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How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: 7 Ways to Make Sure You Crush Your Goals

by | Oct 3, 2022

Every November, writers from around the world get together and work on cranking out an entire novel in a month. Originally founded in 1999 by Chris Baty, the goal of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to write 50,000 words over the course of the month since that is roughly the length of an average novel. Over 400,000 (and growing) people buckle down every year to attempt the challenge.

While it’s hard to write a fully polished novel in that amount of time, most of the focus is on simply sitting down and putting words to paper as fast as possible. For people with writer’s block, it can help them smash through the internal barriers that prevent them from getting their story on paper.

A ton of writers also enjoy the camaraderie and the community that comes with joining NaNoWriMo, since everyone is in the same boat of working on hitting their word and page goals every day.

Writing a novel is a serious undertaking, let alone trying to do it in a single month, so let’s break down everything you can do to prepare for what’s ahead. Here’s your guide on how to prepare for NaNoWriMo.

1. Set your writing schedule

If you want to hit your 50,000 word goal, that comes out to about 1,667 words per day. It can be hard to say how long that will take since everyone has a different writing pace, but the average is about 2 to 3 hours per day.

Keeping all of this in mind, you need to take a hard look at your calendar and figure out how you can fit in the required time to get your writing done.

Some people say it’s much easier to start with a higher goal, such as 2,000 words per day. That way, you’re ahead so when you have a bad day you don’t have to catch up with hundreds or thousands of words.

You might be able to get up earlier or stay up later and fit in a whole chunk of uninterrupted writing time. However, if you have kids or other responsibilities on your plate, you might want to break your writing up throughout the day into 30-minute or hourly chunks.

On top of that, you should schedule your writing sessions at your peak writing times. Some people have much more clarity when they first wake up or they love to burn the midnight oil and write while everyone else is sleeping.

Planning your writing blocks during a time you know you’re always tired is just setting yourself up for a losing battle.

2. Let the people around you know about NaNoWriMo

No, this doesn’t mean you need to recruit people to join you (although you can), this simply means you should let people know that you’re going to be taking your writing seriously.

This can mean they shouldn’t interrupt you during certain hours or maybe you set up a babysitter for your kids. What you don’t want to happen is to take on this huge writing commitment and then get mad at everyone around you when they interrupt you but you never let them know about your new writing journey in the first place.

Make sure all of the people in your life know what you’re doing and why you need certain quiet, focused hours.

3. Account for off days

No matter how motivated you are, there will be days when the words refuse to pour out of your fingers and no amount of coffee helps.

On the days you feel good, sometimes it’s worth it to go the extra mile and crank out a few extra words here and there to get ahead and account for the off days. While it would be nice to imagine that we’re all robots and can crank out pages of work every single day without a problem. Instead, you should plan for a few bad days throughout the month and plan accordingly.

4. Have your writing easily accessible

One key to succeeding at NaNoWriMo is to have your writing easily accessible. Whether you carry a notebook around or have a writing app, you’ll want it nearby and easy to write in.

That way, when you have things such as missed appointments, are stuck in a long train commute, or have some spare time while your kids nap, you can crank out a few hundred words.

You’d be surprised at how many small pockets you can find in a day to put in a little writing here and there. It might not seem like much at first, but you would be surprised at how fast it can add up.

Ideally, you want it to also be quickly accessible because you don’t want to spend half that time just trying to open your app or find the notebook you’re using. Ideas will also come to you throughout your days so you will need somewhere to quickly capture them on the go.

5. Track your progress

Whether you choose to use software with built-in word counters or you choose to make something like a NaNoWriMo bullet journal spread, it’s a good idea to know where you are in your overall progress. Seeing the word counter continuing to grow can help keep your motivation going, even on your bad days.

6. Outline your story

If you want to go the extra mile, having a thorough outline and your ideas all in one place can help you write faster when the month begins. Unless you have a free and open schedule all month, you’re going to be writing in focused chunks of time and need all of your ideas ready to go, even if they change as you write during the month.

You don’t want to sit down and forget your storyline or what you wanted to happen next in your novel. Then, you’re wasting 20 or more minutes searching for that note somewhere in one of your notebooks and poof, there goes time that could have been used for writing.

If you prefer visuals, some people put storyboards on a whiteboard or other physical sheet in front of them so they can see where they are in their plot. Janice Hardy, a fiction writer and teacher, has suggested using Preptober in this way:

Week 1: 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: 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: 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: 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: Write a book proposal

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 book proposal is a fantastic way to verify the necessary elements of your plot and characters, and find holes before you fall into them.

7. Prepare your space and tools

If you love to write in the same place so you can build the habit, setting up a dedicated space can help. Put your favorite plant on your desk, a good notebook nearby, and keep it clean so you’re ready to dive in and work.

You want your space locked and loaded to dive in completely on November 1st so you can get right to writing without anything getting in your way.

This might be the time you need to invest in some better tools to support your writing. If your keyboard is missing some keys or your pens always leak, you’ll want the best tools so writing is as easy as possible.

Set up rewards for yourself

Don’t forget to reward yourself along the way. Whether or not you hit your goal of 50,000 words, you should set benchmarks along the way to celebrate. Any words you can get on the page is a celebration, even if it’s not a full novel.

As writers, it’s easy to overlook progress. When it comes to something like writing and publishing a novel, you have to understand how long it can take to make it happen. Novels are marathons, not sprints. That’s why it’s essential to celebrate every little benchmark.

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