Going Into NaNoWriMo Unprepared: Pants To Victory

November 1st is here, and with it, the beginning of the NaNoWriMo challenge. As usual, the time came much before most of us were ready for it. Hopefully you are not NaNoWriMo unprepared, but I have been forced to forego a lot of my good advice and just start without a plan.

What if you are in the same boat as I? If an illness or malfunction of your PC or a hectic time at work prevented you from doing your NaNoWriMo novel outline, don’t panic! Winning NaNoWrimo unprepared is still possible, although now it’s going to be much harder and more challenging.NaNoWriMo unprepared

Think your options through

Even if your outline is not done, you probably have a vague idea of what you want to write about. The more clear your vision is, the better, but even with a blank mind, something could still come to you.

Start with the basics: decide on your genre. Lay the groundwork for your main character: male or female, young or old? Find the conflict. Take a few moments to brainstorm your way through to a main idea.

Start your novel

The most dreaded thing for a writer is crafting the first sentence of the novel. But it’s NaNoWriMo, and it’s already November 1st – there’s no time for subtleties! Start it in medias res, dive straight into the action. Leave tweaking to the editing stage, first you need to write it.

If you have no idea where to start the action – you’re not sure about the setting, supporting characters etc. – my best advice is to start with what you do know. Normally, that’s your main character. As you write, you’ll get a better idea about setting, and you can always go back and add more scenes.

We’re about to experience the beauty of pantsing, so let that guide you. Set a rail for your characters to follow, but don’t be afraid to follow your ideas as you write and deviate from the path. (A lot of writers like to “blame” that on their “misbehaving” characters, but I do believe it’s just you, the writer, doing what you want with your story.)

Keep to the schedule

For me, this November will be more hectic than ever. I will be juggling freelancing, editing my first novel that I completed in July, writing articles for Writer’s Guru… and this. Sometimes there is no way to avoid the stress during NaNoWriMo, so be prepared for it. I’m sure a bunch of you lead even busier lives.

In some cases, winning NaNoWriMo unprepared will require forgetting that you have a social life, or going cold turkey on gaming or any other pastime pleasures. If you’re serious about writing, keep your goal in mind. Decide what you’ll reward yourself with, so when your motivation level drops, you have a soft cushion to help it bounce back up.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and going into NaNoWriMo unprepared means that more time will be required, inevitably, to do the 1667 words daily. So make sure you move your wake-up time a bit to rise earlier and write while you have some peace and quiet for yourself.

Stay determined

This is possible. Fatigue can kick in somewhere around day 10 or day 15, but do not give in! If there is any way you can do it, do your 1667 words each day. When it gets tough, it might take an entire day. If for any reason you failed to do it one day, it’s imperative that you make it up the next day before it builds into a heap that’s difficult to catch up with. A healthy dose of fear is good here: you do not want to fall behind, so avoid it at all costs.

Of course, if the stick isn’t working, the carrot might. When it’s tough, remember that prize you promised yourself. Make yourself some heavenly yummy snack or beverage, just don’t use it as an excuse to procrastinate. Don’t give up – NaNoWriMo is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Even when you miss a day of writing, use it as a day of worldbuilding or getting over difficulties in the plot.

If you are struggling with the plot or have encountered a writer’s block, take one day off writing to solve it. You might have just written yourself into a corner. Sometimes fixing that requires a lot of scrapping, though, but there are ways to avoid it.

Evaluate your novel constantly

Don’t necessarily evaluate it while you’re writing. At the end of each day, however, take a few minutes to think about what you’ve written. Keep in mind that this evaluation is not about quality, but about plot. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How much have I deviated from my original plan?
  • Is the plot still going where I want it to go?
  • How much can a small change in a certain place affect the eventual outcome?
  • What are the things that absolutely cannot be changed at this point?
  • Where can I still make changes if I feel inclined to?

When you find your answers, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do tomorrow. Also, stick with the decisions you make during the evaluation phase, or you’ll just be sabotaging yourself.

Optional: Find a support group

Misery likes company! Jokes aside, being around other writers who also pursue the same elusive goal can be very helpful. They can offer a quick pep talk or help you with some aspect of your novel that you are struggling with. There are NaNoWriMo boards, Scribophile boards, or, if you like Facebook, the Writers Unite! group is one of the best writing groups I have ever been a part of.


If none of those appeal to you, you’re certainly not stuck with us, but we’d still love to hear from you. Write a comment below if you are struggling, or if you have any more questions about going into NaNoWriMo unprepared and winning like a boss.

Jana Glavonjić

Writer, freelancer, editor, avid reader of fantasy and the best sister in the world.

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