Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Your Guide to Outlining Success

Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Your Guide to Outlining SuccessForget turkeys and football. NaNoWriMo—or National Novel Writing Month—has turned November into  “da Writing Month.” But as so many authors have learned over the years, the best way to be successful in November is to start preparing for NaNoWriMo in October (aka Preptober).

If you’re going to have a decent shot at writing 50k good words in 30 days, you’ll want to have some solid preparation—aka outlining—under your belt before you start.

In past years, I’ve written extensively about how to do this, so I won’t risk repeating myself this year, but rather just direct you to my series on outlining for NaNo, as well as my published resources, such as my books and my brand-new Outlining Your Novel Workbook software, which is perfect for getting all your thoughts lined out before the big novel-writing rush begins.

How to Outline for NaNoWriMo (Complete Series)

Part 1: Should You Outline Your Novel?

Should you outline your novel before the first draft? And, if you do, how much is the right amount for you? Get ready to write your best novel with this new series!

Part 2: Start Your Outline With These 4 Questions

Where do you start your outline? Right here! Use these these four questions to discover the big-picture “skeleton” of your story’s plot.

Part 3: 3 Steps to Find the Heart of Your Story

Can you outline your story’s theme? If you start by asking yourself these three questions, you will be able to find the heart of your story every time.

Part 4: How to Find and Fill All Your Plot Holes

When you approach plot holes purposefully during your outline, filling them in can be one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire writing process.

Part 5: How to Write Backstory That Matters

Backstory influences plot events, character motives, and thematic subtext. Here are the only 4 questions you need to find your best backstory.

Part 6: 3 Tips for Weaving Together Your Story’s Pieces

It’s impossible to figure out how to outline any one aspect of your story in isolation. Instead, learn 3 ways to “bob and weave” from one to the next.

Part 7: How to Structure Your Story’s Outline

Once you’ve discovered a general idea of your plot, you can use these three steps to figure out how to structure your story’s outline.

Part 8: Making the Most of Character Interviews

Character interviews increase both the ease of writing a new character and his success in driving your plot. Grab my master list of interview questions!

Part 9: How to Write a Scene Outline You Can Use

Here are 6 tricks to making the most of the final outlining step. You’ve been waiting for it a long time, and here it is: how to write a scene outline!

Part 10: How to Outline a Series of Bestselling Books

Figuring out how to outline a series may explode your preconceptions about the process and teach you so much more about outlining and storycraft in general.

Bonus: 6 Tasks You’ll Love Yourself for Checking Off Your NaNo Pre-Writing List

Don’t head into November without a plan. Arm yourself with this NaNo Pre-Writing List and you’ll already be more than halfway to NaNoWriMo victory!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Will you be preparing for NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I won’t be doing NaNo this year because I won’t have my novel prepped in time. I’ve been outlining and plotting since August and have been looking forward to November for this reason, but I don’t want to start writing until I’m completely finished. I don’t want to end up with a rubbishy first draft ever again! I’m also debating on whether or not I want to write the whole thing in thirty days or slow down, take my time with it, and enjoy it.

    Your outlining, structuring, and character books have been extraordinarily helpful and world-rocking for me—thank you so much! I’ve finished the plot structuring part of the Outlining Your Novel Workbook and was wondering if I should go ahead and write my scene-by-scene outline (the scene checklist part) or go through the Structuring Your Novel Workbook first. Would you recommend one or the other?


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s smart. Although November is fun since there’s a sense of community among the NaNo-ers, there’s no reason you can’t have your own private NaNo whenever it’s right for you. Or maybe even Camp NaNo next July.

  2. I am leaving for Amsterdam on Tuesday. My plan is to use the time on the plane and the early mornings when I rise hours before my husband to sit with some of the too many ideas I have, to see if I can find one that is strong enough to sustain a full writing. We’ll see how it goes.

  3. thanks for this post, K.! It’s on my bucket list to do nanowrimo one year (maybe next year), so this kinda helped prepare me and get an idea of what i need to do.

  4. Does your new Outlining software have a free trial? Over on Amazon, I’m unable to see any part of it–not really wanting to buy blind.

  5. Prepping now. Looking forward to my first NaNoWriMo!

  6. Hannah Killian says

    I haven’t even decided on which of my WIPs to do for NaNo this year. I have 19. (21 if you count my two novellas, but it’s for novels. I could turn those into novels, but I kinda want to keep them novellas)

    For picking, I’ve been listing certain things about my stories, such which one is the oldest, whether it has or doesn’t have an outlining notebook, is a series with an arc, etc.

    So, just a little something I’m doing. The problem is, I love all my characters too much to focus on one book at a time.

    I could look through my outlining notebooks, and, to borrow from Shannon Hale, just pick the story that has the most ‘sand’ in the box.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Holy cow, you’re productive! o.O Sounds like you’ve got a good system, but just in case anyone is interested, here’s an article I wrote on how to choose the right story to write next: 7 Ways to Decide Which Story Idea You Should Write Next.

      • Hannah Killian says

        So I made a decision on which WIP to do. It’s the first book in my action/suspense trilogy centered around a man trying to balance his married life with stopping the bad guys from succeeding in erasing a certain historical event. That is, they’re trying to make it so future generations will believe it’s only a myth.

        Due to how deep he’s gotten in it, his relationship with his wife starts to strain and ice over.

        The only problem I have is figuring out his arc. I’m not sure if he has a Flat or Positive or if Disillusionment sneaks in a little.

        He knows the Truth, but he believes keeping his wife in the dark about why he’s away from home so much will protect her. He’ll later learn that maybe the best way to protect her is to actually tell her the truth, and to be with her instead of away, but that doesn’t happen until Book #3.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          This could be a Positive Change Arc or a Flat Arc depending on how central this revelation is and/or how deep it is. If it’s just a realization, then it’s probably not thematic enough to qualify for a change arc.

