Wednesday, October 7, 2015

October is NaNo Prep Month

Deb McLeod's NaNoWriMo checklist
By: Deb McLeod

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) created as a nonprofit contest to write 50,000 new words on your novel during November.

When I first heard of it, I thought (snob that I was) how could anyone write a novel in a month? 50,000 words in a month? It would be garbage. I didn’t participate and I thought those that did weren’t really writers. (I was a snob – but I’m reformed now, so that makes me more heroic, right?)

What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that participating in NaNo is simply a time to put your writing first, to meet new people and find camaraderie in a pursuit that’s solitary, and most importantly, to take a chunk out of the first draft of your novel. Once I got involved, I began to see how I could make NaNo a part of my annual process.

So every year for the last five I have written part of the first draft of my next novel. October is for NaNo Prep. And in November I write. I compete against the deadlines I set and sometimes my friends if they’re up for it. I follow the outline I created in October and just get the words on the page.

The first few years I attended write-ins all around Denver. There I met a lot of wonderful people who had the same writing dreams as I did. Lately, I’ve turned NaNo into such a part of my process that I write alone as I would all the rest of the year. But I check in with my NaNo buddies and exchange messages and encouragement.

The only important thing about NaNo is that you get words onto the page. Even if you don’t win by getting your 50,000 done, you win because you have more words than when you started.

But I have found that the trick is to be prepared. So you don’t face the blank page, here’s a list of NaNo Prep work you might do in October to help you get through November.
  • Prepare your family – get them on board. It might mean preplanning dinners or asking someone else to do the laundry for a month. Whatever it takes. Then prepare your writing space. Where will you write? Pick out a time when you will write every day. Find some rewards to keep you going.
  • Then start making notes about your book. Research your world. Answer questions about the setting, the social constructs, and the rules. Do you need an expert? Call them before NaNo starts. Go to the library. Freewrite about place. 
  • Decide who your hero is. What’s the outer goal and the inner growth they will face in your novel? What is the journey your hero will take? What’s the before world? What’s the after world? 
  • Pick a journey template to use – mine is a combination of Freytag’s Triangle plus Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheets. Make a list of scenes that will hit the beats of your hero’s journey. 
  • Storyboard your scenes. Look at the props your characters will interact with. Find the conflict and plot the emotional change your character will make for all the scenes you’ve decided to tackle. Read more about storyboarding your scenes here.
  • Freewrite some dialogue. Put your character in anxiety-producing situations so you can see how she reacts. Give her a monologue that will sum up her worst fears and grandest dreams. 
  • Write about your main character’s past. Include her room where she was growing up. The school she went to. The relationships she had. 
  • Collage your characters and their world. Spend an entire day hunting the web for pictures that depict your story. If you’re not publishing this, you don’t have to worry about screen grabs. Play in Microsoft PowerPoint. Very easy to do. 
  • Write a book jacket and a logline for your novel. Doing this before you start writing helps the story begin to focus for you. 
  • Write about your antagonist. Is this a villain or simply a gatekeeper? Do a character sheet for your antagonist and your hero. Know their emotional and psychological issues.
  • Hook up with your regional NaNoWriMo. Look for write-ins and start adding buddies. 
There’s lots to do in October that will get you ready to launch in November.

When you start writing in November, if you write 1667 words per day, you will hit your 50,000 by the end of the month. I shoot for at least 2500 the first week. Because each week, for me, has its personality and flavor. The first week I come out of the gate strong. The second week I slack a little on a day or two. The third week is always the challenge for me. By then I’m starting to get tired, so if I’ve hit it hard in the beginning of the month I don’t have to push so hard now. I like to take Thanksgiving and much of that weekend off. So I often plan to finish before Thanksgiving. This year, if I don’t finish by Thanksgiving, there are a few days to finish up before the end of the month.

This is totally doable. I highly recommend making NaNoWriMo a part of your annual process. It’s a great charity and it will further your dream of becoming a writer by putting writing front and center for a month. And it really is easier than it seems if you prep and get involved.

About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fourteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, see


  1. Deb McCloud is one of the most generous writers I have ever met
    . Her advice and clarity of suggestions makes her a trusted critic.

  2. Great article. Most of these are great hints for anybody starting a novel, with or without participating in NaNoWriMo BUT the trick even without the plan is often to keep up the momentum and accept that all the prep is also writing... so I suppose Oct is part of a two months theoretical draft of a novel. If you are as quick and efficient as writers like Cindy Meyers, you'll be able to harness this skill to write 3 or 4 books a year. It's like a rip cord, a way of proving to yourself you can do it. For those who want to try screenplays (and there are many reasons to do it to benefit your prose writing skills) a screenplay is short and sweet and closer to a fleshed out synopsis. Of the many scripts I've written my favorite/best solo written screenplay took three weeks to write (requiring virtually no editing) it's the one I've successfully used as a work-for-hire audition, the one I just got an offer for purchase last month. Passion for the project may be half the battle in getting the work done so quickly. For me, loving the story and being fascinated by my characters, was the key to quick writing. Karen Lin

    1. You've discovered my secret :). Absolutely these are the same tips you use any time you write a novel. I bring all my clients through this prep work and more.

      A few NaNo's ago, I wanted to see how fast I could get through the draft. My record best was 50k words in 13 days. It really can be done, if you've prepped and can get jazzed to write. Thanks for responding!

  3. Deb, I'm curious about research while doing NaNo. I can't tell you how often I have to stop and look up a specific plot point. A point that if I get it wrong amounts to considerable rewriting. Do you XX marks the spot? For instance in my current WIP I want a character to have a specific illness and I want the doctor to be telling him what treatment he will be given, side effects and prognosis. Thank goodness it's October and I can research beforehand, but in my books I live with research on a daily basis. Any suggestions? You've got me all excited about NaNoWriMo. Thank you!

  4. Donnell, that's a great question. I make use of the xx marks the spot during NaNo as much as possible. But if it's going to make lots of rewrites, I'd take the time to research on the fly. What I have to focus on - always - with research is not to get too immersed. :) Once I've found my answer and I'm sure I read enough that I got it right, I have to force myself to stop. But during NaNo, you have the daily deadline to help with that. Only so much time to write and the words are waiting. So glad you're doing NaNo. We should buddy!

  5. I will be in New York until the 3rd. Let me get prepped now that I have some great hints :) Thanks, Deb!

  6. I feel energized. Great blog

  7. That's some good advice in preparation of Nanowrimo. I don't participate mostly because I'm not interested in fiction writing, but if I did, I think your list would definitely be helpful. Especially the part about getting your family ready. Writing all month doesn't just take a toll on you but also on the people you love. It's great opportunity to improve your writing and meet new people, but it is still a commitment. Good luck getting your outline ready this month and prepping for November!

    1. Thanks, Mandy! It is a big commitment. What I love about it is watching how writing works in my client's lives after they've tried NaNo. Really putting it front and center in November seems to shift their commitment to writing overall. I think it's the fact that during NaNo you can't focus at all on what your internal editor is saying. There's a deadline and it's a big one, so there's more permission to just write and worry about whether it's any good later.


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