NaNoWriMo Prep for Pantsers

Nanowrimo prep for pantsers

National Novel Writing Month is quickly approaching. They say there are two kinds of NaNo writers, the plotters and the pantsers. Is it possible for Pantsers to prep for NaNoWriMo? 

Let me get this off my chest right off the bat: I am the epitome of a pantser. My writing style is that I write a sentence or paragraph that belongs in one scene, and then my mind flits to another scene for just a paragraph, and then I get a flash of character description, and then I can see the setting so I need to get it down and suddenly I have 400 words, and they each belong in a different place in the book. This means that I end up printing everything out, cutting it up, and trying to sort it into some kind of order before having to fill in gaps that I missed or expand on scenes. Sometimes I even have to cut sentences in half in order to sort them.  Here is what my writing process looks like:

Ugh. I have always hated those people (I am looking at you, Husband) who just sit down and write the next scene like they have a map of where their book is going. Writing is fun and easy, they say. Writing is my escape. Like a movie in my head. You just sit down and write what comes next.

Get out of my face, you people who can just write what comes next. My muse obviously has such terrible ADD that she can only tell me one image at a time, which leaves me swimming in beautiful words that I have to somehow make sense of. 

Ok, rant over. 

I am eager to do NaNoWriMo this year. I have done it a few times before and never won, but this year, I have no thesis to write, I am not moving to another country (that I know of), and I am not pregnant, so I figure this year is my year. (Friend me on the Nano site: I am JaclynMaryLuke! Let’s inspire each other!) 

Because I am so gung-ho to actually follow through this time, I decided that I needed to do some Nano Prep.  But guess what, I am not a plotter. How do you prep for NaNoWriMo other than plotting out your story, or developing your characters? To me, the things that most people do to prep for NaNoWriMo are things that I discover and uncover in my process of writing, so it feels like cheating to start those before the big November 1st kick off.

I have, however, tried a few things so far this month that have definitely helped get me in the mood, and so I wanted to share them in hopes that some other pantsers out there could use them too!

1. Sign up!

I don’t mean this to be an infomerical for NaNoWriMo, but it can be really helpful to sign up ahead of time, meet some other writers, and kick off the month with a bang. Community support is what NaNoWriMo is all about. You could choose to write a novel any month, perhaps an easier month than one which has only 30 days and several holidays. But doing it in November gives you the support of thousands of writers who are doing it along with you.

When I lived in Fairbanks, they had a midnight write-in on October 31st, so you could really get going from the moment the clock struck November. They also did word wars on Facebook that I found useful, and of course write-ins at coffee shops.  This year, I’m in Anchorage, so I’m excited to see how it works differently in different places. The point is that you don’t want to spend your November writing time poking around the website, lurking on the forums, and stalking other NaNos. Do that now and get it out of your system!

2. Make a mood board

This is one I found on the NaNoWriMo Blog. Basically, the idea is to collect images that you can use to inspire your story. You can create a physical board out of newspaper and magazine clippings, or you can create a Pinterest board. Here’s mine, as an example. What I love about this prep is that it feels like I am steeling myself against future writer’s block. After just a little bit of time, I have inspiration for days. Author J.M. Ralley has a great post on using Pinterest for both inspiration and connection with readers.  Suddenly, on my Pinterest feed, there are pictures that are reminiscent of my story, which both inspires me and also tells me that I should be writing and not on Pinterest. One word of warning, though. Pinterest is excellent procrastination, so be careful with how you use your time.

3. Create a writing space

If you are going to make room in your life for writing, you need to make physical room in your life for writing. This can be as big as creating a whole office for yourself, or as small as transforming your dining room table. In the summers, the hubs, the toddler, the dog and I live in a one-room, off-the-grid cabin that is 12 feet by 16 feet. You can image that there is not room for anyone to have their own writing studio in this situation. But for me, the space is important and so when it’s time to write, our little table transforms into this:

I have my special writing fabric, my special writing candles, my special writing mug (Thanks, Maeve!), and my special writing plant. They all come out and transform the little table where we eat into my own space. The point is to have a physical space that gets you in the headspace — and to make sure you have it set up before November 1st so that when NaNoWriMo comes around, you can just sit down and immerse yourself in your writing. Bonus points for also displaying your mood board from above!

4. Create a writing ritual

In a similar vein, I need to get in the mood for writing. I find it extremely helpful to have a writing ritual that helps get my head in the game. Personally, I make myself some coffee, set up my space, and water my writing plant, reminding myself that I am helping my creativity and my story grow. Maybe you put on some music to write to, make yourself some tea, watch a NaNoWriMo Pep Talk, read some poetry, meditate, pray, do yoga, or draw a tarot card to inspire your day. Whatever your ritual/routine is, you want to make sure that it’s short and sweet and that it actually supports your writing. I personally start to get sucked in if I meditate or watch a pep talk, so these are not for me. It can take time to find a routine that works for you, so now is the time to do it. Don’t wait to figure out what works, or you might spend half of November testing out routines.

