It’s officially fall, which means…
- Pumpkin-spiced everything
- Delicious smells and cozy aesthetics
- Sweater weather (unless you live in Florida like I do)
- The beginning of all my favorite holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and…
Yes, as a writer, I basically consider NaNoWriMo a holiday. It’s a major part of the season.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words for a novel between November 1 and November 30. Millions of writers all over the world participate, some with the mission to get a head start on their next project, some for the incentive to begin writing their first novel, and some to simply dig into the challenge and sense of community it offers.
Whatever your motivation for signing up is, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to stretch yourself creatively and strengthen your writerly muscles. After all, the most effective way to become a better writer is to write as often as possible. NaNoWriMo gives you a clear goal that, if you stay committed to it, will help you break out of perfectionist habits like editing while you write and train you to find inspiration through action (rather than waiting around to feel “in the mood” to write).
If you write 50k words by the end of November, you’re considered to have “won” NaNoWriMo. To me, you’re a winner as long as you give it an honest effort. Even if your word count is ultimately short of the 50k goal, the fact that you took on the challenge and devoted time to a project you care about is a big win in my book. Even if you only write 15k words, that’s 15k more words than you had at the beginning of November.
You can give yourself a better chance of reaching that 50k goal, or getting as close to it as possible, by doing some preparation in October. I’ve put together a checklist that will give you your best chance at enjoying the process and getting the most out of your journey. Everything is a suggestion, so do whatever you feel called to do and leave the rest. You can also download a printable version at the end of the post if you’d like to manually check everything off as you go.
NaNoWriMo Prep Checklist
How much you want to develop your story before you start writing is entirely up to you. Some writers like to dive into NaNoWriMo armed with only a basic idea so the entire process is an adventure in the wild from start to finish. Others like to prepare as much as possible with a full outline, character profiles, etc so they have a guiding light. There is no “right way” to prepare for NaNoWriMo, just some guidelines and ideas. The important thing is that you follow what feels right to you.
Excited by the idea of winging it? Fully commit to the mystery and let it thrill you. Prefer to give yourself a map to follow? Take some time to build it out (but be sure to leave some room for surprises.) Here are some ideas to get the ideas flowing:
- Decide on a genre
- Figure out the basic story and write a blurb
- Create your main characters
- Do research (don’t get too hung up on this, you can flesh out the details later)
- Create a rough outline
- Make notes on everything you’ve got (scene ideas, dialogue, etc)
- Gather visual and auditory inspiration
NaNoWriMo’s official website allows you to create an official profile (which you can keep public, private or only visible to friends) where you can record information about your project, keep track of your progress, connect with the community, and get inspirational tips and resources throughout the process. Setting up your profile will help you feel more committed to your project and make things start to feel real. Plus, it’s just super fun.
- Register your project
- Create a Pinterest board
- Create a playlist
- Create a cover (I recommend using Canva – it’s free and they have beautiful templates for book covers)
- Join a region (to connect with other NaNoWriMo participants in your area)
- Check event schedule
Set yourself up for success early on by preparing some things that will help you hit the ground running and keep you focused throughout the month.
- Create your Magna Cartas
- Make a list of books, movies, TV shows, etc that will keep you inspired for your project
- Collect resources such as plot/action lists and prompts
- Get accountability partners
- Organize your writing system (i.e. set up your Scrivener project or organize the folders/docs on your computer)
- Create a tracking system (you can use NaNoWriMo’s or set up your own in a bullet journal, Excel sheet, Google Sheet, etc)
- Set up your writing space (organize it, decorate it with things you love, put out inspiring quotes, etc) and decide on some outside places you can go to write, such as your favorite coffee shop
- Keep a visible calendar nearby that you can mark off
- Create a schedule
Life isn’t going to calm down while you’re doing NaNoWriMo and there’s a good chance you’re going to start feeling some stress at some point during the process. That’s totally normal. Knowing that it’s likely to happen gives you the opportunity to put things in place so you can handle it when it comes. You can stay committed to the challenge without burning yourself out. Incorporating self-care and mindfulness is key.
- Figure out your why. Why do you want to work on this project and go on this journey? What will you gain from it? How will you feel when you finish? Get clear on it, write it down, and read it every day as a reminder.
- Make a commitment to yourself to enjoy the journey and see it through. Yes, it will be awesome to have 50,000 words written by the end of the month, but that’s not what it’s really about. This is just one step in the process of writing your novel. The real reward is in the journey itself, through making your creativity a priority every day and strengthening your muscles as a writer.
- Write affirmations and keep them where you’ll see them every day (you can download my 10 printable mantras for writers in my resource library).
- Build-in time to rest and recharge. A healthy mind/body fuels creativity, burnout kills it. Trust that even when you’re sleeping and taking time to yourself to do something fun and relaxing, your imagination is working in the background. Downtime is not a luxury, it’s essential, so include it in your schedule.
- Write an encouraging note to yourself to read whenever your motivation starts to wane. Example: “It’s going to get hard at times and that’s normal. Fears and self-doubt will try to convince me to stop. I’m probably going to want to give up or push it aside in these moments, but those will be my opportunities to face my fears and move forward on something that is important to me. I’m going to question if it’s any good. It doesn’t matter; all that matters is that I’m creating something from nothing (how effing cool is that?) and having fun. Keep going. Trust the process.”
The printable version of this checklist has the entire to-do list along with spaces to make notes, so you can keep it with you throughout the month of November to refer back to whenever things get tough or your motivation starts to run out of steam. The more you prepare now, the better off you’ll be once you’re in the thick of things.
You’ve got this!