5 Last Minute Prep Tips for NaNoWriMo


In just under 2 days, NaNoWriMo begins. If you haven’t done much prep work, here are a few things you can do today to give you a leg up when you start writing on Friday. You will change things as you go. But, doing even this much prep work can give you inspiration and ideas to get you primed to start writing.

An “I Could Write About” List

Take 10-20 minutes – set a timer to keep you focused. Write a list of as many things as you can think of that you could write about. Just one phrase or sentence about each idea.

Don’t bother writing about anything, these are just notes of things you could write about. This list will be useful in November when you get stuck.

Don’t worry if things on your list don’t seem to fit together, or even with the big idea you may have for you novel. Let your subconscious mind get involved. Sometimes the best ideas are a combination of unrelated ideas.

If you are finding yourself over-thinking, draw a mind map of what you could write instead of making a list.

A Plot Sketch

A traditional plot of an action driven story has three disasters and an ending.

The first disaster can happen to the main character. The next two are best when the main character is trying to fix things that went wrong but makes things worse. And the difference between a comedy and a tragedy is whether the ending involves the main character fixing things or failing. If you have a plot idea, turn it into an outline by coming up with your three disasters and decide how fixed things are at the end.

Cast Your Novel

If you have an idea for a character, choose a celebrity who might play the character in a movie. Collect pictures of the actors in one place. If you think you need more characters but don’t have specific ideas, choose 5 of your favourite actors and cast them.

Give your characters names. If you don’t have ideas, use a random name generator. I like the one at Behind the Name.

Draw a Map

Fantasy novels are often accompanied by maps of the world, but any novel can benefit from a map. If you plan to use a real world setting, you could start from a map you find on the web. If you haven’t given your novel much thought at all, you can draw the map first and let it give you ideas.

Take a piece of paper and draw some lines, circles, dots and shapes on it. In multiple colours if you feel so moved.

Lines can be rivers or roads.

Dots can become cities, towns, or local buildings (churches, shops, schools, etc.).

Let other shapes inspire you with what they might be.

Colours can inform you about what sorts of things might happen there. If you aren’t inspired, be obvious when you interpret the colours: a death where red shows up, water at blue, natural areas in brown and green, etc.

Assume everything you draw is a location you can use.

Write a One-Sentence Summary

One sentence can keep you focused on getting your story from beginning to end. You’ll take detours as you write, but a focal sentence can help keep you on track. Your sentence should include the following elements:
A description of your main character. A useful format is to focus on two adjectives and a role in life. For example: taciturn, retired firefighter.
A description of your antagonist (the main character’s opponent). For example: charming, ambitious arsonist.
The conflict between them. For example: the firefighter must stop the arsonist.
The setting. For example: art museums.
What makes your story unique. For the purpose of planning, focusing on what gets you excited about the idea is enough.
Putting my example together, I could end up with: A taciturn, retired firefighter must stop a charming, ambitious arsonist who could be his daughter from destroying all of Van Gogh’s paintings.

Have fun with this. Any one of these ideas will give you material that you can develop during November.

Coming Up: I will be posting a daily writing prompt for the month of November.

5 thoughts on “5 Last Minute Prep Tips for NaNoWriMo

  1. Patrick Meade says:

    Hi Kate, Thank you for these wonderful suggestions.Can apply some to my own novel. Wishing you well…Patrick

    • Kate says:

      Thanks, Patrick.

      Good writing to you!

      • Donna Leonard says:

        I totally cast my characters, though I do it as I go along. so far, I have Pierce Brosnan as the Mysterious, and possibly nefarious Mr. Templeton, Mary Mcdonnell (Battlestar Galactica TRS, Major Crimes), or Viola Davis (The Help, Ender’s Game), or Taraji P. Henson (Person of Intrest) as Gloria Bevins (yeah, I can’t quite decide who to cast), a single mother with a “special skill set” –skills that the conglomerate that Mr. Templeton works for, are very interested in.

  2. Kate says:

    Sounds like a good beginning – though that’s quite a range of actresses as Gloria.

    Good writing to you!


  3. Jeanne says:

    I dont understand why you should start new stories for NANO…I have an unfinished Science Fiction/Fantasy book that I’m only like 30K into. I could use the time to write the first full draft killing 50K in Nano. Why not?

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