Planning The Plan: NaNoWriMo As A Case Study

Oct 03

It's a monkey! How could I not use an image with a monkey?
(This is the first in an experimental tradition of posting whatever-the-hell I feel like on the weekends. For more info on that, see this. Now, carry on please!)

You know what NaNoWriMo is, right?

National Novel Writing Month.  Each November, a gazillion and twelve idiots promise that they will write a novel.  In 30 days.

I know. It’s nuts. If you take on this task, you’ll be moody, cranky, frustrated, and bi-polar throughout November. Your head will hurt, your eyes will burn, and you’ll need an industrial size bottle of Febreze because you’ll forget to shower.

Yeah. I know.

I’m doing it again, too.

I didn’t expect to be NaNo-ing this year, what with the new site to tend and the old one to revive, but all the pre-writing buzz on Twitter (plus nudges from AbbyKerr and EleanorWragg) convinced me.   Abby, being the industrious thing that she is, has put together a downloadable pre-writing plan for the month of October, and a lot of people seem to be chugging along with it, as well as with the Twitter hashtag, #NaNoLove.

And plannin’ rocks.

But the one year out of three (3!) that I won NaNo?

I entered at the last-minute, threw together the idea, had great fun, and churned out my 50k words.  The next two years?  I had a great concept, well thought out plot, complex character studies, and a lot of background info.   It was going to be SO rockin’!

I didn’t make it past 10,000 words.

Turns out that any pre-writing or detailed plotting is disruptive for me. It makes me want to write *now*, and choking back that creative impulse kills the flow, permanently. It makes sense, considering what I know about brain-training. I was actually wiring writer’s block into my brain, training my neurons to resist writing!

Don’t do that. Pre-write, plot, write love letters, fake journal entries, whatever. But don’t fight back your creative impulses for the sake of some loosely defined rules.

Me, I’m back to the cherished, official NaNo tradition of mostly winging it.

But just because I’m not plotting doesn’t mean I don’t need to plan. There is a bit of backwork I’d like to get done, to make things work a bit smoother.  With that in mind, I’m testing out a new approach to planning itself.  If this works, it could become a Thing, which would be really awesomely cool.

Here goes!

Finding The Mindset:

The loose story idea I have involves a heroic journey, some parody, and big doses of charm, allegory and silliness.  To help me get set my mood and wake up the right neural pathways, I thought I’d make a list of appropriate reading material, movies and music.

It’s really long, so you might want to scroll past it.

Way past it.


  • The Muppet Show /Muppet Movies
  • The Princess Bride
  • Shrek
  • Where The Wild Things Are (multiple versions! yay!)
  • Monty Python (for something completely different)
  • Dinosaurs (the TV series. AGAIN!!)
  • Willy Wonka! The original, of course. Extra emphasis on the songs.

I’d like to take at least one of the above, dismember its plot, and loosely model mine upon it. That idea comes from No Plot, No Problem, and at seems easy enough, right?

I’ll likely upgrade the Netflix subscription for this, and that also means nagging the spouse to *please* return films in a timely manner. (Nag, nag nag)


    Normally, I just write to ambient music (if anything at all) but I think this time I might create a sort of soundtrack.  Things to consider?

  • Gaelic Storm – Oft humorous Celtic Folk
  • Jason Mraz – wordplay that makes me smile
  • The soundtracks to Where The Wild Things Are (I just listened to the samples. Yes yes a thousand times yes)
  • Yael Naim  (esp New Soul, but explore her other stuff)
  • Bruises by Chiarlift
  • Maybe some stuff from Tribal Derivations, and Circus Contraption. Especially Circus Contraption.

Maybe use one song as an intro-to-writing anchor, another as a move-back-to-the-real-world trigger, another as a getting-past-the-block thing? Some on-the-treadmill stuff would be good too. Oh, and never forget “Push The Boulder” From Communicatrix. It’ll be fun to research and plan all of this.

