Friday, October 01, 2021

NaNoWriMo Prep: Get Ready to NaNo Your Novel

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
If you're considering doing NaNo this November, it's time to start prepping.

Writers all over the world are gearing up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), so it's time to break out the handy dandy prep guides for those about to dive into the writing frenzy.

If you're not doing NaNo, these guides are useful overviews of what goes into a novel, so you'll find some helpful tips on novel writing as well.

And if you're looking for an overall helpful guide to the whole novel-writing process, I suggest taking a peek of my book, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. It has ten self-guided workshops and over 100 exercises designed to guide you from idea to a workable outline and synopsis.

Ready? Okay, let's go!

If you've decided to do NaNo, you probably have an inkling of what you want to write about. If not, then I’d suggest starting with this article for brainstorming ideas or this one on looking at the bigger story picture before doing these exercises.

Step One: What's Your Word Count Goal? 

NaNo aims for 50,000 words, but you don't have to write that much. You can decide your own personal word count goal and use November to keep you motivated and enjoy the camaraderie NaNo brings.

Do you want to work toward a complete 50,000-word novel (even if the plan is to flesh it out later) or the first 50,000 words of a longer novel? Or maybe you have a novel in the works and want to focus on the last 50,000 words (I did this one year. I wrote 30,000 words in October and then finished the novel in November). Maybe you're more comfortable with 30,000 words total, or really want to push yourself and go for 80,000. It's up to you.

Why this helps: Knowing your word count goal helps you figure out how to pace your story. For example, a 50,000-word rough draft of a full novel will look different from the first half of a more fleshed out novel aiming for 100,000 words. A rough draft will try to capture the entire book, while the first half will cover (naturally) the first half.

(Here's more with Bulking Up: Fleshing Out a Too-Short Novel)

Step Two: Narrow Down Your Core Story Idea 

Write down your one-sentence pitch line and nail what this story is about. This holds true for either a full or half novel. If you can’t capture it in one sentence, don’t sweat it, but try to keep it under a paragraph if you can. This is particularly helpful if you're not sure if the idea is worth writing or not.

Think of it like writing a query to identify all the critical pieces of your novel. If you absolutely can’t boil it down to a few sentences, that’s a red flag that you don’t have a solid understanding of what the core conflict is yet, and that can result in hitting a wall around the 25% mark come November.

Why this helps: Clarifying the core conflict of your novel will make it easier to plot (and write) that novel. You’ll have a clear goal for your protagonist to work toward, and you’ll be able to determine if a subplot or idea is helping your novel or sending you off on a tangent. You might try this basic three-point outline structure as an early test to see if you have enough plot to write an entire novel.

(Here's more with Building Your Core: Internal and External Core Conflicts)

Step Three: Figure Out the Major Points in the Plot 

You don't need to plot out every scene in advance (unless you want to), but having a general sense of the overall plot helps show how the novel might unfold. It gives you just enough structure to guide your brainstorming sessions and give your idea direction.

List your major turning points of the plot. Your:
It's okay if these turning points are vague right now if you’re not yet sure how those moments play out, but try to get a general idea of where it will go. “Protagonist beats bad guy on her terms” is good enough to get you thinking, but "protagonist tricks bad guy into revealing his crime" is even better since it gives more specific direction. If the details are still fuzzy, try thinking about your novel conceptually.

Why this helps: This list will be your story road map for the month. As long as you know where your story needs to go, it’ll be that much easier to figure out what your characters have to do to get there.

(Here's more with What You Should Know About the Three Act Structure)  

Step Four: Summarize As Much As You Can About Your Story

Process styles will vary with this step, so if you're more of an outliner, then outline, and if you're more of a pantser, pants. The goal is to get the heavy thinking out of the way so come November, you can write and not have to stop and plan what you're gong to write that day. Maybe you think about the plot, or maybe you focus on the characters and their arcs, or maybe it's the premise. Whatever you need to get started.

Write a rough synopsis. It doesn’t have to be good or even something anyone but you can understand, but try to get in those major turning points and how you get from one to the other. Remember, it’s okay if some things are vague at this stage--this is just to get your started and give you direction.

If you’re unsure of the details, write down the general idea of what you want to have happen. Using the character arc is also fine at this stage, though you'll look for plot events to achieve that arc later. “She learns she has to stand up for herself and stop being such a doormat after her experience with the villain” gives you enough information to work with.

Why this helps: A rough synopsis is like brainstorming on paper. You start thinking about how your novel will unfold, and even if you change it when you write those scenes, you’ll have a guide to get you there. You’ll also know rather quickly if the novel won't work if you can’t think of anything to fill a rough, broad-stroke synopsis.

