How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: 4 Easy Ways to Get Ready NOW

by Emily Wenstrom | 21 comments

You might be thinking, “National Novel Writing Month is two months away. Why should I think about how to prepare for NaNoWriMo now?”

how to prepare for NaNoWriMo

Completing the NaNoWriMo challenge is no small feat—it can take years to complete a novel, and yet those who step up for NaNoWriMo each year complete an entire first draft in just a month. This averages out to 1,667 words each day (you can download and print the official NaNoWriMo calendar here).

The official rules for NaNoWriMo state that writers are not permitted to start writing until November 1. But that doesn’t mean you have to just sit and wait. You can prepare for it!

Before the month of November, take advantage of the free time you have for some NaNoWriMo prep work.

By following these four ways, you can succeed (and have fun writing) when the time of year to meet your NaNoWriMo goals comes.

4 Ways To Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Although most writers turn their attention to NaNo prep in Preptober (the NaNo community has even dubbed this nickname for the month of October), writers hoping to take on NaNoWriMo for the first time might consider strategizing for National Novel Writing Month even earlier.

To do this, I recommend four ways you can give yourself a jumpstart for NaNoWriMo success:

1. Get to know your characters

Characters are what drive plots forward. Especially main characters, who need to make decisions and take action in order for the plot to advance.

The better you understand your characters’ motives, histories, and personalities, the more naturally the story will grow once it’s time to write.

That's why writers who take a little time to get to know each of their story's key characters have a huge advantage when November arrives.

How can you get to know your characters better? Take a look at these valuable posts for tips and strategies on how to write characters, some accompanied with free templates and practice exercises:

2. Explore your world

Whether you’re creating an entire fantasy universe or just a small Midwestern town, the setting of your story can be powerful.

Take a walk through the streets (or fly through the galaxies) and make sure you know the history, major landmarks, and secrets behind your world.

Some authors, like J.R.R. Tolkien, take twenty years to craft their worlds, while other pantsers explore their story's world when they write their first draft.

However, it doesn't hurt to brainstorm world building ideas and jot down essential setting elements that will impact your character's perspective in their world, and challenge them in their plot.

You don't need to have a flawless concept of your world before November, but having a general idea about how your world works will probably help you tighten your story idea. Maybe you even want to make a playlist for your book, inspired by the story's landscape!

Brainstorming a world can be a lot of fun—but also can intimidate writers before the writing process. For some writing tips on how to build your world, learn more from these articles:

3. Plan your plot

Star this point. Pay attention to it.

When it comes to writing and editing big ideas, you often want to start with plot and structure. Why? Because plot represents the conflicts and events your main character will face—and that they will need to make decisions about in order to move forward in your story.

Plotters have an advantage here, as you can break down your plot points as much as you want before NaNoWriMo starts. But for writers who are more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants (pantser), it can help to at least know the major tentpole moments.

To get you started, learn and study the Six Elements of Plot. Or, the major events that happen in every unit of story—from an act to a scene to a beat.

You can learn all about the Six Elements of Plot in this post. For a quick recap, they are:

  • Exposition
  • Inciting Incident
  • Rising Action
  • Dilemma (Literary Crisis)
  • Climax
  • Denouement (Resolution)

A story that doesn't include the six elements of plot will lack an ability to develop characters and move the plot forward. One that includes these will likely avoid huge structural issues that will make it all the more difficult to edit your book after NaNoWriMo.

Having at least a rough idea of where your story is headed will also help stave off writer's block—allowing you to make the most of your writing time in November.

4. Clear your schedule

Once November hits, getting those 50,000 words in is going to keep you busy, no matter how much planning you do.

If there’s anything you can take care of in the months before November, do it. Clear what you can in your schedule now and maybe write a synopsis. Join some writing sprints or write-ins, but instead of writing scenes, focus on planning instead of writing the book. Figure out how you'll avoid social media or other distractions when it counts. Practice this.

The fewer distractions and commitments on your plate while you write, the better.

And the more you practice planning, writing, and how to dedicate your time to writing before November 1, the more likely you'll meet your NaNoWriMo goals and come out a winner.

Writing is a Marathon

Remember, writing a novel is a marathon… and taking on the challenge of NaNoWriMo is like trying to sprint the full distance.

