In It to WIN It—Preparing for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month)


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Today we are going to talk about a GLORIOUS time of year—NANOWRIMO—which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is meant to support creativity and encourage those who say they want to be authors to give it a go and write a novel (50,000 words) in a month. Notice the challenge is 50,000 words. No one said they had to be good words. Or publishable words. Or polished words. Or edited words.

This is actually why I believe Nanowrimo is very useful for all levels of writers. It trains out perfectionism. No half-finished novel ever made the NY Times best-seller list, but some crappy slightly-less-than-glorious novels have. The biggest threats to your finished novel (and mine) are Mr. It Must Be Perfect and his evil sister Editina.

Preparing for Nanowrimo

Have Fun and Fuel Up

Anyway, whoever chose November as National Novel Writing Month was seriously brilliant, because Halloween is like Mardi Gras for writers. If you are smart, use trick-or-treating to your advantage. After combing the neighborhoods for bags of gooey corn syrup and chocolate morsels of literary energy, be a diligent parent.

Search your kid’s candy for stuff like “illicit drugs”, “poison” and “razor blades” and “get rid of it” which of course is code for “hide it in your office.” You will need that fuel for Week Two of Nano. Tape the pixie sticks under your desk in case this goes into Week Four.

You see anything that looks like THIS? It’s drugs. Confiscate it!

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Because seriously, who’s giving their Adderall away for FREE to complete and total strangers? *rolls eyes*

No…really. I need an address.

Where were we?

Technically, taking half our kids’ candy under false pretenses is gas-lighting them, but reading and literature is vital for a civilized society. The world needs more writers and normal people make crappy writers. It’s science. So how are we going to create more literary geniuses if we don’t damage our kids just a little bit?

You’re welcome.

True, years later our kids might wonder why we continued to live in a neighborhood full of psychopaths who tried to murder them every time they trick-or-treated. And they may put two-and-two together that their lives were only “in danger” the years Mommy or Daddy did Nano. But, by then, we will be a filthy rich NYTBSA and we can buy them all the candy they want to take to therapy.

OR we can team up on our grandkids because the plan was successful and our kids grew up to become writers!

I am a freaking genius.

And if you don’t have kids? Well…yeah, sucks to be you. You’ll have to pay for your own sugar rush.

Some More Practical Tips (Other than Crockpots & Yoga Pants)

Often why writers fail to finish Nanowrimo is they don’t do the right prep work or enough prep work. They believe that they will make it through 50,000 words on creativity alone and that’s like thinking a Share-Size bag of Skittles is plenty of fuel for a double marathon.

Uh huh.

BS and glitter is good for about a day. Maybe three. After that? $#!t gets real and if we haven’t done some preparation it’s going to make finishing a lot tougher, if not impossible.

I highly recommend doing Nano. Nanowrimo gives a taste of the professional pace. It also gives a sample of the professional life of a writer (especially the weeping and drinking heavily part right around November 30th).

Most of the time we (pros) do not feel inspired. If we felt inspired all the time and were a limitless-cerebral-slushee-machine-of-cherry-flavored-rainbow-imagination-genius, no one would have ever needed to invent this thing called a deadline.

And then call it something super terrifying like DEADline.

Nano Makes it REAL

Nanowrimo gets us over our romanticized notions of “writing” and lets us fall in love with the real deal. A “WIP” (Work in Progress) does not send you dozens of roses, run you bubble baths or give you long massages.

Your WIP has no idea what a hamper is, eats the last slice of pizza and leaves the box in the fridge, farts under the covers and yells DUTCH OVEN! and shoves your head under the covers. You stick with it and love it through disease plot holes sickness adverb infestations, and infidelity revision until death—deadline—do you part.

THAT is reality. THAT is being a real writer 😉 .

You can do it!

What makes it easier is we learn how to rely on skills instead of just creativity because creativity will wear out pretty quickly.

Yes, many of you were star students in school. I was too. I made As on all my papers. But, unless you had a teacher that who you turn in a paper 50,000 words long? Trust me, this is a whole new world and some preparation is going to go a LONG way toward helping you finish.

Also, I want for you to do more than finish. I want to help you create something that can actually be shaped into something worthy of publishing.

If we are going to half-kill ourselves, why not?

To help you do this, I’ve linked to one of my most popular series:

Anatomy of a Best-Selling Novel

This series is a crash course in all you need to write a novel. I go over plotting on the micro and macro scale. We discuss three-act structure, etc. etc. No, it will not make your writing “formulaic.” Formulaic writing comes from execution. This series is valuable whether you are a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in between.

