Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly

How to Prep Your Novel for NaNo WriMo


50,000 words in 30 days. Sound like a daunting prospect?

‘What if I get blocked? What if I get 2,000 words in and then get stuck?’

You can either spend the next couple of weeks stressing over that question, or you can get to work. Yes, I know the writing doesn’t start until November 1st, but an important trick to winning NaNo WriMo is the preparation. Developing plot, creating characters and researching facts can all be done beforehand.

Here are three tangible ways you can start preparing for your 50,000 words – with examples from my own novel prep.

(If you’re one of those people who can’t or don’t want to prep before you start writing your novel, then I’ll have a post especially for you closer to the start date.)

My Grand Luxe Dialogue Too Notebook

Keep a Notebook

You’re probably already getting little ideas for your story. Where are you putting them? Are you filing them away in the back of your mind for later? I’ve got bad news. The back of the mind is full of holes, moths and mould. Chances are when you return, your idea will no longer be around.

You need to get those precious ideas down – be it on real paper (an ‘old fashioned’ notebook) or in an electronic format (using one of these note-taking apps, my favourite being Evernote). I use both, as I need the flexibility of editing electronic notes when working on my plot synopsis but absolutely can’t do without my pen and paper for brainstorming and mental ramblings.

When choosing a notebook, I find I need to shop around a little. The receptacle for my ideas has to be inspirational. I have to connect with it. When I pick it up, the cover, pages and even the lines have to feel just right. Sometimes it feels like it belongs to my main character. Other times it just feels comfortable in my hand. Whatever the reason, once I’ve found the right notebook, I know my ideas will come more swiftly.

Moleskine notebooks are classic writer indulgences. I also have a very soft spot for PaperBlanks which are superbly gorgeous. My latest acquisition was found in Singapore Airport and is a blue Dialogue Too from Grandluxe (see photograph above). I especially love it because it has lines on only one side of the page, so there’s plenty of room for sticking things or doodling. I’m in heaven!

You may particularly want a notebook small enough to carry around with you, so it’s there whenever you’re struck by inspiration.

I can’t stress this enough. Start writing down your ideas now! Anything and everything. It will be invaluable when you’re stuck for words or in desperate need for inspiration on Chapter 10.

My Vision Board

Create a Vision Board

(Please note that my vision board pictured above is in the early stages so the images are a little sparse. I’m still adding to it!)

A vision (or mood) board is a collection of pictures, quotes, dialog and objects which capture the essence of your story (or whatever project you’re working on). They are elements which inspire you, which have meaning and which convey the concept you’re working on.

You can start with a noticeboard, a piece of foam or cardboard – anything you can put up somewhere and stick things too. Then you can begin collecting things you feel help you to get a handle on the world and characters you are looking to create.

Let your Creativity run wild. This is exactly the kind of thing he or she loves to get involved with. The process may start out slow, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll gather momentum.

While you’re at it, try finding a piece of music which you feel captures the mood you’re looking for. Play it while you work to help you focus on what you’re trying to achieve.

For more helpful tips on creating vision boards, head over to Word Strumpet.

My storyboard

Create a Storyboard

Have you ever watched the ‘Making Of’ feature for an animated movie? They will usually show you at least part of the storyboard they worked on. Often the storyboard takes up entire walls, each little piece of paper depicting a shot or scene which will hopefully end up in the move.

Storyboards work for any kind of storytelling. Mostly they are used for screenplays. In Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat he talks reverently about ‘The Board.’ It’s basically a collection of 40 cards, each representing a scene, pinned to a noticeboard in 4 rows of ten. For more information, read the book as he goes into fantastic detail about how to beat out a story.

Storyboards also work for novels. Laying out important scenes on a noticeboard forces you to see the holes in your story. Where do you need more scenes? Where are your scenes not working for you?

The beauty of storyboards is that they are extremely easy to change. You can move elements around at a whim to see how they would work in a different order. Then you can stand back and muse.

If you don’t feel any of these three options would work for you, don’t panic. The important thing is to get your ideas out of your mind and onto some kind of paper or screen so you can massage them into shape and return to them as you write your draft.

Do you have any favourite ways to prep for your novel?

By the way, Charlotte Rains Dixon over at Word Strumpet is offering free half hour coaching sessions during October. I tried one out last week and highly recommend it!


Author: Jessica

I'm a writer who refuses to pin myself down to one genre, hopping from science-fiction and fantasy through to literary and even the odd western now and then. Check out what I've written at or follow me on Twitter @jessbaverstock.

9 thoughts on “How to Prep Your Novel for NaNo WriMo

  1. Wonderful post, Jessica. My favorite line is this: “you can either spend the next couple of weeks stressing over that question, or you can get to work.” So true! I’m going to carve out time over the next two weeks to do some additional prep on my novel and haul out my Vision Board. Love the energy that Nanowrimo creates for us!

    • I’ve found that waiting until November to start writing has actually forced me to do more prep work which is giving me greater insight into my characters and theme.

      I love the buzz around November. It makes me feel far less lonely when writing.

  2. Pingback: How to Prep Yourself for NaNo WriMo « Creativity's Workshop

  3. Pingback: How to Write By the Seat of Your Pants Through NaNo WriMo « Creativity's Workshop

  4. I love, love, LOVE your posts about NaNoWriMo! I’d never thought to do a Vision Board, but now I have one all set up with maps and character pictures and lots of other crazy fun stuff. Thanks so much!
    I talked about and linked to your blog on my writing vlog:

    Thanks again for the fantastic advice!

    • Congratulations Kate. It seems you are at one with your Creativity! Or perhaps you’re at two or three with your creativity…

      Seems like it’s possible to have more than one.

    • You’re very welcome!

      I love your video and your Muse! She’s brilliant. 😀

      Your board has *great* stuff on it and plenty of room for extra goodies. I’m sure that will keep Muse occupied for hours!

      Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. I’m doing a sort of modification of the vision board. I sketch out a small picture in the top left of the page. Then I put similar sized boxes beneath each one. Then I write down five to ten words I associate with each picture. This helps for later remembering the dream you based it on, without the “if I talk about my dream, I lose it.” Then I can go back later, and form sort of a log line summary of all the words together. Then jot down a simple plot based on the log line.

    This helps me stay a discovery writer, while maintaining the architects merits. It’s sort of like a computer, but your logging into your head-space.

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