NaNoWriMo Prep Tips

Things to know for November’s National Novel Writing Month.

Nanowrimo (aka NaNoWriMo) is short for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November. More and more writers of all levels and from all genres are participating, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them.

There are a lot of good, and often contradictory, tips out there on how to “win” at Nanowrimo. The tips are contradictory in nature because every writer is different, and what may work for some could lead others to a lot of frustration. (Also, you don’t have to think of it as a “win/lose” competition, unless that kind of pressure suits your personality.)

Nanowrimo might give you the time limit that helps you stick to a stricter writing schedule or word count goal.

For example, for some writers, Nanowrimo might be the perfect time to experiment with a different genre, different category, different writing schedule, etc. For other writers, why mess with an established tried and true routine that accomplishes consistently good results?

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ONE SIZE FITS ALL types of writer tips are very rare. Like anemones and fish, what works for one person can be a painful or frustrating experience for another.

If you usually outline, Nanowrimo might give you the kick in the pants (or the excuse) to write more from the gut (or try a looser form of getting your thoughts on paper). Conversely, if you usually write in inspired spurts, Nanowrimo might give you the time limit that helps you stick to a stricter writing schedule or word count goal.

There are tips that say that Nanowrimo is best approached with months of preparation and a solid idea of who you are as a writer. And just as valid is the point of view that anyone, novice and pro, would do well to think of Nanowrimo as a pressure that pushes you beyond your comfort zone, beyond who you think you are and what you think you can do.


While reading a bunch of tips on a bunch of blogs and writing sites is generally a good idea, there are a few caveats.

Use your prep time wisely. There are many “tips” that might be worthwhile for some people, and a waste of time for others. Here’s what’s out there:

PREPARE YOURSELF for A LOT of blog articles that have very emotional, click-baity titles like “RULES for creating a character” and “12 CRUCIAL things you need to write the next Breakout Novel/ Bestseller/Nanowrimo winner” or “How to Survive Nanowrimo” or “8 things you NEED to know about your characters” or “10 things you MUST do before November.” Don’t get caught up in the hype (unless you thrive on hype). There are indeed crucial things you need or must do – like eat, sleep, take mental breaks, don’t take your frustration out on loved ones – and the world won’t end if you don’t read every article. And the world will definitely keep spinning if you disagree with some of the “Crucial” advice.

CHARACTER INTERVIEWS (where you pretend to interview your characters to really get into their motivations and backgrounds, childhoods, favorite taco restaurant, etc): Personally, I jot down just the basic character information on  a Post-It or index card so I can focus on the important thing – writing the story. Character interviews are great for some people, but they’re huge time-wasting rabbit holes for other people. It ceases to become useful if you’re spending a lot more time doing fun little quizzes and interviews than actual writing.

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Comparing wordcounts can work as motivation for some people, but don’t do it if it makes you feel bad about your own progress.

“QUIZZES”: Some of these are good places to check your story for overdone cliches. However, what might be “overdone” for the quiz author might be tropes you really enjoy reading. Like, if you love stories with elves and dwarves and swords and sorcery, write that story! Or if you can’t get enough of Romance novels where there’s a love interest dying from cancer or something, write that story!

A lot of great stories were written before writing apps were invented.

THE LATEST “GAME-CHANGING” APPS: If you want to try a new program or “helpful” writing gadget, November is not the best time to tinker with it unless you don’t count it as part of your writing time. Some writing apps have a steep learning curve and not being able to do any actual writing is literally counterproductive for the point of Nanowrimo. Also – the reason I have game-changing in quotes is because that’s what’s been said to me about a certain writing app. Sure, it could be a game-changer for some writers, but it might not be the best way for others. A lot of great stories were written before writing apps. A new one might help you eventually get your story out to other people, but it’s no substitute for having a good story in the first place, and it’s not a magic potion that will miraculously give you writing skills overnight.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND NANOWRIMO GROUPS: Again, your mileage may vary. If you bloom in  competitive atmospheres, it might help you to compare your word count with other people on a regular basis. If you’re more of a nose-to-the-grindstone person, it might be distracting to have to foster/nurture online friendships while trying to concentrate on your story. There are “sprints” in which someone tells you to complete a certain task or write a certain amount of words within a certain amount of time. This can help you if you’d rather leave that kind of housekeeping to other people, or be detrimental if it feels like yet another obligation in your already packed schedule, or you simply don’t like it when people tell you what to do.

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If you’ve always been fine on your own, there’s no reason to suddenly join a bunch of Nanowrimo groups. Plenty of people have done this on their own. (But if you want to try out some new writing relationships, now is a good time to find other writers because many come out of their dens and nooks to work in public Come Write Ins – spaces where people are encouraged to work on their Nanowrimo novels).

A Nanowrimo prep tip that can help any writer of any genre at any skill level is this:

Before Nanowrimo, figure out your S.M.A.R.T. goals.

SMART is the acronym for a goal or set of goals that are:

SPECIFIC: “I will write 50k words in thirty days” is a good goal. But an even better goal would be something more specific like “I will write 1,667 words every afternoon (or morning).” If you plan on taking the weekends off (I do family things on the weekend), a better goal would be “I will write 2,300 words every morning.”

MEASURABLE: “I will write a book in November” is a decent goal, as is “I’ll write a little bit every day.” But the harder it is to measure your output with something tangible, or a number, the harder it is to keep track of whether or not you’re achieving progress towards your goal(s). It’s easy to get disheartened if you don’t see measurable progress.

ATTAINABLE: A lofty goal is good because it challenges you to go beyond your perceived limits. But if the goal is set too high, or it seems or feels or is unattainable, then it can backfire because it might be overwhelmingly daunting. However, a goal that seems lofty might actually be attainable if it’s broken into little baby steps. For many people, the idea of writing 50,000 words in 30 days seems implausible. But broken up into little attainable baby steps, 1,667 words per day (or 900 words before breakfast, then 900 words after dinner), and it sounds a lot more doable.

RELEVANT: Be honest about how Nanowrimo is relevant to your life. Will it truly help your writing career, expand your writing horizon, challenge your writing skills if you attempt to write 50k words in one month. There are a lot of benefits, but there can also be a lot of better uses for your time (attending workshops, writing at your own pace, exploring/reading other genres, querying an existing manuscript or getting one ready for independent publication, etc).

TIME-BOUND: Again, the same example of X number of words per day or per week or per whatever time increment you decide. Leaving the time open-ended is missing half the equation. “I’m going to write 1,700 words” is a good goal, but “I’m going to write 1,700 words every day from 6pm to 8pm” gives more respect to your time and effort. You are setting those hours apart for you and your goal.

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Protect your writing time. If you want it to be your job, then treat it like a job.

An important thing you can do to prep for Nanowrimo is a quick self-evaluation of your writing toolkit. Check out the flow chart below and the blog posts that match where you are with where you might want to go with your Nanowrimo story.

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Starter Pack



If there are any writing topics you’d like covered in a future post, let me know. I hope you have a great time doing Nanowrimo this year. Good luck!

Have questions?

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