I call myself a plotter 😀 .

There is NO way I am ever going to outline, so I am not quite a plotter. I love the freedom of being a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants). But, pure pantsing is grossly ineffective (my opinion). It is a really good way to stall and it will be a nightmare to revise.

Even if you feel you are a pantser, I recommend checking out the series. Give some plotting a try. The reason. Creativity is ignited with boundaries. We love to believe that boundaries stifle our creativity, but I strongly disagree and I will prove it.

Visit Alcatraz. People incarcerated in supermax prisons are SERIOUSLY creative.

Okay, a better example…FINE.

If I said right now, “Write me a 1000 word short story.” Most of you would either blank or would stall.

BUT, if I said, “Write me a 1000 word short story about a freak show.” POOF! Ideas would abound. With just a little bit of boundaries your imagination sparks to life.

We can still write freely, but a handful of guideposts can keep us on track and can help maintain momentum.

The Series in Order:

Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story-Structure Part One

Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story-Structure Part Two

Introducing the Opposition-Structure Part Three

Is Your Story Idea STRONG Enough? Part Four

Your Story in a Sentence-Part Five

Is Your Story Primal? Part Six

Choosing a Genre-Part Seven

How to Manage Scenes in a Novel-Part Eight

Which is the Best POV for YOUR Story? Part Nine

Of course I recommend reading all of these, but if you do have to choose one, Part Four is a good one. A major reason many people do not complete Nano is they select far too weak of a story idea. The idea might work for a short story, but it simply is not robust enough for something as long as a novel. Thus it fizzles.

If you pick two to read? Go for Part Three as well. The single largest problem most new writers have is they DO NOT properly understand the antagonist. No antagonist? No story. Waxing rhapsodic for 50,000 words is not a novel. Navel-gazing is not a novel. Bouncing back and forth in time is not a novel. Novels are about one thing and one thing only—trouble. Without an antagonist your story will collapse in on itself.

Well, there you have it. Enjoy the rest of your October. Live it up kiddies while you can. You can sign up for Nanowrimo HERE.

I am still undecided if I’m going to do it. I usually do. I will be fast-drafting a NF I have due to my publisher, but I don’t know if I want to do a fiction at the same time, though I’ve done it before. AND, I have bombed Nano (multiple times), so I’m not perfect. When I blew it it’s because I failed to prepare. Fail to plan plan to fail. When I did prepare, however, I finished in 12 days. So it DOES make a difference.

So, you going to Nano? Were you going to pass but now the peer pressure is getting to you? Have you ever completed Nano? What helped you finish? What was your best time? Or did you sneak in at 11:59 P.M. November 30? Do you think plotters have an advantage in Nano? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or a plotser?

Planning on confiscating “drugs” from your kids trick-or-treat bags?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. It’s my first and I’m so excited! Thank you for another great post. I look forward to your work every week! Much ?! Have a great Friday!

  2. Reblogged this on Laura Hile and commented:
    After almost 40 days of daily blogs, last night I hit the wall and faltered. Today it’s Kristen Lamb to the rescue. Enjoy!

  3. I’m a pantser through and through but also I know that when I have negative reactions to advise it’s an indicator to refine my views at the very least and potentially expand. So I’ll look at the series you linked and thank you so very much for this and all your articles they are always very helpful.

    1. But that’s fine. A log-line and some one-sentence guideposts that are loose (and that CAN be revised) can help A LOT). I love the discovery aspect of pantsing. But without some guidance? You can end up in a MESS that you have to scrap.

  4. Re-blogging on

  5. You never fail to inform and crack me up at the same time. I’m all in for NaNoWriMo for a MG tale entitled Middle School Mafia. I’ve been filling out character profiles, researching school floor plans, sketching general plot ideas, etc. I think I’d pee myself if I finished in 12 days! Great encouragement, Thanks.

  6. I never would have thought to “borrow” some fuel from my kiddo – brilliant! :0) I’m participating in NaNo this year, even though November is the worst month of my year this year to be doing this, I’ve come to realize that if I want to do this writing thing professionally, I’m going to have to commit and get it done. Like you suggest, I’m doing plot/prep work this week. NaNo has this great tool to help with those that have problems plotting (like me); it’s created for a younger audience, but the tool translates, I think, to every author. ( So if you need a little help like me, check it out. 🙂

  7. Good stuff, as usual.

    I was on the fence about doing NaNoWriMo, but I can feel myself getting dragged in. I’ve never actually done it before, so I have no idea what kind of dysfunction I’m signing up for. Above and beyond the usual, of course.

