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Last updated on Oct 19, 2022

Preptober: 10 Tips for Conquering NaNoWriMo in 2023

So how can you set yourself up for success during NaNoWriMo? Well, that’s what the month of October is for. “Preptober,” as it’s been affectionately dubbed by the community, is the perfect time to get your book and yourself in order, so you can start writing — and keep writing — come November.

In this post, Shaelin Bishop will share her top tips for NaNoWriMo prep:

1. Make a custom schedule

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NaNoWriMo comes in with a kind of built-in schedule where you write 1,667 words a day, and by the end of the month, you'll have 50,000 words.

Now, if you have a very consistent life with no real plans for the month, you might want to stick to that. If you have a more fluctuating or busy schedule, you may want to create a writing schedule that adjusts for busier periods. 

How to prepare for NaNoWriMo: Scheduling
Don't leave your calendar blank. That's not how you do it. (image: Emma Matthews)

I first started doing NaNoWriMo in high school, and because I was a student, there would be weeks where I had a bunch of assignments due and other weeks that were a bit lighter. So before the start of NaNoWriMo, I would look ahead to when I had things due and big tests, and also where my workload would be lighter. I would adjust the word count t0 write less (or maybe not at all) on those busier days and write more on those freer days.

Now that I'm no longer a student, it's much easier to anticipate a consistent schedule. But you can adjust for trips, appointments, social events, and family. Anything that might throw you off one day, you can plan for it in advance.

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Find out more about the Reedsy Book Editor.

2. Get organized

Now is the time to organize everything so that you use that narrow window to write — instead of searching through 8 million documents for that one line of dialogue that you're pretty sure you wrote down, but you don't know where.

Since I am a pantser, I like to take this time to look over all of my notes and put them in a general chronological order, organizing what I have in an easy-to-use way. I used to print my notes and put them in a binder, so it was easy to flip through and make notes with highlighters. I don't do that anymore, but it is an option if you like to have that tangible outline to work from.

Since I don't outline my books, I just organize my notes instead. I don't worry about filling in the gaps, but I just keep everything in a really easy-defined way. If you're an outliner, you may want to put the finishing touches on your outline.

You may find yourself pressed for time throughout the month, and you don't want to waste precious time sifting through your documents. So get organized and get everything in one place. 

If you’re looking for a tried and tested way to outline your novel, sign up for our free 10-day course on the Three-Act Structure:


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3. Clear your to-do list

One of the best ways to ensure you have some extra time to write throughout November is to clear your to-do list now.

I'm sure we all have this list of tasks and pending things we must complete. Make that phone call, make that appointment, return that thing --you know, that never-ending list we all have. Well, now's the time to set aside some time and just do it.

Make those phone calls that would take 15 minutes. Book that appointment. If you're a student, you can even do things like try to get a little ahead on reading or assignments. Anything that you can get out of the way now will just give you that extra amount of time and a clearer mind going into NaNoWriMo. 


Reedsy’s NaNoWriMo Toolkit

Crush your word count goal with planning templates, tracking tools, and more.

4. Clean your workspace

I find that having a messy workspace makes it really hard to focus. It's really distracting. And NaNoWriMo is not the time that you want to be distracted. You want to be able to just. Sit down and focus. And so, I find it minimizes stress and distractions to just do like a deep clean and organize my workspace before the start of NaNoWriMo.

Preptober tip: Who's got time to make goulash? To save on cooking time in November, pre-cook and freeze some tasty meals that you can microwave in just a few minutes. 

5. Brainstorm plot points 

Now, if you're an outliner, you probably have all of this sorted, so this tip is more for the pantsers. 

I recommend that pantsers set aside a day or two to brainstorm some possible plot points. You don't have to put them in order. You don't even have to figure out how or when, or if at all, they will actually fit into your plot. But just start to build this bank of material. So if you get stuck, you can turn to this list of possible plot points and have many ideas on where to take your story.

How to prepare for NaNoWriMo: Plot notes
Start putting together some plot notes (image: Kelly Sikkema)

6. Character development

One of the best ways to avoid getting stuck or help out of situations where you get stuck is to have a solid understanding of your protagonist and other important characters. 

Stories are often fueled by characters’ desires, goals, and motivations. The better you understand those things, and the better you understand your character and how they will react in different situations, the easier it is to work through tricky plot points.

The more you can see your characters as fully-rounded, complex humans who feel like real people, the easier it is to understand and anticipate their actions, reactions, and emotions. The writing will just come much more naturally, and you'll be able to intuitively work through scenes and the plot.


Reedsy’s Character Profile Template

A story is only as strong as its characters. Fill this out to develop yours.