Help yourself along by doing what you can to prepare, pacing yourself, and taking advantage of the supportive NaNoWriMo community.

You can get more tips to complete NaNoWriMo here.

And if you don't know how or where to start, start with plot. Resources like The Write Plan Planner can help you get organized, and ready.

How about you? What have you done so far to prepare for NaNoWriMo? Let me know in the comments.

Stop trying to write and start finishing your book. The Write Plan Planner is designed to help you plan, write, and finish your book. Rock NaNoWriMo with the guide that will take you from idea to finished book.

Get your Write Plan Planner


Pick your poison: character, setting, or plot.

Start planning this element of your NaNoWriMo story, and take at least fifteen minutes to get those thoughts fleshed out on paper.

Then, share your plans in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for three other writers!

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By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.


  1. LilianGardner

    AH! Emily.
    I want to participate in NaNoWriMo and the four steps you suggest have put me on trrack. Thank you so much. I’m afraid of this challenge, but then, there’s still over half a month to work out my novel. I’ll use your four step guide. I have four ideas, (story headings) and in the hush of night I’ll decide which one to develop.

  2. EmFairley

    Great post, Emily! I’ve already done a lot of what you suggest, because I’m already four chapters into my novel, and I’m hoping NaNoWriMo gives me the push I need to get it completed. I know, it could be seen as cheating a bit, but it’s my first attempt at it, so I deserve a little head start, I think 🙂

  3. Cathy Chance

    Since I’m writing a mystery (involving a serial killer), I decided that working out the plot was important. It’s also something that I tend to be weakest on in my writing. I started off by jotting down “Major Plot Points”. As I was doing this, it dawned on me that I needed to get my chronology down. SO… I started working on a calendar covering the months the events of the story will take place. It really helped clarify things for me.

    As far as character and world building go, I will have to work more on these before 1 Nov., but since I’d already tried a draft of this story only to get stuck and decide to completely revamp it, I do know the characters. I’ll have to do some more fleshing out of secondary characters, but the main ones are fairly well set.

    The setting is San Antonio, TX in the 23rd century. I will need to do more work on this, how the city looks 200 years from now. The larger aspects of this “world”, I do know fairly well since I’ve played around in it for a number of years now. Always can do more, however!

  4. LaCresha Lawson

    I am totally not ready.

  5. ebersocats8

    This is a difficult challenge. I see others are struggling with the same issue I have, character development.

    I am using a character I’ve used before in another story of mine, so I know her well. The other characters are somewhat unknown. Then again, I’m into mysteries and how many of us know murderers? Hey, if you do, you can help me flesh out my characters. Plot for me is easy, character is not. The world of my story is here and now – no problem.

    Any advice about how to write a realistic murderer’s character would be appreciated.

    • Lauren Timmins

      Make sure he has some balance. Give him a good quality or two, maybe being a father, or having an affinity for lasagna, something that gives him a bit of humanity. I highly suggest reading about famous murderers and serial killers amd stealing pieces of them. Dr. H. H. Holmes, for example, killed a lot of young women during the Chicago World’s fair. He was very attractive and charming, which helped him gain his victims’ trust; it also allowed him to commit insurance fraud and steal things like furniture by buying it and “forgetting” to pay for it. He was married multiple times, had kids, and adored animals. But he is known for kidnapping three kids via putting them in a trunk, suffocating them, and burying them in a basement and his World’s Fair Hotel which also served as a human slaughterhouse. Quite the individual.

    • ebersocats8

      Thank you. I hadn’t thought about him having good qualities…and it makes sense, or he wouldn’t have attracted the women he did.

    • Christine

      I went to school for a time (Grades 6-7) with a boy who later murdered a senior in a robbery and then a prison guard in an escape attempt. His personality? He was a vicious bully. He bullied me whenever he had opportunity — probably chose me because I was wimpy and insecure at that time, but he likely picked on anyone he thought he could intimidate. He had a few friends, guys he hung out with, but was cold, hard, very much a loner. When I heard the news I had no trouble imagining him brutally murdering an old lady.