  8. Thank you for the tips! I am going to be doing Nanowrimo for the first time this year. I really appreciate your assistance!

    • Lisanne Harrington on October 23, 2015 at 11:16 am
    • Reply

    Editina! I love it! I have been a mugwump (someone who sits on the fence with his mug on one side and his wump on the other) about NaNo for a while now. There is a regional meeting in the next town over from me tomorrow that I was thinking about going to. When I woke up this morning, I was all excited because I was thinking it was TODAY. And now, after reading this, I realize how much I’m looking forward to it–and to meeting other authors in my area. I have a book due to my publisher, too, so I guess my mug and my wump are now on the same side.

    I. AM. NANO!

    • Kim on October 23, 2015 at 11:37 am
    • Reply

    I love, love, love, love this helpful article, as I have a huge perfectionist streak (that I’ve tried to smack around, somewhat successfully recently). The idea that the crazy burst that is Nano could help squash it is very appealing. Scary, but appealing.

    • Melissa Keaster on October 23, 2015 at 12:13 pm
    • Reply

    I participated (and finished) NaNo in 2010, but I never finished that novel. 50,000 almost unusable words. My story idea was too weak. I knew NOTHING about story structure back then. I still have a lot to learn now, but I know SOMETHING. I’m considering NaNo this year, but I have decisions to make first. Do I put editing my novel on hold to write the prequel (my would-be NaNo project) or do I edit my novel like a good little anal retentive checklister, OR do I say “to heck with it” and work on the short story collection that I’m two stories into right now. Decisions, decisions…

  9. Great blog! I’m doing NaNoWriMo for the second time this year. I finished last year well over 50,000 words and went on to complete the first draft but have not done much revision since. I went into it blind. My poor little feeble mind had no idea what I was getting myself into. I did learn that I had the ability to write an “ok” story that could be improved with a lot of work…if I were willing to do it! My grandkids will have to guard their Halloween candy because I devised a scheme to take them Trick-or-Treating since my husband’s daughter has a six-month-old. Muhahahaha!

  10. I have the opposite problem; I am unable to STOP writing. You can tell by my web site (innocent plug) when I am not writing a regular novel (it’d being edited), as the number of short pieces climb to where the Tower of Babel is a ‘look-down’ situation.

    On top of that I write poetry, songs, play around with recording; thank God my wife has a horse to keep her entertained as I scratch around in my cave. She tells me my mood changes when I stop writing; I become like a cat in a room full of dogs.

    I have a day job, and only caught the bug of the writer a few years ago. I should have known my love for whiskey, women, and song would embrace writing with the same propensity for maximum indulgence.

    And, as with all the things I love, I have had to learn to take a break. With writing the hardest thing was the editing—making it a slow, caring, loving, polishing process. No, I don’t do that with my short stuff; there I wing it.

    I threat my novel differently. Perhaps she is not really mine, and so I ensure that when she leaves, she is far the better for the time she has spent with me.

  11. I’ll be working on book 4 of my Fangs & Halos series. I have the series published to that point and about 17 chapters of this new one at least lined out. I have been running about 100k per book so Nano gives me a running-start at it, all of the series has been worked on in Nano.

    With Scrivener, I can put the cards for chapters down as an idea outline–what will be in each chapter. It’s not set in stone, I can move them if one or another of the characters decides to sabotage what I’m working on at the time. I’m crazy for letting the characters run the show but so far they’re doing a pretty good job of keeping things going.

    Since I have my partial outline ready, i have been working on getting some additional research done on thing that I know are coming up. There’s nothing more disturbing than stopping the flow to answer the question “But was that brand of whiskey available in 1860.” During a normal, non-Nano writing time, it can be annoying, but during Nano, it can be deadly to the word-count and final goal. So I’ve been concentrating on those things.

    Hint: if you run into that type of thing during Nano, put an all-caps and in another color (I suggest red or green) WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF CHIVAS in the line when you discover it and LEAVE IT ALONE! You can go back in December and spend your time doing the research for that part.

    Keep writing.

    So, that’s how I’m working. Stocking up on coffee, Dr. Pepper, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and getting a new pillow for my back…November, here I come!

  12. A great, helpful article! I’ve done NaNoWriMo three times but only “won” once last year. I am trying something new this time and actually doing some plotting with a basic outline. Last year I hit some points that were difficult to get past because I had no idea where to take the story. I’m hoping an outline of sorts will help ease that and let me finish Nano again!

  13. This will be my second NaNo. I reached 61K last year, but should have been better prepared. I didn’t make the decision to participate until the last minute. What saved me was that I’d been considering doing it for weeks and had a lot in my head and notes scattered (hidden) everywhere. Even so, I was spending a couple of hours each day doing what I should have done in October: plan. It was a nightmare.

