How to prepare for NaNoWriMo 2018

By Suzi Bamblett on 02 October 2018

Plotter or Panster?

So come on, which are you?

Plotters (okay yes, I admit it) like to have some idea of where we’re going and the good news is that with Nanowrimo THIS IS NOT CHEATING.

The thing about being a plotter is that you don’t have to work chronologically.

John Irving doesn’t start until he has the ending worked out.

How to prepare for NaNoWriMo


He writes his last scene first. So, if you want to, write the last scene first, or write the climax. And if you get stuck during Nanowrimo, just dive in somewhere else. Nanowrimo is all about getting the words down.
Being a plotter doesn’t kill your creativity. Once you begin to write you’re sure to go flying off in a different direction, and that’s fine. That’s the joy of Nanowrimo. Go with it! Minor characters become more interesting than you thought, major characters suddenly start acting all weird and out of character… Go with it! Your finished novel may be very different to the one planned, but, as a plotter, I guarantee that with a bit of preparation you will not get writer’s block and you’ll not be stuck looking at a blank screen when you should be adding to your word count.

Pansters (I am led to understand) start Nanowrimo on 1st of November with no planning and fly by the seat of their pants. Okay, okay, yes. There are advantages to this. Some people say it’s more artistic and creative, and it does mean it’s never too late to join the party. You can decide right up to the day (or even beyond) to take part, and yes, YOU CAN STILL BE A WINNER.

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I confess I like to do some planning first. It’s like going on holiday, a big part of the enjoyment for me is the anticipation. Here is my own process:

I like to get my ideas down.

I do this as a free write and I do it by hand (proper pencil and paper stuff). It’s like some creative inspiration or muse sneaks in there and gets involved. I imagine I’ve just seen a great movie and I’m telling my best friend all about it – who is in it, where and when it’s set, what happens… Here’s the secret (and I don’t recommend doing this for actual movies, or your friend won’t be your friend for very long) – you give away the ending. Yes I know, spoiler alert, but remember you’re the only one who is going to see this. This is really creative and fun and you can even pretend you’re a movie director. Yes Ryan Gosling, I am casting you as my protagonist.

Next I make a list of things that happen.

It’s like re-watching that movie. Just jot down very short sentences – you don’t even have to worry about the order.

– Scene in bar. Ed (Ryan) and the girl (me of course) are arguing
– Ed on the tube ride home
– As he puts key in door to his apartment, he’s jumped on
– Ed wakes up in strange room

That kind of thing. Oooh that was just an example, but I wonder what happens next…
If I can get to around 30 things that happen (possible scenes) I know I’ll have enough for a novel. Any less and I’ll need a few more storylines. Any more and I might be writing a trilogy, so divide it up.

Next I transfer my rough list to index cards or one of those virtual cork boards on a writing novel app.

Lay the cards out on the table or the floor or the corkboard and shuffle them around to create a storyline. You can add extra cards if you have gaps in the action, i.e. someone was watching Ed on the tube, flashback to their POV… Now might be the time to think about story arc and character arc, or at least to make sure you’ve got a beginning, middle and end. STILL NOT CHEATING.

How to prepare for NaNoWriMo


I like to do some prep work on my characters. It stops me stalling once Nanowrimo is underway.

Ever read a book and had a character called Joe and another called Jon? How annoying is it, flicking back to check who is who (and it’s even harder on Kindle). To avoid this problem, I write down the letters of the alphabet, A to Z, each one on a separate line, then make up original character names using each letter just once.

A – Ariadne

B – Bathsheba

C – Charlie 

There are loads of ways to flesh out your characters. Some people like to use a character template – name,  physical description, strange habits, likes, wants, etc. Other people like to interview their characters, ask them questions about themselves. I like to free write a little back story for each of my main characters. It probably won’t make it into the novel, but it helps me get to know them better. Imagine you are waiting for a plane, a bus, gig tickets, or perhaps you’re stuck in a lift together and they give you a potted history of their life….STILL NOT CHEATING

All this stuff – telling your movie, list of things that happen, character names and back stories – can be done in advance. It’s like packing your suitcase for that holiday. You can scribble in a notebook, use the notes pad on your phone, or write directly onto your laptop. Use FocusMe, turn off all distractions, and scribble scribble scribble.

You haven’t cheated as none of this is your word count. But once you get to 1st November you’ll have a good idea of where you are going, and your holiday destination is looking fab.

Use FocusMe and you’ll fly through your 50k target to become a Nanowrimo winner. So come on you pansters, now tell me why your way is the best?


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