9 Ways to Prepare for the National Novel Writing Month

I’m interested in creating supportive internal and external environments to facilitate writing during NaNo. To me, writing is the easiest thing about NaNoWriMo – just sitting there and putting the words on the page, because the month of November is no different to any of the other 11 months of the year where I don’t live in a vacuum. None of us are the proverbial boy in a bubble in November (though it would be nice to be sometimes). And as each year goes by the ability to slice off parts of life become less and less doable.

Like me, you have to juggle existing responsibilities and find time to write. You have fears, weaknesses and you get stressed? You may have a family, probably have a job of some description, as well as social commitments. On top of that you also have 1667 words to put down every day.

The good news is, NaNo is lots of fun, is most definitely worth it AND you have ability to anticipate and plan before hand. I strongly recommend taking time out to work out how you can best facilitate November to get to the 50,000 words.

This post outlines nine areas you may have not even considered important to your NaNo campaign – but believe me they are. I suggest you spend an hour over the next few days to answer and explore the questions posed at the end of each section. Team up with some other WriMos – compare answers and share coping strategies

1. Expectations

Our expectations have a great impact on us. Putting them down on paper can be a powerful exercise. It’s also a good place to start to conceptualise NaNo as a real life experience and not a fantastical (good or bad) idea that’s been floating around in your head.

  • What do you expect to get out of your NaNo experience?
  • What do you think will be the easiest part of NaNo?
  • What do you think will be the hardest part of NaNo?

If you’ve participated in NaNo before you might also like to reflect what has been the easiest/hardest part in previous campaigns.

2. Strengths and Weaknesses

Old hands and newbies alike will benefit from taking this inventory (also those not actively involved in preparing for NaNo!) Being able to play to your strengths and negate the impact of your weaknesses is important for any project you involved in – but first you have to know what they are.

  • What are your strengths as a writer?
  • What are your weaknesses as a writer?

If you have participated in NaNo before you might like to focus in on what you love about NaNo and aim to incorporate or focus on that during November. Being reminded you do NaNo because you love writing might be enough to salvage a (perceived) bad day because – well, you’ve been writing!

3. Knowing your habits.

Knowing you habits can help you create an environment most conducive to putting down large amounts of words a day. This includes what stops you from writing as well as what eggs you on.

  • When do you write most efficiently/effectively? (This includes time, location, atmosphere, emotional and mental state and other things like music.)
  • What are your biggest distractions?

You might also be interested in going through previous articles posted here about knowing your process!

4. Creatively Primed – Keeping the well topped up

Different people gestate ideas at a different pace. Some stories come to you quickly, others can take days, weeks, months or even years to brew and mature. Knowing how to maintain your creative energy and a creative space will help to keep your story following no matter what.

November is not the time to come down with a mortal case of writers block.

  • What facilitates/supports nurtures your creative life?
  • What drains/stunts/blocks your creative life?

5. Stress

No one will disagree November presents numerous challenges to each writer and with each of them comes the possibility of stress. Knowing how your stress manifests and how you cope positively and negatively, will enable you to plan ahead to deal with it.

  • What stresses you out?
  • How do you deal with it in positive ways?
  • How do you deal with it in negative ways?
  • What do you think might cause the most stress for you this year?
  • How might you negate it?
  • What helps you to relax?
  • How can you incorporate something relaxing into your every day routine during NaNo? (You may find it is something you can do which support your creative well and keeps the stress at bay!)

6. Time Management – Sharing November

My 1667 words a day have be shared with my parenting duties, maintaining a house, running a publishing house and finding time to be with my partner. For me NaNo is about being super organised – double checking my diary, writing lists so I get everything when I go out, creating menus for a week and only grocery shopping once, falling back on the simple routines which make life easy. In essence I make the most of every minute of every day.

If you isolate a time when you write best, do everything in you power (if it is logistically possible) to write then.

  • How would you break down a normal day – between work, family time, hobbies, community work etc? Where does writing currently fit in?
  • Where are you intending to fit it in?
  • Is there a time best suited to writing?
  • How will you (and those you live with) support this time slot?
  • Is there a fall back time?
  • What little routines can you develop before NaNo begins to support your writing?

7. What’s in you calendar for November?

Few of us can just pack a bag and go to NaNoLand for November. We have jobs, families, friends and other commitments which are no easily put on the back burner. Knowing what else is going on in November will assist you to make it over the line. Obviously not everything can be accounted for (I learnt this when my partner was taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack three days before NaNo finished in 07) but knowing, anticipating and planning will give you some breathing space and negate the worst of the nasty surprises.

