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Why You Should Plan your #NaNoWriMo Story in Advance #writetip


2012 nano winner

Over the years I’ve discovered the hard way that planning a story is the difference between a smooth writing experience and one where I’m pulling my hair, digging into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, or deciding to watch re-runs of Law & Order instead of staring at a blank page. Even worse, the pressure of needing to get a certain word count each day made it all even worse.

“I’m never going to finish this,” I used to tell myself, and if you say that enough, you will start to believe it.

But the key to winning is having something to write every single time you sit down at the computer, or notebook. It’s not just the security of having an idea where the whole story is heading, but when you’re not writing, you will find yourself thinking ahead to the next section you’ll be writing, synthesizing what you’ve just written, and figuring out scenes and plot points you never dreamed of before.

Far from cramping your writing style, planning—not outlining—actually can free your brain up to be more creative. You’ve already made some of the big decisions in the story, so your creativity can focus on the details.

I know a lot of you are ready to write off the rest of this article. My suggestion is for you to at least work through the planning tools and character building tips I’ve already got here, and fill in some of the worksheets I’ll be sharing during October. Once you see how powerful even a little planning can be, you’ll find the task of writing that much easier and more fun.

The NaNo rules only say you can’t start writing the story until November 1, but there’s nothing to stop you from planning the story earlier. In fact, if you wait until November 1 to start thinking about the story, you are almost guaranteed to fail.


Because a good story has layers characters and plot. Some of these layers come from a familiarity with the characters. It’s not a matter of knowing what high school she went to or whether he wears boxers or briefs. It’s about knowing what the characters are going to do in particular situations, how they speak, and how they interact with other characters. Most of all, it’s about what forces drive them, and how those forces will affect them throughout the course of the book, as the plot unfolds.

Like many writers, I know the characters better as I write. By the end of the manuscript, I know a lot more than at the beginning, and sometimes I have to go back and rewrite a scene or change early dialog because the character wasn’t fully formed in my brain.

1-writerA little planning can minimize how much of that extra work is required, and the more you know the characters, the better you can mess with them by knowing what events will result in the most conflict and tension, which is what makes a great story.

Look at the film Vertigo. Most people can manage to overcome even a fear of heights to save a person on a roof or ledge, which happens in a scene late in the film. However, James Stewart’s character has more than a fear of heights. He failed to save someone in the past, so he’s got a huge emotional challenge, as well as the psychological one. You can build in this kind of huge emotional impact on your characters—and readers—when you know what makes the characters tick at their deepest levels.

There are as many plot-related reasons to start planning in advance. If you happen to be working with a complicated story with subplots or a mystery, you will have a lot of details and threads to keep track of. You will also need to work hard to make sure everything fits together and makes sense.

Starting that process in October means you will already know where you’re going to hit the snag and come up with a solution before the NaNo clock starts ticking.

I was writing a book dealing with smugglers. I had sketched out the key plot events and sequence, but I was stuck trying to figure out how the contraband items got from point A to point B. I put the story on hold for over a month while I bounced ideas off friends and tried to make them work with the rest of the story.

You want to minimize or avoid the chance of unexpected plot problems during November. In fact, if you’re a new writer, I don’t suggest a mystery/suspense plot unless you have lots of time to figure out how connect the dots.

But we’re getting off track.

You can see how planning your NaNo book in advance is only going to increase the chances of:

  • Finishing a novel, not just hitting your 50,000-word goal
  • Having a more intricate, layered story
  • Not finding out in the middle that your plot isn’t working
  • Deeper, multi-dimensional characters
  • A first draft that won’t need as much revision
  • A less stressful NaNo experience

What has helped you during NaNoWriMo in the past? What were the biggest challenges?

Stay tuned for more excerpts from my upcoming book “How to Be a NaNoWriMo Winner.” Subscribe to the Smooth Draft newsletter for exclusive NaNo and other writing tips, and a chance to order the book at a discount direct from Smooth Draft.

If you’ve enjoyed my writing articles, I’d appreciate your support by checking out the books on my Amazon Author Page or All Romance eBooks. Thanks!


EM Lynley writes gay erotic romance. She loves books where the hero gets the guy and the loving is 11 on a scale of 10.



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