      I’m guessing he was mistreated at home for some reason; bullies often are. I happened to meet his younger brother once and he was the nicest kid! It’s a nice idea to give a murderer some “good points” — and maybe for crimes of passion where there’s only one target, the crime could result from a sudden “snap” in an otherwise okay sort of person. But I’m afraid when it comes to cold-blooded killing, Mr Nice Guy is almost total fiction.

    • Cathy Chance

      I’m a clinical psychologist (retired) and would be happy to help. The works by John Douglas are great.You might want to look at the Crime Classification Manual. I’ve found it very helpful.

  6. Kellie Hatman

    For those who are participating for the first time, I would suggest going to the forums now and getting a feel for them and checking out all the helpful links, tips, and sub-forums. It’s a great community and there is lots of help to be found there.

    Thanks for the post, Emily! It’s a good reminder to really flesh out the characters ahead of time. Something I don’t usually do (I’m a pantser, myself) and I tend to forget that prep step for NaNo. I have an idea of them in my head, but that’s never enough when it comes down to NaNo.

  7. Mustafa Malik

    Thanks for the useful tips, Emily.

    I plan to write a nonfiction book, a historical narrative
    illustrated by my personal experience and evolution.

    I made several attempts to write it, but was derailed in the
    first chapter. I lost motivation and got distracted by other things.

    This time I’m determined to complete it. I hope that next
    month’s NaNoWriMo will enable me to develop a silhouette for the book.

    But it’s going to be a real challenge for me, and I don’t
    know if I’m up to it. I’m an excruciatingly slow writer. I’m going to do my best, anyway.

    By the way, how can I join a forum, which has been mentioned
    on this threat? I’d appreciate the direction or a link for the forum.

    Thanks again.

  8. Ashley

    Since this is another attempt at nanowrimo i have really been focusing on these points to make going in easier (hopefully). I always start out strong and then fall apart right after, Thinking that i could get away with no planning, Everything i do in life needs some sort of plan for me, even cooking can’t just throw some things together and make it work, I need list points to go off of, guidelines even. So this post most definitely comes in handy reminding me to get some stuff down. Whether i use it or not will remain to be seen, but its there if i need it.

    Writing romance I have my 2 main characters and sort of the past they come from. The woman will be strong independent hiding her nurturing side. Parents that have been in every step of her life almost overbearing at times. Tho thinking that she endured something that she went thru, buried feelings and moved on. Weakness is something that she has a hard time showing. He will have been thru many bad things (maybe horrific) depending on how dark i want to make it. Mother is an awful person, dad is there just doesn’t know how to deal and sister that wants more than anything to help.

    I know it sounds just like them all, but hoping to put my own twist on it and bring something original to the table. Might even be more YA than anything. Time will only tell. Thank you Emily for the encourage post

  9. Elizabeth Westra

    I’m not writing for NaNoWriMo, because I write for children, and most children’s books aren’t that long. Is there something like this for children’s writers?

    • Areej

      I think NaNoWriMo has two other categories; one is for children and another is a kind of set-your-own-guidelines NaNoWriMo. Check out their website for more details.

    • Elizabeth Westra

      Thanks for the info. I’ll give it a try.

  10. James Hall

    I was skeptical about how good of a novel you would get from NaNo. I figured it would be crammed pack full of garbage and filler.

    I did NaNo last year. Won it for the first time. Novel has turned out great. Its rough and you write a lot. Planning on taking off a little time this November and plan on getting about 60,000 done towards a novel I’ve just barely started.

    Take the challenge! Best of Luck!

    • Sandi

      James, thanks for this word of encouragement.

  11. Mahrie G Reid

    Although I am not registering for NaNO… I am planning on doing the writing. I have done character sketches, made list of topics for possible scenes and gone through Glen C. Strathy’s How to write Now – 8 steps to creating your plot. I also use any one of several references books by browsing them to get my brain in the writing mode.

  12. Sandi

    I’ve been intrigued by the NaNoWriMo, but nervous about attempting it. This post is helpful getting things in perspective – thanks Emily! Building my characters is a good start for me. The comments below have also boosted the confidence…I appreciate people sharing their experiences.

  13. David H. Safford

    Love this. Preparation is so important. It’d be nice to sit down and type linguistic gold from scratch, but that’s simply not how our craft works.

    Plan ahead and plan for success!



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