How to Rock #NaNoPrep, Whether You’re a Plotter, Pantser, Or Somewhere In-between


Happy Preptober!

I love the fall time for so many reasons — warm socks, soft blankets, cozy sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, falling leaves, and the underlying current of panic in the writer’s community as everyone freaks out over November.

Yup. I did National Novel Writing Month for the first in 2011. I won! I then did it four more times, winning two of those years. That doesn’t mean I lost, but yeah, there were two years when I didn’t finish.

The reason why I haven’t made it to 50k in October: Failure to plan.

This reason why I have made it to 50k in October: I planned.

I didn’t fail because I didn’t have the willpower or the time (you can always find enough of those if you dig down deep enough) but because I just didn’t plan where the story was going.

Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, I highly recommend going into NaNo with some sort of a concrete plan. Your concrete plan can be to do nothing, but at least have an idea. I think that’s my #1 piece of advice. Use October to make November easier on yourself.

That being said, there’s no write or wrong (get it?) way to prep for NaNo. I’m a very intense plotter — I use a combination of all of these methods. THAT’S WHAT WORKS BEST FOR ME. You have to find what works best for you, and I can’t tell you what that is.

BUT! I can tell you what I do, and I can organize what I do in an order from most-plotter-oriented to most-pantser-oriented. Hopefully you can get some ideas on how to make the most of the October before NaNo.

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As a plotter, this is my favorite method. It’s what I used in April for CampNaNoWriMo and what allowed me to write 75k in one month. (And only on weekdays, too!)

This snowflake method, created by Randy Ingermanson is one of the best ways I know of to make sure your story is solid before you start to expand. During Camp NaNo, my outline went from 15 words to 26k.


So here’s a quick little rundown of my all time favorite outlining method: You start by writing one sentence to sum up your whole entire story.

Easy enough, right?

Then, you develop your one sentence into four sentences — one sentence for each fourth of the book (assuming we’re using four act structure). Next you get down the heart of your characters — what they want, and why. Then you get to fill in the gaps, turning each sentence into a paragraph, and then every sentence in those paragraphs into more paragraphs. (Whew, that’s a mouthful)

In other words, your story expands rather naturally, and it’s a pretty good sure-fire way to ensure that the bare bones of your draft (the four act story structure) are nice and strong. Granted, they may not stay that way all through NaNo, but it’s a start.

Also, remember your outline is a roadmap. It’s okay to take detours — that’s part of the fun of road trips.

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I do this in conjunction with snowflake method, so if you want to get crazy, I’ll be getting crazy with you. Since I’m a character driven reader, I’m a character driven writer, too.

While plot is really important, a good character arc makes a book in my opinion. When I use the snowflake method, I try to make sure that each beat and important event in my story is tied to not only my protagonist’s outer journey, but their inner journey, too.


To me, character arcs in relation to plot is really, really fascinating. I learned everything I know from K.M. Weiland’s character arc series. It’s a must read if you’re a character driven writer/reader like me. Seriously — get out some paper and a pen and take notes while you’re at it. IT IS A GOLD MINE.

I also like character sheets. Sometimes it’s hard to know EVERYTHING about your character from the get go, but a good character sheet will get you thinking about the important things — important things that might cause you snags later on when you’re two weeks into NaNo and realizing you can’t remember what color eyes your MC has, and also, why does she want world domination again??

While you can find a ton of good character sheets on the internet (Hi, Google!) these two are my absolute favorites:

  • 33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters — There are a lot of really good questions here, and it’s kind of like a formula (a 33 step formula) to building a character
  • Rachel Giesel — I can’t find the exact worksheet I use, but a lot of these character resources are really, really heplul when it comes to crafting my characters.

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This is how I get my story blossoming into the gorgeous flower it will soon be.

One of these days I need to write a post completely dedicated to mind maps, because they are they absolute best!

I’m sure you were forced to make these in school when they “taught you how to brainstorm” (please tell me I’m not the only one who was taught how to brainstorm? it sounds weird now, but I am thankful for my teachers showing me how to think creatively) but mind maps are a great way to make connections between ideas.