(Here's more with Birth of a Book: The Idea Stage: Clarifying the Idea)  

Step Five (optional): Outline Your Novel

Do a rough outline of the novel, however you like to outline. Include as much or as little information as you have or need. Pantsers probably won't want to do this (they may even find the synopsis more outlining than they like), but unless you really hate outlining, I suggest trying it. You'll be writing on a tight deadline and every advantage will help you hit your goal. 

It'll be harder to meet the daily word count goals if you spend half your writing time staring at the page thinking about the next scene. You can also look at different ways to pre-write your scenes if that works better for you.

Why this helps: This will enable you to break down the novel into manageable pieces, so not only will you have firm daily writing goals, you'll see the novel's pacing and if it has everything it needs. If not, revise your outline until it feels solid.

(Here's more with Outline Your Novel the Incredibly Easy Way)

Step Six: Turn the Brain Loose on the Idea

By now, odds are you have a lot of ideas and details about the story flying around in your head. You're thinking about all the cool moments, the fun things you can do, the interesting parts of the character or the world. Use those. Don't let this creative momentum go just yet.

Write down any ideas you have about your novel, no matter how vague or unconnected they feel. Think of it as an idea bank for later.

Why do this: Random ideas are often the work of our subconscious. They might not seem like much right now, but as you write your novel, that snippet of a scene might be the exact thing you need to move forward. It also lets your ideas simmer in your mind so they can be useful later.

After all this (hopefully fun) work, you should have a decent overview of what you want to write. It might be rough or detailed, depending on how much you know going in, and that's okay. Don’t worry if it’s vague, as long as you can see a story unfolding there. There’s a protagonist with a problem, a series of attempts to solve that problem, a conflict keeping them from their goal, stakes if they fail, and a resolution to the problem. If you have that, you have a much better chance of avoiding writer’s block during November and hitting the 50,000-word target. 

If you're ready to move on, here's more on planning a novel's beginning (which is really the whole first 25% of the book).

Here are links to the full series, and a few extras:
Who’s doing NaNo this year? Are you going for a full or half novel? Are you plotting it or pantsing it?

For more help on plotting or writing a novel check out my Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure.

Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure offers ten self-guided workshops with more than 100 different exercises to help you craft a solid novel. Learn how to:
  • Create compelling characters readers will love
  • Choose the right point of view for your story
  • Determine the conflicts that will drive your plot (and hook readers!)
  • Find the best writing process for your writing style
  • Create a solid plot from the spark of your idea
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure also helps you develop the critical elements for submitting and selling your novel once it’s finished. You’ll find exercises on how to:
  • Craft your one-sentence pitch
  • Create your summary hook blurb
  • Develop a solid working synopsis And so much more!
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to writing your novel or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound


  1. I'm not doing Nano but need a kick in the butt to get going on organizing my story so I can start writing. Thanks so much. I loved the links too.

  2. My writing style is really not cut out for NaNo, so I'm doing a more modest word count this November and leaving myself open to be the sanity hook for the other two people I know who are going for the full word count. I'll pass this advice on to them. Thanks for the links!

    1. Same! I'm shooting for 25,000 words or so and just trying to enjoy the community.��

    2. Good goals! That's not a lot of words per day, so it's manageable.

  3. This is a great post. Visit my NaNo prep post on the Structure Sheet. Best of luck to you this November!

    In My Write Mind

  4. This post is so helpful - thank you! I'm a first time Nano participant, so my goal is simply 50K but I suspect my story will require more (perhaps 70K?).

  5. This is my 3rd NaNo. I didn't finish the last two times. I hope too this time. I have planned on 2000 words per day. I now have to squeeze time in as I've gone back to work PT.

  6. Wonderful post! I'm sending the link to my area (yeah, I'm crazy enough to ML for a third year!)

    This will be my fourth year doing Nano. I've made the 50K goal each time and hope to do more this Nov. My goal is to get the complete first draft down of my shiny new idea. I'm shooting for 2000 words a day at least, like Debra.

    The best news from this pantser? I've done all those things you listed up there. :)

    Good luck everyone!

  7. This is my 2nd NaNo, and I'm bringing the Write on Edge community with me this time.

    This is fantastic advice; I'm going to share it with them.

    Thank you!

  8. Hi, great post, thanks. You're blog looks awesome. I haven't stopped by in a while.

  9. This is my 4th time at Nano, and this time I want to actually finish what I started.

    The previous times I didn't have a plan and honestly, I wasn't in the best mindset, and that ended up doing me in.

    This year, I've taken the time to be more methodical, without turning me into a overly meticulous scheduling fiend.

    My only problem now is deciding what to work on this year.

    There are two promising projects I've been pre-writing since September, but I just can't decide which to do for November.

    I wish others who are going for this year all the best.

