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How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: Shaelin's Top Tips

Posted in: Perfecting your Craft on October 17, 2018 Leave your thoughts 💬

Shaelin Bishop is a writer, YouTuber, and a member of the team here at Reedsy. She’s also a veteran of the 30-day novel writing competition NaNoWriMo, having taken part in it for three years. In this lightly edited transcript of her video, she'll show you how to prepare for NaNoWriMo with her top ten tips.

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Step 1: Schedule in advance

Of course, with NaNoWriMo, there is the standard word count approach where you write 1,667 words per day. If you have a consistent schedule, you might be able to just write to this schedule. Every time I've done NaNoWriMo, however, I was a student in high school and had things due at different times, so my schedule was not that consistent at all. So, I found it more useful to kind of make my own schedule.

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

I would look and see what was eating most of my time. Where I had a lot of work to do, I would specifically plan to write less. But then I would find days where my workload was a bit lighter, and plan to specifically write more on those days. I would try to account, in advance, for those really busy days where I knew I wasn't going to be writing anything.

Step 2. Outline your novel

When you're writing in such a confined amount of time, it is often really helpful to have an outline. If you do want to make an outline for NaNoWriMo, you can watch one of my earlier videos on how to outline (or look through this guide).

how to outline a book 0

How to Outline a Novel: an Author's Guide (with Template)
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Step 3. Organize all of your notes and documents

Even if you aren't outlining, it's possible that you have a lot of notes. Knowing how my notes sometimes look, they might be in a state of disarray. Before NaNoWriMo, it's really helpful to just organize everything and get them as orderly as possible. Organize your character notes, scraps of plot ideas, and worldbuilding documents, then back them up. This way, when you're busy trying to hit your daily goal of 1,600 words, everything will be easy to find and quick to access.

There are certain things that you're not going to be able to take time away from (such as childcare and work). However, you can clear up your schedule by getting rid of all the random to-dos that have piled up over the past few months. Having a backlog of those to-dos can take up so much time and focus. You want to start the month with a clear head, getting things off your plate before you head into a pretty big task.

Step 5. Clean your workspace

I don't know about you, but personally, I find it really hard to work if I have a cluttered or messy workspace. So clean off your desk, tidy your room, clean your office, even do a deep clean of your whole house. Again, just like crossing off all those to-dos, this helps you go into the month with the clearest head space possible.

Step 6. Brainstorm possible plot points

Now, if you're plotting and working from an outline, you probably have a full outline that's telling you everything that's going to happen in your story. But if you’re deciding to pants NaNoWriMo, it might help to do some brainstorming beforehand.

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

So, even if you don't have a full outline, you should have a list of possible plot points. You might decide not to integrate them in the end, or you might not know in what order they're going to be integrated. It doesn’t matter. If you get stuck, you’ll have something to go back to which you can work toward or incorporate right at that moment.

What is a Plot Point?
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Step 7. Understand your character

Whether you're pantsing or plotting your first draft, having a really solid foundation for your character is going to be the most helpful thing in getting through NaNoWriMo. If you understand your character and their conflicts, goals, desires, motivations, and flaws, that can carry you through the plot whether you have an outline or not.

Step 8. Identify the stakes of your story

Many people, including myself, start to struggle around the 30,000-word mark. I think this is normal when writing any book, but especially in NaNoWriMo. That's where you kind of run out of steam: the beginning is over and you're into the second act, where lots of people run out of plot and don't really know where to take it.

One way to carry yourself through those difficult 30,000s is to have a really good understanding of the stakes. One reason why so many people lose track of the story is that they don't know what's at stake for their characters and so it's very hard to have conflict.

If you know what can be lost, then you know what situations are going to really test and push those stakes. This way, you can keep can keep that plot moving through the difficult middle section of the book.

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)

Step 9. Make goals other than the 50,000

Sure, that 50,000-word goal can be really beneficial, but ask yourself: why is it important, and what is it doing for you?

Is writing 50,000 words in a month going to help you write down a story that you've been wanting to write for a really long time?

Is it your first book and this is a way to motivate you to write it?

Is it going to help you learn to be more productive or stop second-guessing yourself?

What will it do for your story?

What will it do for you as a writer?

Maybe the word "goal" itself isn't even important to you, and you just want to use this as inspiration to give yourself that push to write. I always strove for the word goal when I did NaNoWriMo, but I think it will be much more meaningful, inspirational, and motivational for you if you understand why you're doing this. So identify what writing 50,000 words will do for you as a person and for your development as a writer.

Step 10. Get excited about your project

Whether this is a brand new idea or something you've been wanting to write for a really long time, it's always easier to write something that makes you excited.

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

NaNoWriMo is a difficult challenge, but it's also the start of something really exciting. You're going to write a book, or the beginning of a book, or just some part of a book. Get excited about it! Whatever gets you a little hyped, start really thinking about it and talk about it with other people. It's going to be so much for fun and so much easier to write if you're already in the mindset of loving your project.


If you have any questions, thoughts, or personal tips about preparing for NaNoWriMo, please share them in the comments below.

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