Novel Planning: a NaNoWriMo Update

They all said to make a plan. I even chirped the same advice to my writing friends: October should be NaNoPlaMo, National Novel Planning Month, we said. Because if you want to succeed at the 50,000 words demanded of you to conquer National Novel Writing Month in November, you want to have all guns blazing when you go in, including something to write about. Sure, people have run straight through NaNoWriMo, pennants flapping (can you tell my genre?), absolutely no idea what was going to go down in their supposed novel, and succeeded, big time. And yet, the advice stays. You want to finish a book in 30 days? Best have a skeleton, some character sketches, probably even an ending in mind.

As for me, I managed to disappear October into no man’s land and walked into NaNoWriMo with only an idea and a page of vague notes. That, and a rough draft of a cover.

Now, just take a look at my stats.

NANOWRIMO STATSThat graph, to the right: that’s my word count as the month progresses. You see that first miserable dip? That’s when I was busy spraining my spine and then writing while crying and laying down. So we’ll ignore that. Now this second dip I am experiencing? That would be me eating my own advice. That’s right. I got stuck because suddenly the plot was thickening and I needed to know the layout of the land (literally) and the details of the story’s main plot (as in, the plot my character’s are plotting–it’s quite elaborate–for stealing a magical ring). Giant pause. It has taken me a few days now to map the land, insert all the characters, figure out how the robbery goes down, and then figure out how I want to present the planning and the execution with all thirty two of my characters involved. You can see how that would cut my word counts, right?

So now my ridiculous task is to take a precipitous nosedive up and write–not 1600 or 2200 words per day, but–3000 words per day until the end of the month. Oops, my bad.

Next year, don’t let it be yours.

And now I want to say a little something about planning your writing outside of NaNoWriMo, because we know it’s not every day we are trying to write a novel in a month, although, now that you mention it, that situation may come up more than you would expect. Anyhoo.

Some writers write with elaborate plans and map out the whole story or book before they start. Some never use plans and just write what comes to the them day by day. I would guess that most writers fall somewhere in between. And then there’s research to consider. And editing. (And by that I don’t mean dealing with the changes your editor suggests, but the drafting process.) I have always been surprised by the time and effort that many writers put into a book before they even begin. Think trips to other countries and months of work resulting in crates of files. Clearly, I am a planner, but not a researcher. I mean, I research, but I do it as I go on the internet or I put symbols in my writing (like ooo or ***) to indicate I need to return to an area. I am also a draft-as-I-go person, and by the time I lay down the last line, I’ve basically been through the first few drafts. It’s only one major draft before my First Readers see it. Then one more big draft and a proofread.

So there is no right way to go about it, but there is probably a right way for you. I think the key is to try different ways of moving through the writing process before you lock into a routine, and then don’t be afraid to do things differently and watch how your writing reacts. Here are some ideas to get you thinking about mixing up your own routine and thereby strengthening your process. (Many of them are mutually exclusive; I in no way mean for you to try them all on one book.)


  • Immerse yourself in the culture of your story
  • Do hard research, take extensive notes and file them neatly
  • Ask around about your topics
  • Conduct interviews with “experts”
  • Read other (fiction) books similar
  • Read (nonfiction) books about your subjects
  • Use index cards and stickers to organize facts and ideas
  • When you need research, pause writing and do it
  • Plan research for once a week and keep a list of needs as you write
  • Earmark your writing and wait to do any research until you are done with the first draft


  • Make drawings of your characters or scenes
  • Make a map of your town, house, or land
  • Create graphs or timelines or flow charts
  • Pause before writing and come up with a complete skeleton of the book
  • Write chapter synopses before writing chapters, perhaps all at once
  • Use YWriter to flesh out characters, places, and symbols, before writing
  • Keep files on characters, or at least write up character sketches or interviews
  • Forbid yourself from planning, and write strictly as you go
  • Don’t plan until you need it, then pause and plan


  • Use YWriter, a free program that helps you organize your writing
  • Use a Note program, one that keeps you from formatting
  • Use Word, like most of us
  • Use paper and pen, gasp!, and overcome cramping like a champ
  • Write a certain number of words every day
  • Write a certain time per day
  • Write a lot in a shorter burst, like 50,000 words in a month
  • Write consistently over time, like a couple chapters per week, but with a commitment to times, like weekdays, or all days except holidays
  • Work on one thing at a time until it is complete
  • Give yourself options between a few projects, each day (not an infinite amount)
  • Schedule no more than ten per cent of your writing time on promotion, marketing, and publicity
  • Talk your story into a recording device
  • Use writing cues. You can find them lots of places
  • Keep reading, but read something different from what you are writing
  • Take occasional breaks to write a short story or poem or blog
  • Take occasional breaks to draw or doodle or scribble about your story and characters
  • Find some sort of starting routine and do it religiously, then refuse to be distracted
  • Schedule goals on a calendar, for the story you are working on or longer term. Meet them
  • Keep it all a secret until you are done
  • Blab about it to everyone you meet
  • Converse with a few select people whenever you think you need input
  • Use a typewriter (It’ll help you not use the backspace button)
  • Keep up on the trade mags and their articles
  • Keep up on trade blogs and their articles
  • Use and, and Google
  • Have a shelf within arm’s reach with a dictionary, thesaurus, character name book, the Flip Dictionary, and any other references you might need
  • Read a writing book while you are in process. My favorite is Stephen King’s On Writing, but there are many others
  • Use a writing helps book to walk you through the process, such as Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell. Again, there are many others
  • Use a writing journal or prompts cards (You can even make either yourself)


  • Join a writing group and use it for real-time critique and encouragement/accountability
  • Draft as you write
  • Write straight through, and then start drafting
  • Use First Readers
  • Use an online critique forum, such as or Scribophile
  • Find an agent or an editor
  • Refuse to let your manuscript die, and rewrite as drastically as needed
  • Set your story aside, for a time, to let it breathe
  • Release it as short bits to the e-public
  • Begin your promotion before the book is perfectly ready
  • Create a cover, format, even a book trailer
  • Write a back cover synopsis to define what your story will/does accomplish and who its audience is

And don’t stop, don’t pause for long, don’t wander too far from the path. You’ll get there. There’s always Camp NaNoWriMo in April.

*To continue this thread with the rest of NaNoWriMo 2013, click here.

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