  10. I just heard about NaNo this year and I've decided to try it. I'm going for the full 50k and I have my story plotted...mostly in my head lol

  11. Very helpful post, I'll probably be using this as a check list to make sure I've got everything down although luckily I've already got some of that planned out!

    I'm going for the full 50k with a plan to flesh it out later. Fingers crossed :) looking forward to tomorrow's post!

  12. Not doing NaNo, too busy working on the first draft of book two in my series. I would love to, have a lot of ideas bouncing around in my head. But deadlines are deadlines, even if they are self-imposed. Good luck to those who are, I'll be cheering you on.

  13. I'm doing Nano for the third time but attempting a full outline for the first time, so this post was definitely helpful - thanks!

  14. After seeing that I wrote 45K this month, I'm doing NaNoWriMo for a breather project.

    I used 750 Words, a website, to do some brainstorming of the first act of my novel. I pretty much typed up a summary, but I have the structure down. I'm going to do Act II today.

  15. This is my first NaNo. I've done most of the things you suggest and just have scene snippet and flow left. I couldn't imagine pantsing this, the idea has developed so far over the course of this month that if I had waited for it to happen while actively writing it things would be a mess. Oh, and NaNo will put me between the midpoint and Act 3, I think.

    Great post, Janice.

  16. I'm doing NaNoWriMo for the first time . . . so very much appreciate the tips. Some, I actually had started but there are some I hadn't thought of so THANKs. I'm excited to pound out that first drafts, but think these planning advice will help me stick it through the month.

  17. Definitely doing NaNo this year and this time I will win!

  18. This is my first time doing NanoWriMo. I had sketched out many things but finding your posts on the subject helps to further organize my plotting and outline. I can see there are some things I didn't plan for that would have hit me mid-November.

  19. Natalie, most welcome. I'm glad I did this. It's a handy thing to have. I'm not doing NaNo either. I'd wanted to, but I'm still not done with the new book and that has to come first.

    Kathie, that works too! I think the goal is to motivate yourself to write. However you do that it's a win.

    Justin, thanks! I'll take a peek. The more help out there the better.

    Lee, I bet a lot of folks will be fleshing out their 50Ks, so you're not alone. I tend to write short rough drafts and flesh them out myself.

    Debra, best of luck to you! you know what they say - third time's the charm. I'll keep my fingers crossed that proves true for you.

    Charity, wow, a four year veteran. Good for you. Yay, it works for pantsers! Makes me happy

    CDG, most welcome! Good luck to you and your group.

    Amanda, thanks, and welcome back. I did a major redesign back in Feb.

    Taurean, even though I haven't done a NaNo, I think planning has got to be important. You have so little time to think about what to write. If the ideas were the ones you pitched, I'd suggest the first one.

    Danielle, plotting in your head works too :) Good luck!

    Patricia, fingers crossed and good luck vibes heading your way.

    Ken, I'm in your boat there. Have to put it off one more year, but hopefully next year I can join in.

    Jillian, glad to hear it and good luck!

    CO, wow, you're all set. I do about 30K a month for the most part. That pesky day job gets in the way of doing more.

    Gene, thanks and good luck! I'd be lost if I tried to pants it as well. But then, I'm be lost pantsing anything.

    Cathe, another first timer, awesome. Even a loose outline gives you something to work from and keep you moving.

    Najela, awesome! I'm rooting for you.

    Teresatrent, you just made my whole NaNo prep series worth it. Hearing that makes me happy :)

  20. This will be my seventh NaNo and, hopefully, my sixth win. I'm shooting for an 80K novel, although I don't expect to finish it during November.

    I started out a die-hard pantser and have been gradually moving towards plotting. Last time, I did a lot of work on background and character and identified the major turning points (act endings).

    This year I'm going so far as to write out chapter summaries, at least for the early part of the novel. Having never done that before, I have no idea whether the amount of plot I've planned for a given chapter will actually be one chapter's worth or not. Any advice for a reformed pantser?

  21. Forgot to add -- best of luck to all of you!

  22. Siri, seventh NaNo, wow! I think the chapter summaries are a good start. That'll allow you to get some first ideas down on paper, then you can pants your way through it. I adjust my summaries all the time as I write, so shift things around as you need them. Sometimes the summaries run long or short.

    You might also try just doing a few chapters at a time for the whole novel, like planing short stretches so you don't get too far ahead of the story. You can plan out the next week, and then see what happens. Small steps, but not outlining the entire novel.

  23. I am going to do Camp NaNo in June and August and then NaNoWriMo in November... 150000 words... 3 stories... one author who has a learning disability of sorts and dyspraxia... it will be hard work but it will be totally and utterly worth it, especially if it means i can prove that i can do something right! I am going to attempt Script Frenzy next year as well... bring on the first of june... bring on the challenge!