  • How many days do you have at your disposal to write in November?
  • Based on your commitments, how many words a day do you need to write to have 50,000 at the end of November?
  • How can you be organised to fit everything you need to do every day?

8. Treat Yourself Kindly

I’m not necessarily keen on the idea of positive reinforcement, but there is something to be said for treating yourself after a job well done. Rather than making it the reason to do it (or the bribe), view it as a way of thanking yourself. Have your milestones and celebrate as you make your way through November.

  • What can you do every day to assist you in making your work count?
  • What will your milestones be? (make them increments rather than the 50K finish line)
  • What treats do you have in mind?

9. Support

While we like to think of ourselves as islands, because writing by nature is a solitary task, we’re actually not islands and we don’t necessarily perform well in isolation. We need support and encouragement – particularly when times get tough. While it is important to have friends who know what you’re going through and came empathise with you, it is also important to have those close to you supporting and encouraging you. After all they are the ones on the coalface when things get weird or when you have to say no to something they might really want you to do.

I make a contract with my family every year because without their support I can’t attempt 50,000 words in 30 days. The first year I promised to make sure the housework was up to date and dinner was on the table every night – and if this happened I could take one whole day off over the weekend. While November was the most organised month in our household, I still wasn’t able to ask for the time I had promised to me on the weekend.

  • What sort of support/help might you need?
  • Where would you find it?
  • How do you ask it?
  • What contracts might you need to make with family and friends for the month of November?

I encourage every writer doing NaNo to find an online or local group to join. For the past two years I’ve enjoyed the support and camaraderie of the Brisbane NaNo group and their weekly Write Ins at Milton, as well as the Write Anything and Brisbane forums on the NaNo website. And well – there’s always twitter and facebook (I belonged to neither when I set out for my first NaNo campaign in ’07 and man, it makes a difference).

At the end of the day, NaNo is about the love of writing. Being prepared gives you the best chance at being able to fully enjoy the experience, so give yourself permission to have fun. Love the words you write, and they will perhaps, love you back!

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10 thoughts on “9 Ways to Prepare for the National Novel Writing Month

    • Hi Jacqui,
      Welcome – glad you found me. I hope the information is useful. If you happen to blog your thoughts – please feel free to come back and put a link in the comments here.

      I wrote a lot of these ideas down after my second NaNo experience as kind of a backlash against all the posts which help you plot your story line, develop characters etc, but assume this all happens in some kind of a void – which it doesn’t. No one actually prepares you for the social and psychological experience of NaNo – which I’m trying to do.

      My life is continually altering and shifting, from year to year, so its good for me to revisit these questions again and reassess where I am before the start of each NaNo (something I will be doing this weekend!)

      Good luck and keep us posted as to how it goes for you!

    • Thanks Jessica!

      I hope it helps make your second year even better than the first. As I said above, alot of these ideas came after my second NaNo experience. Because NaNo doesn’t happen in a vaccum.

  1. Thanks Jodi! I particularly like the idea of working towards small milestones and rewarding yourself for reaching them. Expectations are so important but they can also be a curse. I’m approaching my first NaNo with the expectation of havign a blast and surprising myself. I don’t want to think about the 50k target, rather I will focus on getting my 20 interconnected short stories finished, one by one. I have worked it out to be two days per story – this could be one mad hour of writing and 47 hours of planning the next story, or 47 hair-tearing-out hours of writing one story and one hour of sleep! Who knows! I just want to give it my best shot and will celebrate the fact that I’ve said “yes. I’m going to do this.”

    Laura xx

    • Expectations are an absolute killer – that’s why I think its imperative to really explore your expectations – so you know if they are genuine or not, and where and if they’re likely to get you into trouble.

      Having fun and seeing what happens sound like perfect expectations. The first year I did NaNo my only expectation was to see if I could get over the finish line… and I didn’t expect it to be easy (given it was almost 20 years since I written anything of any length). I knew I couldn’t do it while editing the magazine I worked on, so I took a month off and gave myself permission to ask for help!

      I’m totally blown away that you have the guts to attempt 20 interconnected short stories – given that is what I originally set out to do in 2007. At the time I suspected it was beyond my skills time and confidence level. I’m thrilled and excited to be back at the place I started five years ago… with all the extra experience and confidnece under my belt and knowing someone else is attempting the same thing. I think it is going to be a blast!

  2. Pingback: Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts October 2011 | The Graceful Doe's Blog

  3. Great post; thank you! This is my first attempt, so I appreciate the tips. I’m not sure where this is going to go for me. I really don’t even have a topic for mine yet, but I want to dive in and get started, though I don’t even know where to start! Thanks for this post, Jodi!

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