So now here it is the 21st and I realize that I will not finish. However, I do have 3 new chapters and I have decided that it is a good thing. I will continue to work on my book and not put a deadline on myself. But I don’t think I would have continued on my book, it it had not been for Nanowrimo.

  • Wendy says:

    I’m doing NaNoWriMo–sort of. I’m typing/editing a novel for AFoaF. Had about 75,000 words already done. Easy, right? No plotting, no arcs . . .

    He put the parents’ bedroom on the downstairs floor and kept having them go “upstairs” to bed.

    The characters keep “noticing” things and doing “whatever”

    A building that was going to be 60′ x 40′ is suddenly a 60′ x 24′ building.

    He decided to name two different, commonly occurring characters “Fred” for no apparent reason.

    The story, I’ve decided, is set in the summer of 1940. During that time, they listened to a lot of news, including Germany invading Poland, drafting of Americans for the war effort, and conversion of domestic manufacturing for wartime production. (In case you’re not up on WWII, those events happened over a two-year period, and none of them in summer)

    And the story’s somewhere between 400-600 pages longer than it needs to be.

    Typing this book is like trying to knit with a tangled skein of yarn–I have to keep stopping to untangle things and usually end up walking away from it every 400-500 words.

    • Lou Paduano says:

      Sounds like quite a challenge, Wendy! I do not envy you in this project. Editing is not my favorite part of the process (by leagues to say the least) but it looks like you’ve picked up a doozy of an endeavor for this month. Keep plugging away at it, piece by piece, knot by knot. It will get there!

  • Jane says:

    Here’s how I did it… It was good just re-reading it now – still good fun! Don’t worry folks – you will all get there. If I did Nano, anyone can!

    • Lou Paduano says:

      Thank you, Jane. We all need a little extra encouragement during a draft to keep going and hit those word counts. I would definitely prefer to be in Southern France than this frigid basement in Buffalo for sure!

  • I’m throwing one out there for the pantsers. I enjoyed your article Lou and I can see the value in following the steps you outlined. But, for a pantser like me, outlining is overrated. I have done and won every NANOWRIMO I have participated in. Often exceeding my 50k word count. And often I have not had any idea what I would be writing about until the stroke of midnight signaling the beginning of NANOWRIMO.

    I prefer to just sit down and start writing and see where my story takes me. This may make editing a you know what but it works for me for now. Will I adapt my method later on? Maybe. But for now Pantsers Unite!!! LOL.

    Thanks for a great article and awesome advice.

    • Lou Paduano says:

      Thank you, Patricia! I’m glad it works for you as I’m sure it does for a lot of people. There is something thrilling about throwing it all out there as you go. I’ve done it in the past to varied degrees of success as well but for something this focused I knew planning would be my friend, especially considering the editing to come. Thanks again and good luck with the rest of NaNoWriMo!

  • Your doing great Lou. Life events do tend to drag on you for writing time. The election week was a toughie for me. I watched TV until the wee hours and then turned off my media for a few days. I am on day 16 and have passed 30K so I’m doing well.
    I have a write in group, that meet during my planned time off from work on Wednesdays. And I cooked food in prep for healthy meals during evening sprints.
    Unfortunately, I’ve gained six pounds due to less exercise. So I’ve dug out my old dictation recorder and started walking in evenings while dictating. I think the 2nd two weeks will be better. Shooting for 60K at this time. I think I’ll probably be close or over.
    FYI I’ve also spent a few hours at the end of 2nd week revisiting my outline that I initially created. I have a new outline for week 3 that is more focused and expands from my original.

    • Lou Paduano says:

      Revisiting your outline is a great idea, Jeanne! I try to do the same each night or I find I have little direction when I start the next day (like today, unfortunately). Completely agree on the healthy meals aspect too – something I definitely have to think about for next year. Between Halloween candy and this slice of pumpkin pie I just devoured between chapters some healthy alternatives would be a smart choice. Best of luck on hitting your goal!

  • Great post. I’ve learned that you have to plan ahead if you want NaNoWriMo to be a success. And really, those 5 steps are just as useful outside of November as well.

  • Charmaine Ng says:

    Thank you for the tips. I’m looking to start Nanowrimo next year, so I’ve bookmarked this. I’m not quite ready this year yet (ha – but when are we EVER ready?) but in my defence, I’m blogging Nanowrimo this year instead. Just drafting out a blog post a day. 🙂

    – Charmaine

    • Lou Paduano says:

      Whatever keeps you writing works! It’s true that we are never really ready until we make the leap! I’ve found that just the practice of sitting down and typing every day this month has built up my confidence and enthusiasm for the work. Best of luck!

    • Douglas says:

      To Charmaine

      Over the year, sneak in words here and there and you will be surprised!! Good luck, Douglas

  • Brenda Hill says:

    Great tips. Will your preparation advice work for a non-fiction book? Since I am a certified writing coach, as well as an author, I advise clients about your ideas. Thank you.

    • Lou Paduano says:

      Thanks for reading!

      Some are more geared for fiction, like the character arcs, but they can easily be modified for non-fiction. Especially from an outlining front, having guideposts built in before the month so that you can weave in and out depending on the topic will help boost your counts each day.

      Everything else, from research to planning your month out in advance to avoid the trappings of our every day schedules is definitely applicable to anything you’re working on for NaNoWriMo or whenever you dig into a new project.

      Hope this helps!

Speak Your Mind

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.