How Far in Advance Should You Start Planning a Nanowrimo Novel?

Every author’s approach to planning a novel is different. Some like to know their story and characters intimately before they write the first sentence. Others fill binder after binder with worldbuilding details. Still others prefer to skimp on the notes and dive into writing head first with only the vaguest idea where they’re going.

So when should you start planning your Nanowrimo novel?

The short answer is that this varies quite a bit from novel to novel, but you should probably start planning seriously about a month in advance.

Here’s the long answer:

You can only really discover how much planning is appropriate through trial and error, but you can make an educated guess based on your story, setting, and genre–or just listen to Chris Baty, who suggests that you start planning on October 1st.

Still, certain genres demand a lot of planning by nature, at least if you want to be able to keep much of your first draft. If you’re hoping to write an epic fantasy novel, you should probably be doing more intensive planning than you would for a lighthearted romance novel set in a town based loosely off your hometown.

Other genres, such as historical fiction–or anything set in a real location that you want to represent accurately–require heavy research along with a healthy amount of planning.

Usually you can assume that more planning and research done before you start writing your novel means less editing later. At least, that’s the hope, and I know that my Nanowrimo drafts are usually cleaner when I’ve done a fair bit of planning. I’ve had some years where I just sort of started writing on the first with an idea I’d had in the back of my brain for a week. Some of them have been worthwhile stories, but the amount of editing required to make them publishable… Well let’s just say I’m still editing them.

No matter how much time you choose to devote to planning your Nanowrimo novel, there are a few things you should make sure you have before you start writing:

  • Maps — At least a world map and a map of the city/town/locale your character starts in
  • A grasp of each important character’s voice — My recommendation is you do one writing exercise in the PoV(Point of View) of each main character before starting your novel
  • Factsheets — You want to make sure all the worldbuilding and character information you have is easy to find. Factsheets are also great because you can add things to the list during the drafting process, so new information is also easy to find and you’re less likely to miss loose threads when wrapping up your novel.
  • Outline — This doesn’t have to be a very complex outline, but you should know how your novel begins and have a rough idea what the middle and end will look like. The outline can be as detailed as you like–or not. Even if you choose to write a detailed outline, you should be open to some changes, because the best stories grow organically.

These four things are, at least in my opinion, the bare essentials to a successful first draft. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a few dozen resources to help you create the best novel possible, but for now, all you need to do is start thinking about what your novel’s going to look like.

Do you have any idea what you’re going to write about this Nanowrimo? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!