    Regardless, I highly recommend the experience because it does exactly what you say it does. It’s a boa that squeezes out your perfectionism and forces unrelenting persistence. Last year I could spot the grossly unprepared. They wrote at an insane rate the first week (or less), stumbled the second week, and gave up the third week. Basically, they outpaced the meager ideas they had going in (or their goldfish died and they were too distraught to continue). NaNo doesn’t allow for “Whoops” and “Oh, wait…” Miss a day to fix this or that and you’re at least 1,667 words behind the next morning. Life happens. Thanksgiving and its bloated aftermath happen. The holiday is like having a steep hill near the end of a marathon. Last year I reached 50K on the 23rd so my pie baking was a more enjoyable experience.

    The high on December 1st, though, is more than worth the effort.

    My vow this year is to better employ all I’ve learned the last several years, much of which has come from you. Thus, I’ll reread your series to ensure I’m covering all my bases. I’m pumped this year and have a pantry full of chocolate drugs.

  14. Yup; another good one. This one I shared on my WordPress blog. Good job, Kristen!

  15. I never laughed SO hard! I needed this after this week.
    AND, everyone should read ALL of her posts. I’ve not only read them all, i’ve printed all of them out and have a whole Kristen folder at home with all her great writing tips!

    1. Aren’t you a DOLL? Thank you! ((HUGS))

  16. I’m a pantser, because the first year I Nano-ed, my outline was too strict and all my characters stopped talking to me 10,000 words in. So I usually jump in with a spiral notebook and a vague idea.

  17. I have never done Nano and have no intention of doing it now. But that won’t stop me from reading your series on novel writing. 🙂

  18. Ha! Great article! This will be my first year participating in this craze, and the one piece of advice I keep reading over and over is about preparation and planning: Outlining, character sketches, etc… 8 days? Yeah, I can get that done. My only hang-up? The other piece of advice that says not to turn around and edit every line I write. That’s going to kill me.

  19. Love NaNo! I’m prepping my loose outline. Another reason to plot something out, if you can’t think of 60 or so scenes, your story isn’t strong enough, go read tip 4.

    Many thanks, Kristen, for the great list of lessons.

  20. Reblogged this on Kill Your Darlings and commented:
    Who’s up for NaNoWriMo? Kristen Lamb offers advice on how go succeed and finish that novel. Good luck everyone!

  21. November seems to be the Everything Happens month down here: weddings, birthdays, family reunion, visitors from out of town.,. But while I might not get to Wri in the Mo of No, I still want to try this fast-drafting thing. I’ll just have to do it a few months late. And I will definitely re-read your series before I do 🙂

  22. This is my first year participating! Here we go!

    • Renita on October 23, 2015 at 5:44 pm
    • Reply

    I’m an OCD plotter on crack. I use the scene/sequel method and detail the goal, conflict, disaster, emotion, thought, decision, and action for each scene. At the end of each chapter I write the hook. This is my first nano and I’m excited to participate. I’ve spent the last two months plotting my book and am currently editing my plot notes and going back through my scenes. Did I mention I’m an OCD plotter on crack?

    1. Awesome! I am thrilled to see you finish 😀

  23. I attempted last year to use the time to get my novel going. I lost it… one week. One Lousy week. I am praying that I can get at least 2 in this year and maybe, just maybe steal some of that wonderful chocolate goodness from my unsuspecting children. I will need it to get through that second week, and if they eat it all, I will get no silence in my house and get NO writing done! blessings, Love this post!! Looking forward to reading more of them.

    • Jean Lamb on October 23, 2015 at 9:58 pm
    • Reply

    We don’t have kids. But hey, we have to buy some candy! We get lots of kids in their neighborhood! Well…some years we don’t. Oh, whatever shall we do with all this leftover candy?

    Not to mention I need to stock up on coffee. Mmm….caffeine. And they give it away free where I work! Sadly, I do have a day job, though I will be retiring from it at the end of this year (mwa ha ha!).

    Oh, yes, better haul out that chapter outline from Beyond Wizardwall, and read what I have done on it already, to get my head in the right space (Poor hero is taking care of a baby dragon, which is a total chick magnet–but getting time to be alone with the right girl is a little difficult, what with “Whatcha doing, Tam?” from a nosy baby dragon. And the dragon’s favorite babysitter is now being trained in a magical land elsewhere, after he blew up completely inert ingredients in his alchemy class. Oops).

