Thousands of people worldwide take part in NaNoWriMo where they attempt to write a novel in 30 days. I want to share some of my preparation techniques.

"Its's all in the journey..." written on a typewriter.  NaNoWriMo doesn't need to be hard, use these preparation techniques to make it easier.
NaNoWriMo doesn’t need to be hard, use these preparation techniques to make it easier
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month, known commonly as NaNoWriMo, is an annual challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days during November. Hundreds of thousands of people participate every year. It is not easy, and it is a ton of fun if you enjoy writing, pressure, no sleep, coffee shakes, and not seeing your friends and family for a month.

November 2020 will be my eleventh year participating, and I’m happy to say that I have succeeded every year. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to write. But with ten years of experience under my belt, I want to share some of my preparation techniques.

There are two types of NaNoWriMo writers, planners, and pantsters. The planners like to plan things out in advance, and pantsters like to fly by the seat of their pants. I’m in the planner category, but I leave room for creativity. Now, you can’t start your novel until November 1st, but you can do as much prep work as you’d like beforehand. And I’ve noticed that for me, preparation helps ease the frantic writing during the challenge. So, if you’re a planner, these techniques are for you.

Genre Selection

A bookstore bookshelf full of books.  What genre will you choose for your NaNoWriMo novel?
What genre will you choose for your NaNoWriMo novel?
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

Genre selection is important for planning your NaNoWriMo novel. What do you want to write about? A hard sci-fi, or high fantasy? Maybe a western, or a young adult adventure? How about a hard-hitting detective novel, or perhaps a steamy romance story? Maybe you don’t want to write genre fiction at all and want to write a literary novel.

I like to use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to play around and try new things. Maybe you can attempt to write a new genre you’ve never thought you’d like to write before. But if you choose a genre you are not familiar with, be sure to read several books in that genre beforehand so you can get an idea of how to write it. I did this with steampunk many years ago.

Character Creation

Toys of numerous recognizable characters from movies and TV.  What kind of characters will you create for your NaNoWriMo novel?
What kind of characters will you create for your NaNoWriMo novel?
Photo by Roberto Carlos Roman on Unsplash

Once you have a genre, usually you start coming up with a plot, I don’t include that in this list because it’s obvious you need the plot to have a novel. Character creation, however, is vital. I have a 12-page questionnaire that I fill out for any significant main characters, protagonists, and antagonists. It may be excessive, but it works for me and helps me understand who my characters are.

Get to know your characters, their likes, dislikes, why they want what they want, and their darkest secrets. Who do they admire? Do they have a crush? Are they married? What are their fears, and what’s their outlook on life? Many of these things may never show up in the novel, but they shape who your characters are and help you create rich backstories.

However, be willing to let your characters grow. I’ve had characters change as I was writing the story. That’s okay. Sometimes writing them helps them become more real than pre-planning them, but planning your characters significantly helps when you’re preparing for NaNoWriMo.

World Building

The sun rising over the earth from space.  What kinds of world will you build for your NaNoWriMo novel?
What kind of world will you build for your NaNoWriMo novel?
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Like your characters, it’s good to know the world you’re creating for your characters to interact in. And even if your story is taking place in a modern setting, in a real place, you still need to do some world-building. If your story is taking place in the West Side of Manhattan, you need to know that area enough to put your characters there. If you’re creating a sword and planet sci-fi and your story takes place on the planet Vextra IV, you need to know what the world is like.

Craft your world like a director would craft a set in a movie, or like an imaginative child at play. What does it look like, feel like, smell and sound like? Use all the senses. Who is in charge? What is the climate? What time of year does your story take place? If it’s an alien world, what kind of fauna and flora do they have? It doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate, but you’ll have the groundwork laid down.

Timeline of Events

"Stories matter" written on a typewriter.  Creating a timeline of events will help focus your writing for NaNoWriMo.
Creating a timeline of events will help focus your writing for NaNoWriMo
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

I hate outlining. It’s the worst. So, I compromise. I always create a timeline of events for all of my NaNoWriMo novels. Think of it as a minimized outline, or a mini synopsis. It is a relatively linear roadmap of what happens in your novel. Some authors write linear, and others do not. Either way, it’s good to have a timeline of events. It helps keep you focused when you have to write so much in so little time.

I don’t always stick to the timeline of events. There have been many times that I deviate from the outline, but I know where I want the story to end up. If I take a side path, that’s alright because I have an idea of where I’m going. A timeline of events focuses your story and makes the challenge manageable.

Create a Book Cover

A simple book cover that has the title "My Secret Plan to Rule the World".  Will you create a cover for your NaNoWriMo novel?
Will you create a cover for your NaNoWriMo novel?
Photo by Ann H from Pexels

I do not do this for novels I write outside of NaNoWriMo. Why do I create a fake book cover for a novel that I will write so fast that it looks laughably sloppy compared to a regular first draft? Because it gets the creative juices flowing. You create a fake book cover, with a pretty title and your name on the cover, and you’re motivated to write the darn thing. And the best part is that you don’t have to be a Photoshop master to do this. All you need is a royalty-free stock photo and some general photo editing knowledge, or at the very least, knowledge of Microsoft Paint.

I put mine up on the NaNoWriMo site in my profile, and that’s it. It doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t go anywhere, and I don’t explicitly show anyone. It’s mostly there for me and my motivation to keep me going. I get to look at it and imagine that on a bookshelf.

Sure, when you finish, your NaNoWriMo novel is a hot mess, because let’s be honest, you wrote it in 30 days. But it’s your hot mess, and you can revel in the fact that you completed a manuscript. It might be a vomit draft, and it may be terrible, but that’s what rewriting and editing and polishing are for. Take that lump of coal and turn it into a diamond.


Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? If you do, what are you planning on writing this year, and do you have any preparation techniques you would like to share? Leave a comment below.