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2016 NaNoWriMo Prep

October 5, 2016 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified October 5, 2016

No, it’s not November yet. But we are close. And that means the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or just NaNo) is close too.

NaNo is a fun and sometimes grueling race to finish 50,000 words of a fiction manuscript in 30 days. Your only competition is yourself; everyone else is too busy competing against themselves. But you could egg on your friends and writing buddies, challenge them to daily totals.

The point is to get down on paper or computer 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. That’s 1667 words per day if you write the same number of words every day.

And it’s completely doable.

But not always easy.

Still . . . trying is fun.

You can find all the how-to details at from the NaNo people at

What I want to focus on in this article are ways to prep for NaNo. You can’t write the text of your story ahead of time (not if you’re playing strictly by the rules), but you can get yourself and your story into a strong starting position.


NaNo Prep

Start now. Do what you need to do to give yourself extra time to write next month.

What does that mean, start now?

That means get your outline going. It means start your character sketches, especially those for protagonist and antagonist, hero and heroine, major characters and important second bananas. It means thinking about possible scenes. It means plotting and imagining your setting.

Even if you’re a pantser rather than a plotter and you hate the idea of outlining, at least sketch out a few scenes.

Devise a possible opening scene—

Lucas finds a body

Lucas finds a clue

Lucas finds a baby outside the fire station

Look forward a few pages or chapters and imagine an action scene—

Lucas fights with his brother

Lucas fights with his best friend

Lucas fights with his wife

Lucas fights with himself

Consider a scene brewing with emotion—

Lucas is betrayed by his brother

. . . by his best friend

. . . by his wife

. . . by his injured body

Consider the scene where Lucas almost dies. And the one where Lucas wants to forget everything and run away or go home or quit.

Make notes for the scene where Lucas faces Mr. X the first time. Or maybe for the final time.

Explore what you might want to include in an epilogue: consider details you might need to include in order to set up the next book in a series.

Plan a big action scene. Consider where it might take place and who might be included.

Plan a scene of almost straight dialogue. Who should you set after someone else with only the power of their spoken words to act as swords?

Plan a scene in which you can reveal your main character’s goals and motivations.

Prepare by planning for scenes, characters, plot threads, setting, the emotional high and low points, and the climax and resolution.

Your prep can be detailed or as simple as a few words—Lucas argues with Sam at the abandoned mine.

The good news is that you don’t have to stick to your outline, but you could. The point is to get some of the thinking and planning and plotting done ahead of time.

And speaking of time, you could work on your story’s timeline. Even if you know only a few story events, make sure they’re in the best order for creating conflict and insuring reader interest.

Throw out a few (dozen?) what-ifs. Let your imagination go wild; you can always rein it in later.

Play devil’s advocate to see which plot threads will hold up. Try to shoot holes in your plot.

Imagine action and emotion-filled scenes and determine what kinds of characters would best suit such scenes. And then plan ways to give your characters the traits they need to help them fit into those scenes better than any other characters could.

Try out a couple of settings. Consider multiple eras. Compare the possibilities of a handful of different cities or worlds.

Consider a main character of the sex opposite to the one you’re imagining.

Consider first person narration rather than third or third rather than first.

Consider challenging yourself with present tense if you always write in past or past if you always write in present.

Consider writing in a genre different from the one you write in most often. And if you decide you want the challenge of a new genre, use October to read books from the new genre as well as read up on the characteristics of that genre.

Use October to read a really great novel and/or a really crummy one—psych yourself up to tackle something better than both.

Do any necessary research now, before November. No, you won’t know everything you’ll need to research, but it’s likely that you’ll be aware of some issues you need to look into. And yet don’t feel that you need to take on a whole lot of research before you begin. You can always check facts later. In December.


Beyond a Novel

Keep in mind that your NaNo project doesn’t have to be a novel. Adapt the writing month to one that fits your current projects.

Work on a memoir or other nonfiction book. Work on a collection of short stories.

Use the month to rewrite or edit an existing manuscript.

Use the month to study the craft of fiction: read a few how-to books, try some writing exercises, practice an element of the craft that you know little about or have trouble with.

Read a grammar book or two, preferably on topics unfamiliar to you. Read a handful of novels in a genre you don’t typically read or one that fascinates you and explore the storytelling elements that make the books successful.


Winning NaNo

You win NaNo if you write 50,000 words of a novel within the 30-day limit. Yet even if you do “win,” that doesn’t mean you’ll have completed a ready-to-be-published novel. You’ll just have 50,000 words of your first draft.

It’s also likely that you’ll have text and scenes that you’ll delete in December. You’ll have jumbled plotting and useless characters.

You’ll have too much setting detail and too little dialogue or vice versa.

You’ll have nonsensical sentences that you’ll never decipher and action that proves meaningless given the two major plot changes you made.

But it’s also likely that you’ll have a few scenes that hit just the right emotional tone.

You may have dialogue that sizzles and emotion-inducing scenes that haunt your dreams.

You may have phrasing that seems to have fallen straight from heaven.

It’s likely that you’ll have discovered plot holes and implausibilities in your planning—which means you’re one step closer to solving those problems.

