NaNoWriMo – How are you preparing?

Since I’m recovering from my elbow surgery and NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, this is the first of several republished articles from 2012 about preparing for the event. Enjoy!

This is the pre-NaNo question on everyone’s lips: Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you spend all of October (or all of the intervening year?!) planning a detailed outline, scene by scene, with pages of character sketches and location descriptions, and a fully laid out plot? Or do you go into November 1 with the adrenaline rush of pure, barely-controlled panic because you have NO idea what you’re going to write, and you can’t wait to see what happens?

Personally, I’m in the middle. I start knowing my general plot (meaning how it starts, where it leads, and the ending), my main characters, and sometimes any important secondary characters. My main characters have names and a general background. I use giant (really giant, about 5×8″) sticky notes to put these up on my door. I know the setting (usually location is what gives me the idea in the first place), and I know where their going, and I’ve done general historical research (all my novels have a historical element). That’s pretty much it.

Some of you are getting heart palpitations at the thought of this little – or this much – preparation. That’s okay; this is what works for me. It allows me to be creative and go with the story, but keeps me from veering off onto word-eating tangents. Since my NaNo event goal is always to finish the novel, not just cross 50,000 words, I need some structure to keep me on track.

It seems to me, anecdotally from reading the forums on NaNo’s website, that there are more planners than pantsers, although I could be wrong. A lot of people don’t even know about NaNo until right before – sometimes even during! – and they just hop on board and go. I think that’s awesome! The majority seem to need some structure, and some need a lot of structure, to have the confidence to undertake the challenge.

So some questions:

Which are you, and why?

If you’re a planner, and your plan starts to go awry (we all know that, sometimes, characters have a mind of their own!), what do you do? Go with it, or get back on track?

(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’: Β “This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit”)



Filed under NaNoWriMo, Writing

19 responses to “NaNoWriMo – How are you preparing?

  1. Like you, I think I’ll be somewhere in the middle. My four non-NaNo novels are all pantser novels, but then, they aren’t NaNo novels. Thanks for stressing how every writer writes differently and there’s no reason to feel worried if your style isn’t the same as someone else’s. You can be successful if you do what works for you, I think, whatever that happens to be. The key is figuring out what that is.

    • Agreed! I love NaNo and it’s perfect for me, but I think even people who write more slowly can get a usable draft. If nothing else, they work out some issues, maybe panic and go off on tangents that work, develop characters… Although most people do it for the challenge only, and that’s totally legit, too. Like doing a marathon or a triathalon.

  2. I am a CPA / financial planner by day and writer / author by all other hours. Therefore I am definitely a planner. I draft out the overall premise and then the premise of each chapter. As I jump into writing the chapters, the plot and characters may be altered if a new fancy overtakes me. Currently I am on book four of a planned nineteen story mythology. My goal is to finish this story, currently at 93K, by October’s end and then forge on to the remaining fifteen. I hope to have NaNo on my mind for those months. Nice post.

    • PS – absolutely love Calvin and Hobbes. I have to be Calvin’s twin brother in the flesh.

      • Aren’t they the best? My kids have been reading Calvin and Hobbes… well, since they could read. We have all the collections, very well worn. Do you have a Hobbes??

    • Holy cow! God bless you for planning a nineteen story series! That’s really awesome. :o) I finished up my August Camp NaNo last week, and am taking October to read a lot and do my research and planning. It’s nice, after months of work, to have a little mental break! I didn’t realize how tired I was (you know that sort of frantic feeling when you’re overdone? Yeah, that was me…). But I’m on a 4 day retreat alone, and I can’t even get out of pjs! I’m just reading and resting, and it’s great. Look forward to seeing you during NaNo!

      • No, I didn’t have a Hobbes. I had models of Dracula, King Kong and the Creature of the Black Lagoon. I recall vividly tearing into fried chicken legs as if I was T-Rex, only to have my mother tell me to stop playing with my food. I have the really heavy hard bound collectors edition – The Definitive Calvin and Hobbes. Next to Monty Python, I can always pull out the collection and laugh for hours. They never get old.

        I spent ten years completing a mythological trilogy inspired by Lord of the Rings, Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. I asked my readers if they would like further detail into the history contained in the first few chapters and the answer was yes. So, I find myself in the phase of writing the next sixteen stories. I’m having a blast, just wish I had more time each day to write. I’m on a mission though. Good luck with your NaNo challenge.

  3. I fall in between but I’d put myself on the Pantser side of the spectrum. Last year I did more extensive planning than usual, and while it is arguably my most “successful” first draft, it didn’t really feel right for me. This year I am purposely stopping myself from doing ANY prep at all (I have a couple characters and a very vague setting, and that’s it), and it’ll probably be a mess but it will be a fun mess, I think.

  4. cherilynne

    Totally a pantser. I have ideas trolling around in my head, and I probably should get them into an outline, but I plan so much of my life, I welcome the opportunity to be a pantser for 30 days. πŸ˜‰ Bring it!

  5. Danica Rice

    Last year, or actually, 3 years ago, when i did NaNo seriously for the first time, I totally pantsed it.. Last year, I finally finished it after a bunch of fits and starts… This year, I have an idea that’s been percolating for a year.. Now finally is the time to write it… Definitely going to plan more this time.. i didn’t win that year, got to 48,000 words and so much of it ended up being thrown out, so this year if i have a better idea of what i’m doing, maybe it’ll turn out better πŸ™‚

  6. The following is something I posted to one of the NaNo threads:

    For Action, my scene notes say things like:

    Waking up with hand over eyes.
    Dreams of smoking in bed and fire.
    Adirondack chairs & a lone star in a early evening sky.

    No two ways about it – I’m a Pantser….

  7. kanundra

    You’ve had surgery, I’ve got a broken Elbow πŸ™‚ Good luck to us both with nano. I’m usually a planner but it never goes how I want, so if I do take part, it will be by the skin of my teeth.

    • Oh no! So sorry! Hope you heal quickly. I’m not doing Nano sadly – I’m super behind on my next release. I hate not doing it, but my daughter is, so I’ll live vicareously through her!

  8. kanundra

    And really, when did they tell everyone you have to put a disclaimer in. How on earth can they moderate that properly? Yikes. I never have…. they going to come and arrest me. Heard it all now.

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