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Preptober: How To Prep For NaNoWriMo

Preptober is here! If you're a veteran participant, you're well aware of the importance of Preptober and of having an action plan in place before you begin writing your NaNoWriMo (Nano) novel. If you're new to writing, NaNoWriMo stands for the National Novel Writing Month. It's a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that promotes creative writing around the world. It hosts an annual, international creative writing event in which participants attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript during November. While there's no real prize to be won for participating, the motivation to write that novel you've been dreaming about is triumph worth celebrating.

What Is Preptober?

Joining Nano is almost like a rite of passage for a writer. Sooner or later you're going to be asked to be someone's Nano buddy, you'll be encouraged to try it by the writing community, or you'll be naturally inclined to reap the benefits of the frenzied schedule. Whatever your reason and no matter your goal, there is a smart way to go about preparing for it.

You've probably met a writer or two who have complained about how hard Nano is. You've probably heard that hardly anyone meets their goals and that the true aim is to get something on the page. While these are both true, the difference between a writer who wins Nano and a writer who doesn't is discipline and planning. The key to Nano success is to plan ahead. Today we'll be exploring how to make the best use of your Preptober (the month before November) so that you'll be more likely to reach your Nano goals.

How can joining Nano benefit you?

There are plenty of ways joining Nano this year can impact your writing. Firstly, it gives you the motivation to write. Whether it's a new idea or a project you've been brainstorming for years, write-a-thon's such as this one finally give you an excuse to put aside your fears and finally achieve your dreams. Second, it connects you to a greater writing community. Thousands of writers team up to take on the challenge together, often pairing up with an accountability partner or competing teams. However you choose to structure your Nano experience, you're sure to gain some new friends along the way!

How To Prep For NaNoWriMo:

Step 1: Get Organized

There are many things that fall under getting organized, but organization guarantees that when push comes to shove, you'll be ready to write 1,667 words a day no matter what.

Determine Your Goals

You don't have to be working on a brand new idea to participate in Nano. While it was initially intended to give writers that extra push to write a complete novel, your own Nano goals can be whatever you want them to be. Some examples are:

  • Finish your current draft

  • Meet a certain word count goal (not necessarily 50k)

  • Edit your already completed novel

  • Write as much of your first draft as you can

  • Join to connect with new writer friends

  • Do it for fun!

Regardless of your motives, mapping out what specifically you want to get out of the Nano experience can ensure that you find satisfaction overall rather than feeling dejected if you don't reach 50k. The reality is that it's immensely challenging- but that's the point! Challenging yourself to try something new, to put yourself outside of your comfort zone, and to test your own determination will all help you grow as a writer.

Make A Checklist

The next step is to break down your overall goals into an action plan. These are specific steps that will help you achieve your umbrella goals. Think of them as the smaller pieces to the larger puzzle. For each one you actualize, the more you've accomplished by the end. It makes the big picture less overwhelming and more obtainable.

Here's an example of what a Preptober checklist looks like:

From these original bullet points, you would break them down into smaller steps. For example, you would start by selecting days of the week during October to focus on each particular prep step. Say you wanted to work on characters first. You could take October 4th-8th. Then you'd move on to plotline development from October 9th-13th and so on up until the end of the month. From there, you would make smaller goals within each bullet. For planning word count goals, that would mean actually looking at your calendar and deciding how much to write each day. For creating your Nano playlist, that could mean spending some time finding songs that inspire you first.

Gather Necessary Materials

Another important, and often overlooked, step is to gather the materials necessary to keep yourself organized during this process. The best method for doing this is to utilize your calendar, invest in a notebook that has a cheerful pattern or motivating quote on it, and choose the best place for writing in your house.

Routine is a large part of whether or not you'll stick to your goals. Without a designated writing place and method for writing, you're far more likely to waste time finding the perfect comfy pillow or which pen you like best, or preparing a tasty snack than you will actually writing.

To prevent that from happening to these time wasters from distracting you, it's vital to be preventive. Thing ahead about what you'll want for your writing space. Do you need a glass of water and a coffee? Do you want your chair facing a certain way? Perhaps you want to write in a different location as opposed to your norm? Whatever the answer to those questions are, the point is to figure it out before it's time to start writing.

Organize All Notes/Documents

Another distraction is hunting down that random scrap of paper with an essential plot point that you HAVE to have in your novel mid-way through the third chapter. Followed by that hastily scribbled note you made at the bottom of a random notebook corner that solves a problem raised by said plot point. Not to mention that amazing plot twist that came to you in a dream last night that you typed with blurry eyes into your phone at two a.m.