Here’s an example of one of my (many) mind maps for NaNo:


Whatever you want to make your mind map about, put that in the center of the paper. From there draw a line outwards and write whatever comes to mind. If you think of something that branches off that idea, go ahead and draw another line outwards. If you think of something else that stems from your main idea, go back and add a new line outwards.

When I’m done, I like to highlight good ideas on my mind map, so with a quick glance I can understand what I need to take away.

Usually by the time you’ve followed an idea a few ideas outwards, you’re hitting gold.

I like to mind map to really get my ideas off the ground before I outline, but you can totally just do these and let NaNo do the rest.

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This is how I plant the seed of my novel (I see we’ve adopted a flower metaphor somewhere along the way)

You didn’t really believe I would write a post about NaNoPrep without including aesthetics, did you? (If you did you are wrong haven’t you heard of my campaign to make #thursdayaesthetic everyday?)(I’m just kidding, I’m not campaigning for that BUT I SHOULD BE)

I’ve already written about this in depth, so feel free to hop over to that post for a little inside look at how I make my aesthetics so aesthetically pleasing — and also inspiring.

It’s such a great way to get a vibe for your novel, and it’s also a really great tool for when:

  • you need to get yourself in the writing mood
  • when you need help visualizing something
  • when you feel like brainstorming

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Okay, we’ve moved on from talking about flowers — now we’re talking about cheese. Ain’t nothing wrong with cheese. Chances are, if you’re pantsing NaNo, you’re going to need some snacks.

Well, if you’re doing NaNo at all, you’re going to need some snacks. My go to writing snack is cheese sticks.


Anyways, this is what I do months before NaNo or anytime I write a first draft. I give the idea a lot of time to just sink into my mind. I pass most of the work off to my subconscious, until slowly I’m getting ideas and a story is taking place.

If all you want to do before going into NaNo is let your idea sink into your mind, and let all your subconscious do the work — that’s fine! While some writers work well with intense outlines, some writers work best flying by the seat of their pants.

The one thing I would say is this:

Take October to figure out if your a pantser or a plotter. Don’t try to force yourself to pants when you’re a plotter, or plot when you’re a pantser. Don’t feel any pressure, either.

The best way to prepare for NaNoWriMo is whichever way gets a book written in November — and you’ll know what process works best for you.

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Let's Talk!

Are you doing NaNo this year? How do you use October to plan? And the age old question: plotter, pantser, or somewhere in-between?


Author: Madeline Bartson

Writer, bookworm, Hufflepuff. Fueled by caffeine and writing dreams. I want to share tips, tricks, motivation & inspiration for turning dreams into reality.

9 thoughts on “How to Rock #NaNoPrep, Whether You’re a Plotter, Pantser, Or Somewhere In-between”

  1. Definitely a pantser. I’ve never attempted NaNo but admire writers who do. Good luck this year, Madeline. You’ve included some great links here (and tips, as usual 😊) that I can’t wait to check out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never tried NaNo. I keep saying I will but than another year passes. I have a feeling you’ll do just fine.

    The snowflake method is interesting. It takes time. Like anything it sounds easy but it is challenging and that’s what it’s meant to be. It pushes you to think about the story you’re trying to craft.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Bryan! It is a lot of fun, and the writing community is extra encouraging during NaNo if you ever decide to join and need an extra push! No matter what, you end up with more words than you started with, which is really awesome.

      And yes, I really like the snowflake method. I’m a linear thinker, so creating a story from one paragraph to a huge outline step by step is really helpful.


  3. Awesome post! I tried NaNo for the first time last year, I did no prep because I made the decision on 31st Oct. Not surprisingly, I didn’t win, but I think if I’d have actually taken the time to prep it would have made a world of difference.

    I LOVE mind mapping, I find it so enjoyable letting all the details spider-out on the page.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ari! That’s awesome you decided to take the risk and jump in anyways! The great thing about NaNo is even if you don’t make it past the first week, you’ll still have more written than you started with.

      And yes, mind mapping is so much fun! It helps me work through problems, but it also helps me expand story ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

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