Heart Breathings

How I Prepare for NaNoWriMo (including Preptober Checklist)

October 1, 2020 by Sarra Cannon

Planning And Organization | Writing Tips

It’s one of my favorite times of year: Time to prepare for National Novel Writing Month!

I’m so excited you’ll be joining me in the great NaNoWriMo adventure this November. Whether this is your first novel or your fiftieth, it’s always fun to take a full month and immerse yourself in a story world.

Watch my video on preparing for NaNoWriMo

As you probably know by now, “Preptober” is the term we’ve all come to use for the month of October, when novelists everywhere prepare for the epic challenge of writing 50,000 words in just 30 days. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I promise you that the more you do to prep yourself (and your story), the more likely you are to actually win.

That’s where this Preptober Planner comes in! I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2008, and over the years, I’ve come up with a noveling-prep routine that I’ve started using every time I set out to write a new book, no matter what time of year it happens to be. Scroll to the bottom of the page to download it!

In this planner, I’m sharing with you some of the tools and systems I’ve been using for years. I sincerely hope it helps you to get organized and excited for November.

Step One: Prep Your Plan

  • Look at your available time for the month. Mark off days you know you won’t be able to write or have limited time. Add in “buffer” days.
  • Use your available writing days to create a customized daily word count goal.
  • Plan where you’ll write, what time you’ll write, what program you’ll use, and how you’ll back up your work.
  • Plan to give yourself some rewards each time you hit a major milestone, such as each 10,000 words. This can be anything from a new set of pens to a day at the spa or an afternoon binge session on Netflix.

Step Two: Prep Your Tools

  • Make a list of tools you will need to plan your novel. I use highlighters, colored pens, washi tape, stickers, white out, index cards, lined paper, and my favorite black gel pens.
  • Make sure your computer and writing program of choice are working, charging, and ready to go. This includes creating a back-up routine for your novel, such as dropbox, google drive, or emailing yourself a copy each night before bed.
  • It’s important to make sure you are not neglecting your health during this noveling marathon! Get a nice, big water bottle to keep on your desk, for starters. I also keep chapstick, lotion, and a heating pad nearby.
  • Brainstorm any other tools you may need to make your experience more enjoyable. A pair of nice headphones, a mouse for your laptop, a pad for your wrist, or a nice notebook dedicated to your thoughts throughout the month might be helpful.

Step Three: Prep Your Writing Crew

  • NaNo is about people and friendships as much as it is about writing. Set up your NaNo account, create your project, locate your local region, and join in on forum discussions.
  • Join together with other writing friends in groups on Discord, Facebook, or Slack and choose times to sprint together and hang out. A little bit of encouragement and comraderie goes a long way in November!

Step Four: Prep Your Novel

This is the most important part and, of course, why we are all here!

  • Decide which book to write! This could be the next book in an existing series, or it might be a totally new idea, but you need to make a firm decision and get to work on your plot. (Pick the book you’re most excited to write and can’t stop thinking about!)
  • Make a list of your main characters and what you know about them so far. Get into as much detail as you can with your POV characters. It can also help to make a list of random names to pull from as you write.
  • Assign a color to each Point-of-view character (if writing multiple POV). Use colors you already have available in your favorite pens, index cards, or stickers. Alternately, you can assign a color code for different types of scenes or parts of the book.
  • Create an outline of your main plot points. I find it helpful to at least map out the Hook, First Doorway, Midpoint, Second Doorway, and Black Moment plot points. (For help with this, download my “Plot Your Novel” workbook in the resource library.)
  • Sketch out as many scenes as you can imagine in your head. Put details of each scene on an index card, and then arrange these in the best order for now. Ideally, cards will include characters, conflict, and main purpose for the scene.
  • Complete any research you think you may need to write your novel. Print maps of the area (or create a map of your world), research common names, technology, historical facts, or any other information that you know will come up. Keep this information organized in a folder on your computer or print it out to keep in your novel binder.
  • Brainstorm as much as you can about your story world. For contemporary novels, this may be the town, culture, and relationships. For fantasy novels, this is everything from your magic system to the government structure and everything in between. The more you know before you start writing, the better.

Step Five: prep your space

  • LOCATION: Where will you write your novel? Will you mainly write at one computer/one desk? Or will you write in multiple locations with your laptop or tablet? Will you set up on the kitchen table each morning? Decide where you will write and what you’ll need to set it up right.
  • Writing 50k in a month is no joke. You’ll be logging a ton of hours, so make sure you have a comfortable, yet ergonomic space to work. The right chair can go a long way in making sure you get through the month without injuring yourself. Make sure your monitor is the correct height, get a wrist brace if you need it, stack pillows behind you on the bed, etc.
  • Create a space that inspires you. Tape your favorite author’s photo to your wall, stick a post-it with an encouraging quote onto your laptop, dig your lucky rabbit’s foot out of storage and set it on your desk for good luck.
  • Set the mood with an essential oil blend, a cozy candle, or a set of your favorite crystals. Wash your favorite NaNo hoodie, and grab a fuzzy blanket to throw over your legs. Hang fairy lights, and choose a noveling playlist for the month. Anything that gets you in the mood!

Wrap up:

These tips are what I follow every time I write. Hopefully you have found them as helpful as I do!

We’ll have more videos coming all month on how to map out your novel, use index cards to plan your scenes, and more.

Download the checklist now!

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    Sarra Cannon


    1. Heather says:

      Thanks for the boost and the planner, Sarra. I’m really excited to be participating in NaNoWrimo this year, and I’m taking full advantage of Preptober. I know you know what you’re doing, but I’ll say it anyway: “Good luck!” You’re an inspiration! 🙂 xo

      1. Sarra Cannon says:

        Thank you so much! I wish you all the best for NaNoWriMo, too! You’ve got this! 🙂

    2. Cheryl says:

      Thank you for the planner and your video has just strenthened my resolve to do NaNoWriMo this year after all. Love all your content. 😁🦉🍁🍂🎃👻

      1. Sarra says:

        Thank you! Good luck! I know you can do it!

    3. Michia Burton says:

      I’m a little late to this party and I’ll prepared experience wise. This year, for my own sanity, I’m testing the waters by not actually joining, but experimenting with writing as a solo experience. I’m not emotionally equipped for judgment just yet. I’m just trying to find my voice. I know have stories to tell. Every therapist I’ve ever had has begged me to write a book lol. This year, I just want to learn the planning, attempt to organize my thoughts and ideas, and figure out how story telling works. I know from conversational story telling I have a severe case of story ADD. HAHAHAHAHA! One wish I have for this venture is learning to focus on the story. Having read a series of yours, Shadow Demons, I’ve learned those side stories and ideas still have a place, but that place is a separate book. Thank you so much, not only for your amazing stories, but for caring about other story tellers.

      1. Sarra Cannon says:

        YOu can do it! So glad you are participating this year!

    4. Michia Burton says:

      *Ill prepared Damn autocorrect and my failure to take a few seconds to review. #firstworldproblems. Hahahahaha

    5. Joye Sass says:

      I signed up for your mailing list. Can you please send me a prep sheet

      1. Sarra Cannon says:

        You should have received it in email. Let me know if you still aren’t seeing it.

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    Sarra Cannon

    Hi, I'm Sarra!

    I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.


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