You’ll have the positive and the negative, the heavenly and the hellishly awful. But you’ll also have text to work with, characters and plot threads and setting locations that you can play with and adjust.

You’ll have more than you started with on November first.


I know that some writing professionals don’t think that NaNoWriMo is worth the time, but I think that many writers can benefit from applying themselves to writing fiction in a concentrated way for a month at least one time in their lives. It’s only a month, 30 days. If you keep at your story or at your development as a writer for 30 days, your skills will likely improve—multiple skills improving in multiple ways.

So for October, consider prepping yourself for NaNo. Consider planning out events and scenes and settings and characters. Get yourself ready to work diligently on your story or craft for thirty days come November.

And don’t forget to arrange for help if you’ve got kids and school projects and three jobs and a dog and half a dozen goldfish. You’re going to need a little extra time come November, maybe an extra hand here and there. Prep for those needs as well.

And get your binge TV watching in now. Use the two and three hours in front of the computer or TV at night to write instead.

I encourage you to try NaNo this year. If no one else is standing with you, know that I am. I know you can do it. I know you can give some extra time to the craft of fiction.

You can devote yourself to story this November.


P.S. If enough writers are interested, we can have a write-in here at the blog one night during November. Fix yourself a drink and some popcorn and write for a couple of hours with a few friends. I’d love to have some writing companions for an evening of writing, even across the physical miles and the unfathomability of the Internet.

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Tags: ,     Posted in: A Writer's Life, Writing Challenge

23 Responses to “2016 NaNoWriMo Prep”

  1. sandra says:

    how wonderful to have company in the misery of Nanowrimo

  2. CJ says:

    I try and do NaNoWriMo every year. It’s fun and it keeps my writing sharp. And it does work.

    The first year I signed up, I produced a novel that went on to become a bestseller. So don’t be afraid to go for it!

    One of my favorite quotes is… “You will never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

    Good luck to all of you who dip their toes in the sometimes rolling, sometimes smooth ocean of NaNoWriMo.


    • CJ, congratulations on that first year’s story. I hope this year is just as successful for you.

      I completed NaNo the first year I tried, but didn’t finish on my next attempt. But I’ve got both a novel and a nonfiction book churning around in my head, so it seems that this would be a good year to test the waters again. I have to admit that I know the nonfiction book would be much easier to take on. Maybe I’ll switch between the two.

  3. CJ says:

    Thanks, Beth.

    I’ve been doing it, for the most part, since 2006. At first I thought I had to work on a single novel to count it as a win. But after a few years I realized–as you said–I was only accountable to myself, so I started to tailor the month to whatever project I needed to do at that time.

    It may be a single book, several novellas or a big rewrite, I figured as long as I passed the 50,000 word mark, I’d won, no matter how I’d gotten there.

    For some reason that takes some of the pressure off, AND I have more fun.

    I also–if I don’t have something specific cooking–use NaNoWriMo to flex my creativity a little. Do a genre or type of writing I’m not as comfortable with. I did an M/M story one year that went on to be published, so that mindset can work as well.

    So switching between the two…three or twelve, as long as you have fun and learn something about yourself, I say go for it!!!


  4. A write-in night. Sounds absolutely delightful. How would it work?

    • Glenn, I’d set up a blog post where folks could visit. When it’s time to begin, we would let others know we were there, maybe share our genre and our current word count. Then we’d write for a couple of hours, encouraging one another as necessary (although the emphasis would be on writing, not commenting).

      We can do a couple of word sprints—write as many words as possible in a 10-minute window of time, something like that. I would offer prizes (books, most likely) to the winners of the sprints and to the writer with the highest overall word count of the night.

      In the blog post, I’d probably also include tips for writer’s block and prompts to get or to keep writing.

      It’s just a way to get together with a group of like-minded writers to have some fun and be productive at the same time.

      • Glenn says:

        Wow! With this sort of support I’m now seriously thinking about having a go. Never done a NaNoWriMo before. It’s a bit intimidating. My WPH is very low, so I won’t have a chance in the sprints, though. LOL!

        • Glenn, NaNo can be both fun and productive. If you’re on the fence, allow me to encourage you to go for it. Start your prep now, though, so you’ll be ready to dive in on November first. And keep in mind that you don’t have to worry about writing perfect prose; that’s not the point, not at this stage. Everyone will have their own way of working, but it’s okay to just get the rough story down on the page. Expect to have to rewrite, but allow yourself to have some fun with simply writing.

  5. Stacey says:

    Great advice! I am planning to finish my existing manuscript in November.
    I need to finish it!

  6. Darien says:

    I’d be willing to try! Would be great to have a support group too.

    For myself, it would be book 3 of my trilogy, and I’ve got some of those suggestions in place for it. I do hate outlining, and gotten to the point I just wanted to write up to what i had and see what develops.

    I tried the butterfly method? Have you heard of that, Beth? Technically I was more loose with it, but it helped!

    Thanks for the heads up!

    • I’m glad to see you participating, Darien. A support group can mean the difference between completing goals and dropping out too soon.