All of these ideas, inspiration, and thoughts are invaluable to your writing process, but they're useless if you can't find them when you need them. Avoid this pitfall by taking a few moments this month to gather them all into one place. Keeping a notebook allows you to write things and tape those errant notes to keep them from escaping. If you prefer the modern version, keep reading. We address that in our next section.

Use An Online Organizer

If your preferred method of organization is a digital version, Trello is an awesome way to keep your thoughts, developmental documents, character and worldbuilding details, plotline, and outline all in the same place. With "cards" that allow you to rearrange your thoughts at will, it's almost too convenient, especially when it comes to your plotline. You can access it through computer, tablet or phone so it's always with you when you need it.

Here's an example of what a Trello board looks like:

Sign Up On The Nano Website

Lastly, don't forget to sign up! Nothing is more awkward than trying to start Nano officially and realizing that you haven't completed the sign in process. By creating an account on the official website, you'll have access to tools, structure, community, and encouragement to help you connect and achieve your creative goals.

Step 2: Develop Your Novel In Advance

Something to keep in mind is that once November starts, you won't have any time to think through plot twists, develop your characters, or stop writing if you feel blocked. Taking that into account, Preptober exists primarily for that purpose.

Outline vs. Pansting

Deciding how much you want to outline and how much you want to leave to your imagination during is something you should consider during Preptober. Depending on how your creative process works, you'll have to decide how much to guide yourself versus how much you want to freestyle. Do you want to have a ten-step detailed outline mapping out every little detail? Would you prefer to have a general premise and in true dare-devil style wing it the rest of the way? Or maybe you feel comfortable somewhere in the middle, where you outline but will ultimately go with the flow if it feels right while writing. It's entirely up to you and what feels right!

If you want to learn how to develop an idea into a story, check out these resources:

How To Develop An Idea Into A Story Part 1

How To Develop An Idea Into A Story Part 2

None of these approaches are bad and all can work for Nano. But we recommend committing to one style or generalized plan and seeing it through. This helps you stay on track with your writing versus getting caught up trying to develop your story's details, which can set you back and make the frenzied pace harder to keep up with. We also don't recommend leaving it all inside your head. At the minimum, writing a paragraph-long synopsis will at least allow you to remember exactly how you want the story to go once you begin writing.

Brainstorm Your Premise

You have to have some idea of what you want to write about before you start writing. Not only is that general logic, but it's doubly true for Nano. Due to the condensed time limit it's vital to have a firm grasp on what you want to write about and how you want to write it. If you're unsure but are determined to join in on the Nano fun, Preptober is the time when you should be figuring this out. To get the wheels turning, try using a writing prompt, idea generator, book title generator, or character development workbook to inspire you.

The Only Character Workbook You'll Ever Need: Your New Character Bible

Become a master of incredible characters. In this first installment of Series Bibles for Writers, discover the backstories, personalities, vulnerabilities, and what makes your fiction characters tick. Contents include fully-customizable, in-depth pages for:

  • Different personality types and aspects

  • 12 primary character profiles with room for sketches and extra notes.

  • 24 secondary character profiles and notes.

  • 108 minor character mini-descriptions

And more!

Read more here!

5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More

5,000 Writing Prompts is the must-have resource for novelists, short story writers, screenwriters, creative writing teachers, bloggers, memoir writers, playwrights, improv actors, and other creators. It's not only for people with writer's block, but also for people who want to write faster and make their stories richer and better.

It includes…

150 plot ideas for each of these genres: fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance, young adult, historical fiction, and general fiction

hundreds of other master plots from classic fiction and mythology hundreds of dialogue, character, and setting prompts

100 poetry exercises and more!

Read more here!

Decide Your Structure

You have your idea, great! How do you want to tell your story? Now is the time to consider what genre you want your story to fall in, what tense you want to write it in and what POV's you want to use. Genre expectations will determine how old your main character is, what types of characters you'll need, and the tone you write it in. If you want to write a comedy for instance, you won't be using a serious and formal approach. For fantasy you'll probably need to develop a magic system and a sage character that helps your main character on their journey. For romance you'll want to follow the specific tropes that readers crave, such as friends to lovers and childhood friends reunited. Make sure to brush up on the specifics of your genre, on story structure, and character arcs now to refresh your mind and clear up any misconceptions.

Get started here:

Genre 101: The Complete List of Genres & Subgenres for Fiction Writing Part 1

Genre 101: The Complete List of Genres & Subgenres for Fiction Writing Part 2

Develop Your Cast Of Characters

While Nano tends to have writers focusing on plot more than anything, don't neglect your characters. A fascinating plot with characters that fall flat won't amount to a good novel.To balance this, add character development into your Preptober plans. An easy and efficient way to do this is to use character profiles. This contains demographic information, motives, background about their life, etc. Keeping it all in one worksheet helps with consistency too.


