7 Tips for Preparing to Write A Novel
For Pantsers AND Plotters and #NaNoPrepMo
Whether you’ve just decided it’s finally time to write that book you’ve been thinking about on your own or you’ve been bit by the NaNoWriMo bug, starting a novel can be intimidating!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants), a plotter, or something in between, there’s still stuff you can do to prepare yourself before you start writing.
Plotters, you have your to-do lists, but even you can get stuck. Here are some things that may be on your list, and a few things that might not be.
Pantsers and plantsers? You might not want to do all the planning that the plotters do. You might be just along for the journey to see where the story takes you. BUT! That doesn’t mean you have to be left out of writing prep!
That said, here are my top 7 writing prep activities.
Clearly, the plotter’s first choice and the fear of every pantser, but outlining can be as extensive — or as sparse — as you want it to be.
– You can have 10 pages of notes for every chapter
– A basic “[Main character] wants [objective] but [obstacle] stands in their way.” statement
– Just pre-write a query letter!
– Even most pantsers find having a starting point and an end target at least moderately useful.
2. Beat Sheets!
The cousin of outlining. These help you check your pacing — whether you’re going for a 3 act, 4 act, or another sort of structure.
Jami Gold has a great collection of Beat Sheet Worksheets to help you plan out your story’s emotional arcs AND plot arcs.
OR — save the beat sheet and use it when you’re pantsing to decide what to do next!
3. Mood Boards
Gathering together pictures that suggest your characters, your settings, your wardrobe, and your world.
You’d think this would be most helpful for those writers who are more visually oriented — literally helping them see their story. But, my imagination isn’t very visual, and I say that mood boards can be INVALUABLE for those of us whose imaginations are more conceptual.
If you have a vague idea in your head of a character’s look or the settings, you can google image search until you have something that works for your story — then you can use that image to help describe your people, places, and things to your readers.
4. Character Sheets
It’s official. I’m a geek. I’ve been playing D&D and its cousins since 2000. But even if it’s not a true ‘character sheet’, writing out your characters strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits is very helpful when you’re deciding during the story how your character will react.
You can use things like Myers-Briggs designations, star signs, or zodiacs to help flesh out your character and keep them consistent.
5. Creating a List of Names
I can spend weeks picking the perfect name for a main character. During NaNoWriMo, I’ve definitely lost hours of writing time trying to come up with names for characters, places, and my magic system.
Two NaNos ago, I decided to save a lot of time by just giving everyone placeholder names: Alice, Bob, Carol… I went through the entire alphabet and ended up naming the enemy country Canadia. It helped me accomplish a NaNo-and-a-half, but it had consequences (yep! 75k!). The editing this is going to require has me scared off starting that rewrite. Don’t make my mistake.
This year? I intend to have a list of at least 20 random names that fit my story and world that I can grab-and-go with once I start writing. So far I’ve got 6.
6. World Building
Is your story happening in the real world or a made up one? Do the laws of physics work the same?
Having a good idea of how far apart places are, the transport times, and key landmarks is super helpful.
I spent a couple hours last NaNoWriMo figuring out how far it was from Loxley to Nottingham. And the number of times I’ve redrawn my fantasy map because of average pilgrim walking paces versus bicycle paces… is more than twice.
I also have 2 moons in one of my worlds, so I keep an eye on the tides and the moon fullness in regards to the aforementioned travel times. It can get tricky!
7. Minimize Real World Distractions
I’ve mentioned this before, but for me? Having a stocked fridge, clean clothes, and straightened house when NaNoWriMo starts means I can ignore those things for longer while I dedicate more time to writing.
It usually takes a week or so after a good clean for my house to start really getting piled up.
I try to keep my calendar light, preload the Panera app on my phone for write-ins (getting hungry? Keep writing and the food will come to me), and work hard to build up momentum. Once I’ve got a good streak going, meeting that daily word target, I don’t want to break it.
And that’s it! Are you starting a new novel? Tell me about it!
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Feel free to friend me: morganhazelwood!
( Are you new to NaNoWriMo or an old hat? )