          • Hannah Killian says

            Would it help if I mentioned his wife doesn’t like secrets?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Either way, that definitely helps set it up. But unless the realization is deeply thematic in that it changes the protagonist’s view of the world, it’s probably not enough to base a Change Arc upon. Flat Arc characters can change in minor ways; indeed, hardly any stories present characters who don’t evolve on some level, just as we all do on a daily basis. What determines whether or not he’s following a Flat Arc is whether or not the fundamental Truth of the story’s main conflict remains unchanged for this character over the course of the story.

  7. I always do NaNo. It gets those pesky first drafts out of the way.

    I just got both -How to Outline Your Novel- and the workbook of the same name, so I’m going to try doing an outline with just the workbook and another with the book, just to compare!

  8. I’m a Pantser, a person who doesn’t plan and dives right in, and I’ve won every year. I’ll win this year too. I can’t wait for the first draft of my third novel in a trilogy to be finished. I’m ready to edit the set and head for publishing. NaNoWriMo here I come!

  9. I always cheer other writers from the stadium, or rather my kitchen. Starting in September I am usually prepping my home, gathering recipes, making lists and more lists because for me the goal in November is hosting up to 20 friends and relatives for Thanksgiving dinner. Camp NaNo sounds cool too but July is also a busy month for my family. Honestly, January and February are normally my most productive writing months. A cozy sweater, a hot cup of coffee and pad and pen keep me company while the wind howls outside my door. I keep my hard copies of Outlining Your Novel and the companion workbook. plus only the Structuring Your Novel workbook. I purchased the digital version of Structuring Your Novel. I find that the hard copies work better for me so I will buy in the future. I suppose that I’m a writer between two worlds. I grew up writing with pen and paper and began using computers in college-mainframes and punch cards. So I’m finding my groove by outlining and writing my character studies on paper. You have not disappointed me with any of my purchases of your books so far but I am the slow, methodical type. My Christmas wish list includes Creating Characters Arcs (hard copy) and the workbook. I’m still not sure what software will work best for me. I have to take some time to perfect my methods and to take a real hard look at what you have created with the software. I know it’s quality, just not sure that it’s right for me. When I’m ready I think I want to move my pen and paper writing onto the screen. I am just not at that step yet. I will keep reading here though. I wonder if you might invite some of your software users to tell us how Outlining Your Novel software works for them? I think since I am a newish writer, and a cautious one at that, I wonder how it drives. Are other writers comfortable behind the wheel? Are they navigating the curves and highways of story with digital ease? I realize that taking a test drive is not an option in this case, so the next best thing in my opinion is how other drivers are using this surely awesome organization tool. Like you Katie, I am an organizer and yet I am also a Marketer-type. So far you’ve never steered me wrong but could I hear from some of the drivers? I mean, writers. Thanks for all that your helpful blog offers and for products that I’ve bought. Their value to me (even so far, and that’s not very far) is far exceeding their cost. Sorry for being a hard sell, but that’s the way I was raised. But if I’m thinking about this and asking, then maybe I’m not the only one. Testimonials are a valuable marketing too. 🙂

  10. I’m being a bit of a rebel this year. I completed my manuscript, so I will be using October and November to do editing (even with using an outline, being that I was figuring out the process, I still have quite a number of edits to make). So, in a way, I did use outlining already for Nano and in fact have set up my own editing outline as well as I go through things.

  11. Argh! Now I really want to start prepping and do NaNoWriMo. I haven’t in a couple of years, so it’s tempting, but the next month will probably be too busy to get prep time in. Maybe I’ll use November to outline and December to write!

  12. I just received my books yesterday, Outlining Your Novel, and the workbook, so I’m excited to dive in and start prepping for NaNo.
    The problem is, I don’t know where to start: the book, the workbook, the blog posts you have about outlining…it’s a little overwhelming. I already have a basic premise for my book and a couple of vague characters. Suggestions for where to start?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The workbooks are designed to be used on their own. I tried to include enough information to make sure people could buy just the workbooks, if they wanted, and still figure out how to use them. However, the information in the main books is much more complete, and I do recommend starting there.

  13. I wish there was a NoScriptWriMo. I know I can definitely turn out a the first draft of a feature script in 2 1/2 weeks, but I am considering writing my next script as a novel — and I already have the outline for it done, but I’m wondering if one month is enough time to write a descent novel.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You don’t have write the entire novel–just 50k words of it. But, in all honesty, I don’t do NaNo myself. I think it’s a great idea, but it doesn’t jibe with my own process. Do what’s best for your process, always.

  14. I am in Australia and have tried to purchase the book and workbook, but apparently it is not available in my region 🙁

  15. Thanks for the great resources.

    I’m currently outlining my novel using your process (having written 55,000 words and finding I’d lost direction and should have outlined better in the first place! You live and learn.)

    I’m confident I can get my new outline ready before November – but my question to you (and any others) – should I use NaNoWriMo to do my new ‘first’ draft? I’ve tried it in the past and never completed it.

    What are good things about NNWM and what are the downsides?

    Just wondered, also, why you don’t do NaNoWriMo, K?


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think NaNo is a great idea for jumpstarting creativity and getting into the habit of writing on a consistent basis. It also provides community and accountability. Personally, however, I’ve just never felt the need for it. My existing process has always worked well for me, and my motto is: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 🙂

  16. I’m looking forward to using these tips for my first ever NaNo next month. Thanks! By the way, I really enjoy your books. They’ve helped me a lot!


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