Plan Now for NaNo!

Just before dawn today, when I opened the door to let the dog out, the morning air was crisp and cold. The grocery stores are filled with Pumpkin Spice everything, and my daughter keeps pointing out turtleneck sweaters in clothing catalogs (and reminding me how often she empties the dishwasher without me asking…well, without me asking twice).

Yes, my friends, it’s Fall!!!!!

And that means, deep inside my writer’s soul, a familar chord is vibrating: IT’S ALMOST TIME FOR NANOWRIMO!!!

Don’t know NaNoWriMo? It’s a challenge that’s been going on each autumn since 1991: write 50,000 words of a new novel in the 30 days of November, or go crazy trying. Or, hey, do both! (You can learn more and sign yourself up for free at It’s a wild, crazy burst of creative energy that can rocket you through a manuscript draft in no time at all.


2014 will be my sixth consecutive NaNo, and I’m as excited as a kid waiting for Christmas.

Some of you may have done some advanced math and realized I’m a wee bit early with this post: we’re in early October, and we’ve got several weeks plus Halloween between us and November 1st.

But that’s exactly why I’m posting this now. Like I said, I’ve done NaNo five times already–with mixed success. The first two years I tried it, 2009 and 2010, going on pure adrenaline, I nailed it. I thought it was a slam-dunk that I’d win again in 2011.

But….not quite. The day job and health issues and all the other cray cray I deal with on a daily basis threw me off course, and I fell short in 2011. And again in 2012. Dang. (One of those years, I was so exhausted, I fell asleep at 9 p.m. on the night of November 30, and fell short of my goal by 4,000 measly words.)

Last year before NaNo started, I pulled up my Big Girl pants and decided I needed to take more control over the situation. Adrenaline wasn’ t going to be enough anymore–I had to have a PLAN.

To “win” NaNo, you need to write an average of 1,667 words per day. That doesn’t leave room for a whole lot of thinking time while NaNo is in progress. So, if you want to be ready to write productively (and create words that could conceivably lead to a publishable book), you really need to work out at least a few bones of a plot skeleton in October.

I am not by nature a plotter—I’m a pantser through and through. But with a little help (okay, a LOT of help) from my much more rational sister Eileen Emerson, I actually pulled together a rough chapter-by-chapter outline of the book I wanted to write. Thirty chapters, so the goal was to fast-draft a 1,667 version of one chapter each day.

I didn’t adhere perfectly to that plan (the crust of the earth would crack wide open if I ever played entirely by any set of rules), but having it in place gave me enough structure to stay on target and WIN NaNo again!!!! (Not to mention I had a huge chunk of another novel done.)

I don’t think it matters what method you use to map out your novel—whatever works for you is good. Last year I shared a plot chart Eileen worked up—a sort of hybrid of several popular methods. Here it is again:



  You could also check out the whole series of posts Larry Brooks over at published in October 2011 about using October to prepare for NaNo (they start here, or you can buy the whole lot in expanded book form here.)

I also recommend searching the Ruby site for plotting advice from Hope Ramsay, who is a super genius when it comes to plotting.

Just find something, folks, to get yourself prepared in advance! Like Boy Scouts and SpongeBob, you need to be ready!

 I’ll definitely plan a new novel out this October, and go into NaNo 2015 well-armed.

So are you going to tackle NaNo this year? What’s your strategy? Any other tips for using October to get ready?


20 responses to “Plan Now for NaNo!”

  1. I LOVE IT!!!! I get so excited for NaNo. Now when I think about November, that is the first thing that comes to mind. I lost last year by about 10k words. I was bummed because I can write that in one day. So why didn’t I? Too much going on and I had revisions and copyedits in the middle of it all. I’m hoping this year goes better. I’ve already been plotting my book, looking forward to the bit one! Here’s to the energy of November 1st!

    Great post, Elisa!!!

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yeah–I remember you were hammering home those revisions last year. But to do that AND to pull together 40,000 words!!! That’s impressive!!!

      Here’s to a fabulous NaNo 2015!!

  2. November is like the absolute most craziest time of year for me. My wedding anniversary, kids birthday party time, Thanksgiving (my fav holiday & always at my house), getting ready for Christmas. There is no way I could devote all my time to NaNo even though I really want to participate. Sigh…I wish it fell in a different month.

    At least I have the Ruby Winter Writing Festival!

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      That’s how August is for me, Heather–everybody’s birthdays, travel, etc., etc..

      Luckily, my sister-in-law usually cooks the Thanksgiving dinner, so all I have to worry about is bringing wine (and making the gravy).

      And, YES, it’s time to get a big plug in for the RUBY WINTER WRITING FESTIVAL, which will start in mid-January 2015 and run until the end of February. It’s a 50-day festival of writing glory, in which each participant sets her or his own daily (or weekly!) writing goal. Everyone’s invited!!! (More info to come.)

  3. jbrayweber says:

    It’s going to be a tough one this year with my crazy schedule, but I think I’m going to try NANO this year. I wasn’t able to participate last year. The years before were very productive. This year, my goal will be lower than what I usually set for myself. Like I said….crazy schedule.

    Good luck to all who participate in the madness.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Awesome, Jenn!

      I’m a big believer in making things work for yourself. If 50,000 words in November is too overwhelming, why NOT set yourself a 30,000 word goal? That will still be a huge achievement–and tens of thousands of words more than you likely would have had otherwise. Definitely a “win” in my book!

  4. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I may try it this year. I really need to get a book finished before the end of the year, and November is the only month I’ll be able to really commit to writing. Also, Gwyn and I are doing a writer’s retreat one weekend in November. So count me in!

  5. Tamara Hogan says:

    I won’t be NaNo-ing this year – I’m at a wordsmithing/refinement phase in my work, which isn’t conducive to speed – but I can’t wait to cheer everyone on!

  6. June Love says:

    Elisa, I always love your excitement over NaNo. I won’t participate this year, but then I rarely do. I do like the plot chart you posted. I think I’d do better if I plotted just a little more. I used to plot more in my head, but I was younger then and could remember most of my plot points. Now, not so much. 🙂

  7. I love NaNo and look forward to it every year. Unfortunately, this year I’ll be spending November working on edits so I can get a book out by 12/15. I’m sad about that. I’ve only missed one other year in the past 5 that I’ve been participating. But who knows, maybe I’ll rock my edits over the next few weeks and can still spend some time on something new. 😉

  8. Gwyn says:

    No NaNo for me this year. I’ve set my goal on getting three “almost there” books ready for publication, and I can’t seem to walk and chew gum these days. So the book I need to write to finish my Merlin series must wait until I finish the editing project. I’m in awe of people who can jump from book to book. Wish I could, but trying to do that is how I ended up with three “almosts” and no “dones”.

  9. Elisa Beatty says:

    Excellent, Gwynlyn! We can spur each other on!

  10. Addison Fox says:


    Love this post and wishing you a very good Nano!

    I’ve got a book due 12/1 so I’m looking forward to the month with my fellow word warriors!



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