      The butterfly method meaning flitting around from one scene to another? Use whatever method works for you, but don’t hesitate to try something new. And taking a few hours to write lists of story events and scenes, a list of characters (including goals, motivation, and conflict), can definitely help as you begin to write.

      Don’t think that you have to have a 100-page outline before you begin. Some writers do put something like that together, and that’s great if that method works for them. But do try some planning.


      I encourage any writer to try something new during NaNo. So if you’re a plotter, try pantsing a bit. If you’re a pantser, try developing the plot—events and scenes—before you begin writing. If you don’t write a lot of dialogue, try writing a character who doesn’t shut up. If you don’t do much world building, set your story in a completely new world.

      NaNo is a time writers can stretch themselves. Or it can be a time for writers to concentrate solely on this one project, much as we do when we plan and then create a flower garden or decide to paint the interior of the house. We plan what we intend to do. For the garden, we consider layout and plant colors and styles before we start planting. For our paint job, we get color samples and imagine what colors will look like with our furniture and furnishings, we try to imagine how the colors of one wall/room will look against the colors of the next wall/room before we actually begin painting.

      Treat NaNo like other projects and prepare for it.

  7. Lynne F says:

    By happenstance I may have all of November off from work. This could not have come at a better time to work on my first novel that has been molding on the shelf for six months. I got discouraged when I decided to change the beginning (for the better) and realized I would have to restructue everything else. I think this would be a great way for me to dive back in and fill out the big missing pieces.

    • Lynne, completing the first novel is tough for so many reasons, including the one that you mentioned—discouragement when we discover that we need to make major changes.

      But going through the process teaches us so many lessons too. Finishing a novel—rewriting and changing and making ourselves work out problems—is one of the best teachers for writers. There’s so much we learn by simply fixing problems—knowledge that stays with us, becomes a part of us—that it’s beyond important for all writers to finish that first novel. Quitting when faced with seemingly insurmountable problems might mean that we end up with three or fourth unfinished novels and wide gaps in our skills. Finishing, even if a story won’t ever be published, gives us a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that we can’t gain from books and the advice of others, no matter how comprehensive.

      So we need advice and lessons and experience. At the same time we need encouragement as well as reminders that the first attempt will certainly be flawed. Once we understand that rewriting—even major rewriting—is common and expected and actually part of the process, we typically find our attitude changing and we’re more relaxed about the need to rework stories.

      Yes, rewriting is still a pain in the butt, but stories are richer for our efforts. Our satisfaction is likely to be greater too. I mean, don’t we love it when we wrestle a monster of a story into submission and make it look good at the same time?

      I’m glad you’ll be tackling your story this November. I’m pulling for you.

  8. Anne Hodges says:

    I think a write-in sounds fantastic. This is my first NaNo. My daughter encouraged me to give it a shot (she’s done it the last four years), after I had changed my mind and set aside the beginning of my novel, roughly 40,000 words, for the fourth time. Since I essentially have a great amount of the prep done, it seems like a great way to take the bones and ideas I like, and start fresh. I have thrown myself 100% into the process and I have found some amazing resources available. I’ve always been a solitary writer, but this is already turning out to be a blast. Good luck to everyone and I hope to meet you at a write-in.

  9. Darien says:

    Thanks Beth,

    I’m way more pantser, so I keep an outline loose, and mainly major events.

    Butterfly method is more, right a quick word or two for each chapter, then go back and expand, and continue to build. Same with character profiles.

    I envy all of you that can jump to a new story. I find I need to complete my journey with this one before I can open my mind to something else. Believe me, there will be plenty to challenge me.

    I look forward to November!

    Take Care, and thanks for the tips!


  10. Nancy says:

    Hi! I am new, too, just signed up in the past hour (I guess that qualifies me wholeheartedly as a “pantser”!)

    I too love the idea of a write in, and am interested to see you say this process can also be used to rewrite or finish a manuscript. I have one with about 4 chapters written without a clear idea of where it should go. But I am also thinking it might be valuable for me to use this first nanowrimo as a jumping off place to challenge myself to start AND FINISH something (however rocky & jumbled) in one swoop. I am, in life, an inveterate pantser, procrastinator & one-who-leaves-things-undone unless I have a hard deadline.

    Count me in on any write-in.

    Thank you so much for the suggestions and the encouragement.

    • Nancy, so glad to have you diving in with the rest of us NaNoers.

      Finish a project or start a new project, whichever you think you might have more success with (or whichever holds the greatest interest for you). If you can’t decide, flip a coin. Or work on both, switching between the two projects. You definitely wouldn’t get bored with two stories to work on. And there’s nothing wrong with taking on two NaNo stories.

      Remind yourself you can begin after midnight tonight–get those word counts started early.

      I’m thinking of a write-in on Friday the eleventh and maybe one more before the month is out. Simply getting together with others can be encouraging. And while we don’t often write with others, why not do it for fun once or twice? Other people share their dreams and hobbies with like-minded folks, why not writers?

      I wish you success for the month. I also hope that you surprise yourself during the month. Whether that means a discovery of a skill or interest or a phenomenal word count, I hope you enjoy what you discover.