NaNoWriMo (and NaNonFiWriMo) Prep: Your 30-Day Writing Challenge Preparation Checklist

NaNoWriMo prep requires a great strategy. Here, Nina Amir offers a comprehensive checklist to help you get ready to take on NaNoWriMo or NaNonFiWriMo.


When you register for a personal development class, the transformation begins immediately. It’s as if your commitment—putting money down and scheduling the time on your calendar—starts your mind working toward bettering yourself.

When you decide to take on a 30-day writing challenge, like National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo)—the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge—or during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a similar thing happens. Your mind begins working on your book project. Even when you aren’t writing, you are thinking about your book. You unconsciously mull over problems in structure or content and find solutions. ou may even notice yourself mentally writing sentences and paragraphs long before the book-in-a-month program begins.

Despite that preparation, if you want to start and finish the first draft of your nonfiction book—or even your novel—in a month, it’s best intentionally to spend time preparing for the event.

The most prolific and productive writers of nonfiction and fiction plan out their books in minute detail. For the nonfiction writer, however, it’s essential to have the structure and content of each chapter formulated and all research completed.

Additionally, if you want to crush it NaNoWriMo or NaNonFiWriMo, you need to plan how you will stay focused, energetic, and productive—how you will raise your performance level. You must create a strategy before the event to help you maintain a positive and enthusiastic mindset and productive habits no matter what life throws your way during that 30-day period.

The following checklist will help you prepare for November and your month-long writing challenge.

A NaNoWriMo Prep Checklist

1. Get clear about your goals and project parameters.

Before you enter a 30-day writing project, increase your clarity about your project:

  • Subject—What do you plan to write about?
  • Market—For whom are you writing? Who is your ideal reader?
  • Benefits—What benefit will readers gain from your book?
  • Angle—How will you angle the piece to ensure you target your readers and provide the benefit they desire while also making the piece different from what has already been published on this topic?
  • Structure—How will you structure your book? What will be included in the table of contents? What is the logical sequence of chapters or subtopics? How will you break your story into chapters?
  • Story—What is the trajectory of the story? What are the turning points? How does the character change from the first to the last chapter?
  • Scope—How many words will I have written when I complete the project? How many words do I need to write per day or week to complete the project?

[The Writer’s Digest Podcast, Episode 8: Interview with NaNoWriMo Executive Director Grant Faulkner]

2. Determine what research you need to complete before beginning to write.

The need for research sidetracks writers. They hit a point in their manuscript where they need information, and they stop writing and begin researching instead. Your two-hour writing period then turns into a research period instead. To prevent this from happening, gather the information you need to complete your book before you begin your 30-day writing challenge.

3. Commit to write daily, and schedule your writing times on a calendar.

Before your month-long writing challenge, block out time on your calendar to write daily. Consider what you need to give up to “find time” to write for more extended periods than usual. Make these writing appointments firm commitments—like a doctor’s appointment you no longer can cancel.

Block out enough time to meet your daily or weekly writing quotas. And build in make-up days in case you get behind.

4. Clean and organize your space.

A cluttered workspace can distract you. If you can’t find what you need in your office or computer, you will waste precious writing time searching for it. Use October to clean your desk, organize supplies and files, and prepare a folder, binder or file for the manuscript you plan to write in November.

5. Protect your focus.

To complete NaNonFiWriMo or NaNoWriMo, you must focus your attention—and keep it focused. What distractions might you encounter during? How can you plan now to reduce or eliminate them? The most productive writers have learned to focus their attention in the time they have to write. That’s why they are so prolific.

6. Prepare your body and mind.

Participating in a 30-day writing event is like running a marathon. Therefore, you must prepare for it similarly. You have to develop physical strength, endurance and mental clarity. If you don’t do so before and during the WNFIN Challenge, you will limp, rather than run across the finish line—if you make it that far. To avoid that eventuality, prepare to:

  • Sleep enough—Don’t skimp on sleep during your 30-day writing challenge. Get enough sleep so your mind and body can work at their full potential. If you sleep less than seven hours per night you are not operating at your maximum level; in fact, you might be impaired.
  • Exercise daily—When trying to meet a deadline, most writers drop exercise to make time for writing. Instead, exercise daily to energize your body. This provides the mental clarity you need to write. (Your brain needs oxygen to work correctly, and most of us don’t breathe deeply enough.) Exercise also reduces stress and increases hormones that keep you feeling physically strong and mentally and emotionally positive.
  • Eat well—What you feed your body makes a huge difference in your ability to write successfully. Like an athlete, you must take your diet into consideration—starting now—to have the energy for your writing marathon. Plan a healthy diet that increases your energy rather than depletes it. You might even plan out meals for November—or cook and freeze them. Don’t forget to replace junk food with healthy snacks—and have them handy. You can even eat “brain food,” but also take supplements. And, drink more water. Your brain needs water to function. You can’t think, create, or write with a dehydrated or unoxygenated brain or a body depleted of necessary nutrients.
  • Mindset—Those who finish a book-in-a-month event have a mindset that supports success. Consider the marathon runner again. This athlete must have a strategy for every point in the race. For instance, at the midpoint, tired muscles set in and it’s easy to begin thinking “I can’t make it to the finish line.” But the runner is prepared for this eventuality. Visualizations completed previously conditioned the runner’s mind to move through the mental and physical exhaustion. The runner also practiced shifting thoughts from “I can’t” to “I can.” The runner has rehearsed changing beliefs from “I’m a loser” or “I never finish” to “I’m a winner” and “I always finish.” And these things help the running cross the finish line. You will have the same type of challenges—similar negative thoughts and beliefs that could stop you in your tracks. Plan ways to maintain a positive, successful and high-performance mindset.
  • Habits—Your current habits have helped you achieve your current level of success—as a writer and in every other area of your life. If you haven’t been writing consistently and you think the WNFIN Challenge is going to help you start a writing habit, you might be surprised when it doesn’t achieve that goal. Why? Your current habits don’t support your desire to write consistently.Develop habits that support your writing goals now, before November. Continue them through November and, by the time the month ends, you will have a writing habit as well.

If you can complete this checklist before November 1, you’ll be ready to meet the challenge whatever 30-day writing event you choose. Doing so will increase the likelihood that you’ll not only start but also finish your nonfiction or fiction manuscript in 30 days.


How to Write a First Draft in a Month: Live Webinar

By Carly Watters

Yes, you can write a draft of your book in a month! Don’t let limited time, busy lives, or other obstacles get in your way of writing the book that is in you. A manuscript in 30 days requires thoughtful preparation, strategic planning, a strong sense of discipline and loads of enthusiasm—and this live webinar will give you the concrete tools to achieve your goal. If the only thing that’s holding you back from getting words on the page is no plan, this webinar has all the answers.

Literary agent Carly Watters has been coaching authors through first drafts for a decade and she’ll present a comprehensive strategy to “winning” National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): a 50,000+ word draft in 30 days. This webinar is all about volume and getting 1,667+ words written per day. Whether you’ll be joining a “5am Writers’ Club,” writing during your lunch breaks at work, or after your kids have gone to sleep—it’s possible for everyone. The webinar will focus on character sketches, detailed storyboarding, realistic schedules, and tips to keep up your momentum through the full month of daily writing. Learn more and register.

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