7. Figure out the stakes

Now most writers will struggle around week three of NaNoWriMo when they get around the 30,000- or 35,000-word mark. This is a very common place to get stuck. Week three is, for most writers, notoriously the hardest week of NaNoWriMo.

One key way to help you get through any difficult patches is to understand your book's stakes. 

The reason a lot of people struggle here and struggle at this point of a book is that this is the point where you've introduced quite a lot of plot elements: you're past the beginning, you're into the middle of the book, and you can start to lose momentum. At this point, many writers lose track of what's at stake for their characters and what the characters have to lose. And since this is such a primary source of tension, the story will kind of grind to a halt without it. 

If you can track what your character has to lose, this can act as a constant fire underneath the story that can help keep it moving. 

How to prepare for NaNoWriMo: Beaver
Maybe your protagonist is a beaver, and she needs to finish building her dam before the winter comes. (image: Holger Link)

8. Figure out the story engine 

In screenwriting, the story engine is the device that keeps the show moving, episode to episode. It's a consistent source of fuel that can keep a story moving over an extremely long period, perhaps over multiple seasons of a TV series. This story engine continues to generate episodes over and over and over. 

So, for example, in The Good Place, we meet our protagonist, Eleanor Shellstrop, who dies and finds herself in the afterlife's "good place," but quickly realizes that there's a mistake and she should have gone to the bad place. The story engine is that Eleanor will continually be put in compromising positions that threaten to reveal her secret — leading to choices that test her character and lead to her development over time. 

Eleanor from TV's The Good Place
She's gotta blend in. (Image: NBC Universal)

If you understand your novel's story engine, you can continue to develop these smaller episodes that build the larger structure of your novel.

Need an extra boost to help you smash your word count goal? Write your manuscript with the Reedsy Book Editor and let its productivity features keep you on track.

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Find out more about the Reedsy Book Editor.

9. Set your own goals

Now the 50,000-word mark is the typical NaNoWriMo goal and is a great one to strive for, but it just doesn't work for everyone. Having a different goal or having your own goals alongside that 50,000 work target is okay. If you are aiming to hit 50,000, I would recommend really thinking about what you want to get out of this besides the word count. Why are you doing this? What's your reason for doing this? 

Whenever this challenge starts to get difficult — which it often does for many people, especially if you don't usually write in this capacity — it's good to have an internal understanding of your motivations and what you want to get out of this.

What do you want to get out of NaNoWriMo? 

  • Do you want to progress on a story that you've wanted to write for a long time? 
  • Do you want to find a sense of motivation? 
  • Do you want to figure out a writing schedule that works for you? 
  • Are you looking to be more productive? 
  • Are you looking to stop second-guessing yourself?
  • What will this challenge do for your project and for you as a writer?  

For the past two years, I've participated in NaNoWriMo, but I set my own goals because the 50,000-word mark didn't appeal to me: I like to draft slowly and carefully, so fast-drafting 50,000 words a month isn’t what I want to achieve. But I still wanted to participate, and get something out of it. 

So in 2020, I set the goal of writing every day. I'd started a book earlier in the year, and I didn't like how I'd written it. I got about 20,000 words in before I realized that I had to restart it — and restarting a book felt like a chore. I've already written these scenes and words. Now I have to rewrite them with different stylistic choices: it just felt like a ton of work. So condensing that into NaNoWriMo made it feel super manageable and actually kind of exciting.

So NaNoWriMo was my way of rewriting these words in a condensed time and just kind of getting it done. I wasn't worried about the 50,000-word goal. I just wanted to rewrite this section of my book. 

NaNoWriMo isn't one size fits all 

The real spirit of NaNoWriMo is to challenge yourself, to write more, to stop worrying about editing and just write something, and to do that in a community of fellow writers. The core spirit of NaNoWriMo isn't the 50,000 words: that's just an arbitrary number.

10. Get excited about your project

I find Preptober is when I just want to immerse myself in my book. I'm getting to the point where I'm excited to open that document on November 1st and start writing.

Stock photo, presumably of an author getting excited about NaNoWriMo (credit: Seth Doyle)

I like to always start listening to my playlist for the book. You can reread books or rewatch shows or movies that initially inspired it. If you're an artist, maybe want to start drawing some of your characters — whatever works for you. 

Whatever it is for you that inspires you, that gets you into the mindset of a writer, now is the time to do it so you can get excited for that first day on NaNoWriMo. The more excited you are about it, the more energy you'll have, and it won't feel like a chore. It'll be something that you're just really excited to do. 

In the next section of this guide, we'll look at brainstorming for new NaNoWriMo novel ideas!