  24. FanFic, wow, that's quite a goal. Best of luck and I hope you nail it :)

  25. I am planning on writing NaNoWriMo for the first time. This panster is even going to try an outline and strategic planning for once. *Cringes a little*

    I am super hyped to have seventy of my students join NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. This will be part of my classwork for November. All these youth will then publish through Smashwords. The word counts will vary, but writing is writing!

    I am taking the challenge with them. Sounds like so much fun.

  26. This is a great post. It's useful not only for NaNoWriMoers but also people starting out on a new lengthy project.

    This year I'm starting my own NaNoWriMo 10% Project. Yep, 5000 words in a month on my WiP.
    Thanks for the Twitter mention the other day, Janice!

  27. Love these tips! My favorite piece of advice from NaNo...don't edit as you go!

  28. Read your "Dear Teen Me" post and loved it. Gave me an idea for my high school journalism students. THANKS!

  29. Janice thank you for ANOTHER wonderful post!I've been debating on whether or not I want to try NaNo again to finish the first draft of my first YA novel. If I do it will be my third attempt. I am however very tempted to give it a try again after reading this post. Going to use this writing plan on my WIP and see where it takes me. If I can successfully fulfill this prep stage of plotting I think I will give it another shot.

    Thanks for being such an inspiration! Oh, and good luck to all the participants.

  30. Shouldn't do NaNo - real life commitments and all. But it is so darn appealing...

  31. Glacier, ooo good luck on both! Kudos for trying something new though. That's awesome about your students. What a great way to get kids writing.

    VirtueFiction, anytime. I love the idea of a 10% NaNo. Sometimes you need to start slow to get anywhere. That first step :)

    Julie, oh absolutely :) Maybe not even use the same file so you never get a chance to look at what you wrote the previous day.

    Marti, thanks, glad you liked it (and it sparked an idea, that's always cool). Good luck on your YA novel! Maybe third time's the charm? I know it's taken me multiple drafts to get some of mine right. (like 5 drafts for Blue Fire)

    Raewyn, that's always been me. I want to do it, but Nov is a tough month for me. We need an April NaNo :)

  32. Since I read this post I have been using this plan and i really like it so far. So much so that I shared it on my blog Marti Ink. Take a peak:

  33. Marti, cool, thanks! I love Kristen Lamb's blog, too, especially her posts on antagonists. Fun gal. Got to meet and hang with her at RWA this past summer.

  34. I'm raring to go on NaNo! I've got a rough scene by scene plot sketched out, character sketches, synopsis, logline, etc. Working on a title and cover mock-up for my NaNo novel profile. Then maybe cast my characters, which is always fun and helps me to visualize them better.

    I think this is my fourth NaNo, plus a number of Script Frenzies and Camp Nanos as well. I'll be working on a 100,000 word novel to be completed in November (50,000 is never long enough for me, and I like to have a first draft done by the end of NaNo.) Actually, looking at my scene outline, it might be over 100,000 words, but we'll see. Some of those scenes will probably end up being combined, and new ones will crop up.

    If anyone wants to buddy with me on NaNo, I am pdw.

    1. Hi. Thanks for the reminder about NaNo. I didn't do it last year but I did use the month to work on my WiP novel and managed to get 20,000 words further on during the month. So, if you're working on a novel use the month to make progress knowing loads of others are in the same boat!

    2. Grats! And great advice :) It's a nice way to motivate yourself in some way.

  35. WOO NANO! i'll be aiming for 60k like my last draft, but if the first act happens to be a bit longer, i'll move the line.

    And for those out there who are trying NaNo for the first time, i HIGHLY suggest outlining as much as possibe. last year i wrote off of ust a sypnosis and most of what i wrote was usless. Like Janice said, there will be no time to think of where to go next. if you get stuck the best thing to do is push ahead and tell yourself its just a first draft.

    Nice post and good luck to anyone trying NaNoWriMo this year!


  36. Hi Janice. I wrote and won nano wrong last year. It was the first time I attempted a novel. I got to revising it a few months back and realised it's much harder to revise. I had come across your blog on revising back then. This time around I am going to read up all you have to say on writing the first draft so that my nanowrimo 50k words aren't as 'unsaveable ' as they were last year. Full novel attempt again this year.

    1. Sending good luck writing vibes your way :) Hope the outlines work well for you and this year is a more productive NaNo!

  37. Thanks for that, this is very helpful.

  38. I love this organizational structure of how and why.The best I've seen of its kind.

  39. I love this organizational structure of how and why.The best I've seen of its kind.

  40. Thanks for these helpful tips Janice. I'll be taking your advice on board this time around.