5. Create a cover.

This can be as easy or as involved as you want. I’m not talking about creating the final, be all, end all cover with the blurb and everything. Put your name on it. Pick a working title. Heck, even tag it with some Pulitzer Prize or “Best-selling” stickers. The idea is just to have some visual representation of the book you are writing in its complete form. I used Pixabay to find appropriate photos (which can also go on your mood board!). Canva actually has book cover templates that are super easy to use and free! You can print it out and put it in your writing space, or leave it on your computer desktop. Just make sure that you see it often and let the inspiration of seeing your book (YOUR BOOK!) get you through those difficult days in November when the sun is slipping and writing feels too hard. You got this!

6. Plotting for Pantsers

This one comes straight from the NaNoWriMo Prep Workbook. They call it the Jot, Bin, Pants method. This is the first time I’ve tried this and it’s working well for me. The idea is basically that you find a little time each day leading up to NaNoWriMo to sit and conjure up the scenes in your book. You can do this by meditating, just thinking over a cup of tea, scribbling what comes to mind before you go to bed, working on your mood board: whatever gives you ideas for scenes and images. You DO NOT WRITE THE SCENE (this is the most difficult part for me, because I see details that I want to hold on to, so they have become sub-notes). Instead, you just write a one-sentence summary. And then, conjure more, and write another one-sentence summary of the next scene you see. Once you have 50-100 scene ideas, you can begin sorting them. Which scenes need to come first? Which scenes don’t belong? Which scenes really strike your fancy? This is a way to get some semblance of order and some ideas on the page before November starts, but still allows you to go by the seat of your pants!

What are you doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo? Do you have any advice on how to prep for fellow pantsers? Ideas are greatly appreciated!

46 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Prep for Pantsers”

  1. My characters would hate to be tied to a preset plot. They wander into the action, and what happens, happens, often taking me by complete surprise. I suppose that makes me a ‘pantser’, but at the end I am accused of doing meticulous plotting. Subconsciously, maybe?

    1. Same about my characters! For the last book I wrote, I basically drafted the whole thing and THEN wrote an outline. I’m not disorganized, it’s just that my writing doesn’t show up in a linear way!

      1. It makes for an interesting debate whether a story comes across as more true-to-life with one planned event slavishly following another, or with events reacting to one another as they occur.

  2. Thanks, Jacyln, some great tips in here. I’m afraid I have little experience to add, as a first-timer. I do seem to be taking a very similar approach to the jot, bin, pants approach. I seem to be re-using agile software development techniques which are not too dissimilar (users of Trello or Jira will relate). I’m finding Scrivener is proving very useful for organising ideas. My novel requires a huge amount of world-building, so I appear to be writing canon in the form of 3 separate user guides … a history, a glossary of terms/concepts, cultural guides. Driven by chapter/scene ideas. We’ll see if it proves useful in a few weeks ;-)

      1. I’ve been using Scrivener for about 3 months now and I find it very useful. It provides a very useful Novel template to get started with which organises your story into scenes (that can be easily reordered), characters, places, research and other notes. I’m used to using IDE’s in the software development world so it’s a very natural way of working for me. It may not be for everyone though, luckily it has a free trial. My only criticism of it so far is that Word/Grammarly seem to have better grammar checkers.

  3. I’m the epitome of a plotter. But pantser or plotter, whatever works. Good luck this year!

    You’ve reminded me: I need to post a “cover” on the Nano site for this year’s project. I think it does help.

  4. I LOVE scrivener. I’ve been using it for a couple years now. And for a pantser it’s probably a godsend. You can write each scene separately and move them around after.
    I am a pretty even mix of both, pantser and plotter. But I’ve had to work to become the plotter (scrivener has helped with that).
    I used to be an avid daydreamer. So I could sit for hours and just SEE scenes happening in my head. I just need to get back into that headspace.
    Blogging used to help as well, along with those little writing prompts before actually starting to get back into the throws of creativity.

  5. I have planned to write a blog post for some time now, but not gotten to it, that would be titled, “Planners Are Cheaters.” I always plan my story for NaNoWriMo in a way that will allow the story to go wherever it wants as I write it. But in recent years, reading other blog posts, I’ve realized that much of the work I do in advance of NaNo is what some pantsers do as their first draft. So in that way, I do feel like I’m cheating when I plan. After you basically said the same thing, I’ll probably write that post after all!

    Also, your prep ideas are perfect (even for planners)! I’ve created a cover for this year’s novel, but not the mood board yet. I’ll have to do that soon!