    Here we go…:)

  24. Ha Ha! Who needs a sugar rush! I just read this post!
    Thanks for more great incentive Kristen, Your writing slaps me in the face with a cold wet fish and dares me to get on with it.

  25. There won’t be any pilfered Halloween treats in my Nano, but I will definitely be writing!

    Every Nano and every Camp Nano! I love the opportunity to dedicate a month to a first draft.

  26. Thank you Kristen Lamb this is a wonderful accomplishment again this months. Nanowrimo (National Novel Winning Month excellent.

    • Melissa Lewicki on October 24, 2015 at 4:18 pm
    • Reply

    My daughter teaches creative writing at a HS in Austin. All her students are doing NaNo. And, me too. I will refer her to this post.

  27. Hi Kristen,
    I can’t wait to go through all of the links you provided. Thank you so much for sharing the information!

    12:01 a.m. is when I like to begin NaNo. I’ve started at other times but for some reason this works for me so I’m sticking with it.

    I happen to be a combination plotter, so that’s what I try to do for NaNo as well. Getting my character’s GMC down as much as I can, writing a story synopsis and writing as much of the plot as I can has been why I’ve won a few times. Nothing is written in stone. You’re going to have to edit anyway.

    We don’t have any kids at home, but that doesn’t stop me from buying chocolate. A week before NaNo I make sure I’m stocked up on coffee and tea, Dr. Pepper (with real sugar) and Cheese Puffs. *Shrugs* It works.

    NaNo is a wonderful, unique experience you share with writers around the world. I love how this event can bring you in contact with so many other writers you wouldn’t meet otherwise.

    I added this blog post to my blog hoping it can help someone else.

    Thank you, Kristen!

    Hugs, Tambra
    *waving from the Texas Gulf Coast*

  28. Finishing early?? Light bulb moment . . .

  29. I am in this year! But I need to prep more than just my idea. I wrote out a logline first and have some ideas, but nothing concrete. What’s helped me most (also not an outliner) is to work on character goal, personal flaw/wound, crisis moment, ending point for each major character ahead of time, and to write journal-like bios in the character’s voice ahead as pre-writing. It helps SO much and even some of the pre-writing gets worked into the story. If I know a few major turning points and the end (which sometimes I don’t and it gets me in trouble) I have a map to go by and fill n the rest.

  30. I did NaNoWriMo in 2013, and at the end of the month I had 53,000 words. I just kept writing, and I finished my first novel, Murder by Any Other Name, on Valentine’s Day 2014. I self-published in March 2015, and this year I’ll be working on the sequel to that book. It’s tentatively titled Fool’s Gold.

    Thanks, Kristen, for your blog and your encouragement. I’ll be studying your entries closely as I prepare to write this November, and I’ll be sharing it with my Facebook group, My 500 Goes to NaNoWriMo. 🙂

  31. Hello ,
    I am very new at blogging, although I am young I hope you will consider looking at my blog. It is nothing amazing or artistic ,but it is simple and i write every Wednesday. URL:

  32. eeek. The peer pressure is getting to me. The worst part is I keep telling everyone else they should do it, then I turn around and say I don’t think I have time. hahaha

    • Tamara LeBlanc on October 26, 2015 at 6:02 pm
    • Reply

    Gotta love Squidword…he’s so terribly to the point! I tried NANO once, a few years ago and was overwhelmed. I’m a terrible, awful, unrepentant perfectionist…even though I know there is no such thing as perfection. Especially when it comes to my writing. But I can’t help it. I edit and edit and edit. It drives me to drink…Bailey’s tonight.
    One day, however, i will make myself throw out my crazy perfectionism and try my best to just put shit on the page. That’s what i need. To get pages DONE and NANO is the perfect forum for that.
    Thanks for your wisdom!
    Have a great Monday!

    1. Tamara I feel your pain.

  33. Doing it for the first time! Three family birthdays and Thanksgiving be damned.

  34. Reblogged this on jbsako and commented:
    My first completed manuscript is behind me. Nanowrimo comes at a good time for me because I’m starting my next. Who’s with me?

  35. Left a blog entry at

  36. Great series that you linked. I have read them before and they are all very helpful. Oh, I’m a plotter. The real fun for me is in the rewrite. Thank you for the nanowrimo link.

  37. Reblogged this on writersback and commented:
    Nanowrimo is just around the corner. Great post from Kristen Lamb on how to prepare and have a better chance of success to finish. Also link to sign up.

  38. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  39. Puuummmpppkiiinsss!! I ate a whole bag of those devils! Nice blog, I’m pumped for NANOWRIMO too!!!

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