Nanowrimo preparation, my version

Preparing for Nanowrimo is a balance. On one hand, you want everything in place so you can just sit down and write. On the other hand, you don’t want to be bored with your story or characters. If you’re committing to spending weeks doing something, you need to be enthusiastic about it. It’s easy to over prepare, over thinking and lost interest before you start. But, especially if you’re new to this, you don’t want to start writing and get lost because you don’t know where the story is going, or simply run out of story so some preparation is necessary.


Now, this is what I do to prepare. I’ve done Nanowrimo a few times (since 2002 actually) and, in later years,  I’ve been finishing in 3-4 days so my approach isn’t necessarily typical, but I wanted a balance to the all the Nano-prep posts that talk about outlining, characters sheets and all the other stuff that I know, from experience, are a bad idea for me. There is no one way to do this. OK?


I start by getting books. Books about the time and place I’m using for the setting or the basis of worldbuilding. Books about mythology or legends I might be using. Books about particular aspects that might be important that I don’t know anything about. Sometimes I even read them.


I like to have some idea about the world the characters inhabit before I can write about them in it. For historical stories, this means gathering pictures, maps, newspaper cuttings, any information I can find about the time and place I’m thinking about. For fantasy and science fiction, I need to find out what the characters’ world is. So I look at pictures, many pictures, online and in books, until I find something that is their world. It might be a picture of an abandoned shopping mall in China that becomes an underground cities of tunnels, or a photo of islands connected by bridges. It might be a building of a particular architectural style that is obviously one of the main buildings in the city. Then I start gathering more pictures and making maps, and collecting other information.


My idea usually start with the characters. They tell my their story and if it’s interesting, I listen. In the last week of October I find names for the main character/s and make a list of names for other characters. This can from a BDM (Birth, Death & Marriages) indexes, usually marriage of people either side of whatever year I’m using, as this gives a good selection of appropriate adult names. From made-up places, I try to find a list of names taken from a historical document e.g. a census or muster return, or something similar. This gets around a lot of problems of fantasy naming schemes (unpronounceable names, names that don’t sound like they’re all from the same culture, too little variation and having make up something appropriate for ever minor character who walks on and needs to be called something).

The story

I need a story problem. That is the thing that needs to solved and then the story ends. This is why finding a dead body is good. Instant story. Find the body, work out what happened, catch those responsible. The end. Even without the dead body, the story problem is similar: inciting incident, various things happen, problem resolved. Without this, if it’s just characters and a setting, or a characters with conflicts, then it’s just a situation. A situation is not a story. No matter how interesting it might be.

Not story things

I have an Excel spreadsheet I use for recording word counts (and averages, and required word count), so I have to pull this out, change the year to this year, work out how many words I’m going to write for the month, how many each day etc and modify the totals to reflect this

I gather those songs that fit the story, make me think of it or generally make me feel like writing into a playlist. Also I find soundtracks that will be suitable to write to.

A day or two before, I do a Nano-sop. I buy rewards. This usually a packet of lollies or something small for every 1000 words, and ice-creams or small pies for 5000 words. Also kiwi fruit. Kiwi fruit are very important in the reward scheme. And I stock up on things that can produce meals quickly.

Changing ideas

Often in the middle of October, I’ll find the characters aren’t cooperating. They’ve given me an interesting situation but no story, or another idea will appear with a fully formed story, and interesting characters and it’ll demand attention. And that is what I end up writing.

In 2015, I wasn’t going to do Nanowrimo. Then on the 30th October, a friend asked me about it and I decided to do it after all. So, come the first of November I had no idea except I wanted to write about trains. So I started with the driver on the train. Then the train goes off the rails. Then two more characters turned up amongst the passengers. Then they found some bones 🙂 After writing four thousand words a day for a week, they finally came up with the story for me.

So, at the end of the day (or the beginning of the month) in the end, preparation is all very well, but what’s most important, I find, is an idea/characters that I’m enthusiastic about. The rest just comes.

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