The Planner’s Guide to NaNoWriMo

How to Write an Outline via KLWightman.com
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Pantsers: This blog post is not for you.

Want to create a game plan for National Novel Writing Month so that you come out a NaNoWriMo winner? Read on.


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You’re reading this blog post for three reasons:

The First Step to Every Content Strategy via KLWightman.com

  1. You are fully committed to writing 50,000 words in November. That’s huge! Commitment is always the first step to every writing project.
  1. You know what National Novel Writing Month is and what NaNoWriMo is all about. If you don’t, read this.
  1. You are certain that you’re not a pantser. You want an entire month to plan the novel you want to write in November.

Writing a full-length manuscript is a hefty task, but it definitely can be done. Just ask all the NaNoWriMo winners over the years.

All a planner like you needs for reassurance is a solid strategy. And here’s where I encourage you to start:

Step 1: Commit to Writing 50K

Yes, I know that I said you’re already committed to doing NaNoWriMo. But commit again. Because once November 1 starts, you have to commit to the goal every single day in order to reach—or exceed—50,000 words.

That means planning around everything that happens in your life that’s not National Novel Writing Month: Holidays, work, class, exercise, sports practices, music lessons—the list can be endless.

Not sure how to plan your life around NaNoWriMo? Read this.

Now ask yourself this: Will the 50K be a complete novel or the first half?

You need to go big picture on this one. Define the overall word count of your full-length manuscript so that you can pace your story correctly while you write in November.

Step 2: Create an Elevator Pitch—That’s One Sentence

You read that right. I know a common elevator pitch is something you can say in 15 seconds or less. I’m asking you to go way less.

Can’t do it in one sentence? First make it a paragraph. I’m certain you can do that.

Next, cross out any extra detail that’s just fluff. Sure, it’s important in the story, but right now we’re only focusing on the nuts and bolts of it.

Start combining sentences. This should bring your sentence count to two or three (at most).

Keep doing this on repeat until you have a strong—and not a run-on—sentence.

The reason for this exercise is so that you can boil down the essentials of your story. If you don’t know the core conflict and the struggle for your key players, your story isn’t as ready as you think.

If keeping it to even a paragraph is a major struggle, then you don’t understand the central conflict of your proposed novel. This can lead to plot straying and less focused writing. Since you’re dedicating a month of your life to write a first draft, you want it to be as focused as you can get it.

Step 3: Outline, Outline, Outline

This is probably a pantser’s vision of hell—and a planner’s idea of heaven.

That’s right—it’s time to flush out all the details!

First, complete a basic outline that covers the main points of the story so that you know how to get your characters from one plot point to the next:

How to Write an Outline blog post via KLWightman.com

  • Opening
  • Inciting Incident
  • First Major Crisis
  • Midpoint Reversal
  • Second Major Crisis
  • Point of No Return
  • Climax

If you don’t know what any of the above terms mean, or if you just want some friendly guidance, I highly recommend viewing the resources on Janice Hardy’s Fiction University website.

Next, color your outline with as many plausible details that you can brainstorm. The more details you add, the easier it will be to write each section once November arrives.

Step 4: Set Word Count Goals

Your bare minimum daily word count goal has to be 1,667 words a day if you want to reach 50,000 words by November 30.

And when a page is ~250 words, that’s close to seven pages of words!

I say bare minimum since it’s better to write more than 1,667 words a day because of, well, life.

Unexpected curveballs might be thrown at us. Since the stakes are high, it’s better to be ahead than behind in the word count game.

How to win NaNoWriMo? Here’s how I tackled National Novel Writing Month

Look at your schedule again. Are there days where it will be tough to write that many words—or any at all? If so, it’s time to recalculate your daily word count goal.

Last year, when I competed in NaNoWriMo, I aimed for 2,000 words a day just in case I was blindsided by the unexpected. Miraculously, life wasn’t too hectic and I was able to finish before November 30. But I was still very glad that I set a higher daily word count goal for days that writing 1,667 words was a struggle.

This year, I plan to follow this 30-day NaNoWriMo outline guide to help me keep pace with my National Novel Writing Month manuscript as well as my word count goal.

Step 5: Sign Up for NaNoWriMo

I thought I’d save the fun step for last!

Yes, it’s easy to sign for NaNoWriMo. But as we planners can agree, it’s more rewarding to join National Novel Writing Month knowing that we’ve set ourselves up for success.

So sign up, create your profile, update your email settings, add friends, select your home region and define your work-in-progress.

Oh, and while you’re on the NaNoWriMo website, add me as a friend!

KLWightman National Novel Writing Month Profile on NaNoWriMo.org

Many regions offer Plot-In sessions in October where you can further flush out the plot for your upcoming manuscript with other National Novel Writing Month participants. It’s a great way to meet local writers who are also taking this incredible writing journey in November.

Planners, did I miss a step? What do you do to stay on top of the game of NaNoWriMo before November 1? Share your strategy in the comments section below.

3 thoughts on “The Planner’s Guide to NaNoWriMo

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