  6. I guess Im a pantser too, I set an emotional goal and whatever happens to get there, thats the adventure.
    Whatever didnt make it, I set it aside for other stories, or just realize it wasnt good enogh and thats why I didnt include it in the first place.

  7. I’ve never signed up. So much of my writing relies on countless polishes and I generally churn out first drafts that lack a real story enough to grip readers. Good luck anyway.

  8. Great advice! I especially like your advice on committing to a writing ritual. I do my best writing first thing in the morning before I do anything else. If I can get at least 1-2 hours of writing every day in November, then I believe I can make at least 50k words or more.

  9. I’m really a headlamper, kind of a cross between a pantser and a plotter. My prep right now consists of spending time with my characters. I’ll be working on book 4 of a series, and already have a fair idea of where I want to go with it. I just need to prioritize the writing: hence, Nano.

      1. It works really well for me. I can’t outline. I’ve tried, and everything just dries up. But I need an idea of where I’m going. I also have to know my beginning and ending before I can write. Then I drive toward the ending, with my headlamps on.

  10. I too fall in the same category as your husband. I wrote a novel last year for NaNoWriMo with zero planning but now face the difficult task of adding more structure. Workshopping has really helped with that process.

  11. Total plotter here, so you’d probably hate me, too. I did NaNoWriMo once, in 2016, and “won” (though 50,000 words was only about the 2/3 point of my novel; it took another couple of months to actually finish it). I’m thinking of doing it again next year. Good luck to you!

  12. I started out great on my first NaNoWrimo last year, but the week of Thanksgiving I totally got thrown off. I’d like to do it again this year. I have lots of ideas for new projects but I’m wondering if I should hunker down and just focus on my WIP instead. Do people do that or does everybody start something new?

  13. I like that book cover idea! As for the writing space, how ’bout if I fly you [or your ‘mentally primed for his next chapter’ husband to the house so you can declutter my desk? Great, helpful piece!

  14. Jacyln, with such a beautifully prepared workspace, you’ll nail this! The candle won me over – I have candles all over the house! Great advice for everyone taking part … I’ve always got other stuff on the go and November will be out promoting a new book Well, that is my excuse at least!😀 Good luck and enjoy!😀

  15. Im not a shill or a salesperson, but I will agree with Scrivener. No matter how you write, there it is. You can see where the holes are, where you have bits, who your characters are.
    On that writing thing. I say, you know, I need one of these, and a pilot, and maybe a little romantic tension, a grumpy geezer, a feisty, short post menopausal female…they convene a cast party on my shoulder and tell their story. I try to keep up.
    The muse is always on. All we need to do is get out of the way being “writers”, listen and the story will write itself. Best of luck with Nano!

  16. I too, am a ‘pantser.’ I actually wrote an article years ago, about my process. I liken what I do to quilting or a spice rack (which I will be reposting on my author site this coming week). In short, I keep a document of all my random scenes for a story I am working on and as I quilt the other scenes together, I will grab scenes from this document that fit.

  17. Thanks for liking my WriMo post! Yours is fantastic! I love the last tip; great idea, thanks for sharing! I’ve friended you on the NaNo site. (NadineJL. :))

  18. I have my Plotter moments. I wrote an Outline once. But, mostly, my writing process consists of:

    1. Writing the first twelve chapters.
    2. Having a flash of inspiration that changes something essential about the story (the setting, the protagonist’s motivation, the backstory, some major plot point…).
    3. Starting over from the beginning.
    4. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.

    I have yet to complete a complete First Draft of my current Story In Progress. The thought of trying to do so in a month just makes my brain hurt.

  19. I’ve been known to pants short pieces, but I can’t imagine pantsing a novel. So thanks for your post – it gave me some insight into how “the other half” does it. Good luck with NaNo! I’m frantically finishing up character sketches so I’m ready for 11/1.

  20. I like the Pinterest idea. I’ve already started writing and so I can’t stop and make one now. Maybe I’ll build one between the 1st and 2nd drafts. Scrivener allows the inclusion of pictures with documents but, if there’s a way to view them simultaneously, like a mood board, I don’t know how.

  21. Great post! I’m a certified pantser. I try to plot, but I get too overwhelmed.
    I started writing my NaNo project on November 1st, and before I was done for the day, I had 3 elements pop up that I didn’t even know existed until I typed them. So now, I’m trying to work out what these 3 things are and what they are about and still work on the main part of what I do know.
    I do need to work on setting up my writing space and come up with a ritual of some kind.

  22. I’ve tried to plot this year to finish a story that hit the buffers when I was pantsing before. But you know, sometimes the urge to write takes over! When I try to explain the end to my friends, more options keep occurring to me. Ayayaye! We’ll see. Good luck everyone. And thanks for liking my blog.

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