Character 101: Types of Characters

Character 101: Building Relationships & Backgrounds

Character 101: Making Your Characters Unique & Captivating

Gather Inspiration

Image: An example of a Pinterest moodboard collection

Keep yourself inspired throughout November by amassing heaps of inspiration to keep nearby. This method is not only helpful but fun! Create moodboards and gather aesthetics on Pinterest. Use it to get a sense of what your settings look like and what your characters like and dislike. Select songs that speak to your characters and their journey- make a playlist on Spotify that help put you in the mood to write the minute you put it on. Gather other inspiring objects and place them around your designated writing space. These can be flowers, quotes, trinkets, anything that makes you feel creative. When the time comes you'll be able to lean on these items to keep you happy and typing.

Prepare For When You'll (Inevitably) Get Stuck

Let's face it, at some point during Nano you're bound to get stuck. Most writers lose steam about three chapters into a new novel and must go back to the drawing board for more ideas. Writers who don't binge write regularly are now faced with the grueling task of writing 50k words in one month, a project that can feel too exhausting to complete around 20k is on the page. Even veteran writers and Nano enthusiasts feel the urge to quit when they get about halfway. Assuming that at some point writer's block or exhaustion might be an issue is smart. It allows you to prevent it from happening (as much as possible at least). To help limit distractions and hang-ups, plan accordingly. If you're not used to writing over 1k a day, practice doing so during Preptober to help build up your stamina. Study your calendar/routine. What days are you going to be busiest next month? Mark them down and plan to write less while on days you have less happening plan to write more. Then during Nano you can write more when you feel things are coming easily and give yourself some slack for the day after.

Step 3: Get In the Nano Mindset

The last preparation phase focuses on putting yourself into the right mindset. Like a trained marathon runner, there's a different mentality that goes into knowing you can run long distances over just sprinting. That's what Nano is- a marathon of writing. Being mentally focused can help you stay focused and determined to finish no matter what.

Build Your Survival Kit

Don't worry, it's not as intense as it sounds. What we mean is to build a kit of everything you'll need to write. This keeps you from making several dashes to the kitchen for snacks and limits distractions (like not having a blanket on hand if you get cold). Your Nano kit should include anything that makes your writing easier and will differ depending on the writer. It will include your Nano notebook, your laptop (or however else you'll be writing), extra pens, your favorite snacks and beverages, blankets, cozy slippers, candles, noise-canceling headphones- you get the gist.

Set Up A Reward System

Help keep yourself motivated by working in rewards for milestones reached during Nano. Mapping out smaller goals and rewarding yourself when you reach them is another trick to keep yourself happy and motivated while you write. While the NaNoWriMo website employs this tactic by bestowing "awards" on you for different writing accomplishments, such as a badge for reaching 10,000 words, you can gift yourself with small things to help keep yourself entertained. It can be something like treating yourself to your favorite glass of wine after reaching your word count for three days in a row, letting yourself have a half hour nap after you finish a particularly troublesome midway point, or adding up several conquests and gifting yourself with that treat you've had your eye on since last Christmas. Whatever you decide it's an effective motivational tool to try.

Tell Your Friends/Family

Getting your friends and family on board is crucial. Letting people who normally contact you, provide distractions, and encourage you to abandon your routine know what you're doing and why will help limit those interactions when the time comes. Setting boundaries around your writing time and making it clear that you'll be doing nothing but writing during that time will help ensure your success. Have your spouse entertain the kids, turn your phone off, and place blocks on your internet usage to help hold yourself accountable.

Clean House/Meal Prep

Plan accordingly when it comes to meal planning, household chores, and everyday tasks. We all have responsibilities and things on our to-do list. That won't change during Nano and it's fair to say we have more obligations than usual due to the holidays. Planning ahead for the tasks we know we have to get done, the holiday parties we have to attend, and the company that will be coming over will help you stay on track. Cleaning your house before Nano starts will eliminate the buildup of mess during and will keep you from getting up to clean when you should be writing. Making meal prep recipes or crockpot dishes for lunch and dinners can also take the extra work off your shoulders and make sticking to your writing goals easier.

Mentally Commit To Success

If you want to write your novel, commit! Take a few moments each day to hype yourself up. Find positive quotes that make you feel good about yourself and tape them to your monitor, tell yourself what an awesome writer you are and how you know you're going to kick Nano's butt, and mentally commit to making Nano your first priority. You'll be amazed by how much you can accomplish when you shift your mindset and make writing your most important task of the day.

Whether you find success in NaNoWriMo month or not, you decide. By participating in Preptober you set the stage for a noteworthy performance and give yourself the tools you need to crush your goals.

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