And it’ll be worth a month’s subscription to a music service, I think.

    Reading Material

  • Hitchhiker’s Guide/Anything by Douglas Adams
  • Pilgrim’s Progress
    Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass
    The Princess Bride
    A Dash of P.G. Wodehouse
    The Wild Things (based on the movie)

A good dose of Doug Adams is crucial to catch the right surreal weird. Do not skip this step, Ms. Deaux!

    Audio Books

  • Anything Dr. Suess
    (It just feels right)
  • Also: remember to get to the drawing board, collage things, draw things, trace things, whatever.  It’s becoming a crucial part of my planning/work process, and – well – it seems especially right for this!

Making The Space:

In order to pull this off, I’m going to need some extra elbow room physically, mentally, and schedule wise.

Here’s how I hope that will go:

  • Prepare at least 4 extra non-NaNo blog posts in advance, so that this lovely new site doesn’t die of neglect while I’m busy obsessing.
  • I want the house clean!  Seriously. I can’t write if I’m fretting over laundry, dirty dishes, and piled up stacks of paper.
  • Get the treadmill desk working again. Movement is good for the mind.
  • Get back in the habit of daily schedules.  I’ve taken a liking to TeuxDeux for this, and I think it’ll work fine.

Also. The Musts:

  • There’s paper work that MUST get done.
  • There’s an art commission that MUST be completed.
  • All of the circus parade art?  Mail it. This week.
  • The desk area? Yeah. Clean.
  • Kitchen? Under control please.  And remember Thanksgiving happens.

There’s a little mind trick here – each of these mundane, boring and oft-procrastinated tasks suddenly becomes part of noveling, and thus more bearable.

How cool is that? When cleaning the fridge becomes part of noveling? Yay noveling!

Shopping The Spree:

This is usually the best part, but I’m broke, dammit!

I will still get my NaNoWriMo halo donation made, of course.

Luckily, I have plenty of loverly large notebooks and papers to play with, so that’s not a problem.  My mascot has signed on again for this year (You can meet him later) so that’s taken care of!

But.. snacks! Yes, we must have snacks.  Easy to eat, quick, snacks, preferably also brain foods.


  • Vitamin Water Zero (I freeze them into slushies. Yum)
  • Dehydrated fruits – berries, apricots, cherries.
  • Dark Chocolate, preferably sugar-free or low sugar
  • Nuts! Esp. almonds & walnuts
  • Tuna fish kits – Walmart has them for about a buck each.
  • And those little Lunchable things? Yeah.  Deli Creations sandwiches, mini-chip bags, pre-cubed cantalope! Awesome.
  • One year, I discovered that I loved Starbucks canned espresso but I can’t find the light version now, and I don’t need the sugar.  I can check Starbucks stores, though.

I’ve been wanting to experiment with smoothies. That could be fun. Easy vitamins, extra protein!

A wee bit of extra planning for dinners would help, too. Casseroles. Crockpot. Easy stuff the spouse can make himself.  Paper plates, plastic forks. We can be not-green for one month, you know?

I have a couple of bottles of unopened wine, some tequila, might want to pick up some more margarita mix.  I don’t drink often, but it’s a nice little ritual for this.

Should I stumble across an extra chunk of change, I’d love this NaNoWriMo hoodie. Really.  Buy it for me! But I’d be happy with the totebag.  And merit badges. If I win the lottery (which is unlikely because I don’t play) I promise to do the $2,500 donation. Because NaNo rocks that much.

And then there’s the family size bottle of Febreze…

A Few Random Strays:

    Misc. Good Stuff.

  • Pick a notebook for handwritten scribblings, Tori. Label it. Seriously. Do this so you don’t have little bits scattered everywhere.
  • Chain a pen to it so the dog doesn’t steal it. (and you know she’ll chew through ribbon)
  • That binder you used for that excessive plot/plan last year? Yeah. Clean it out.  Use it to organize this plan-without-a-plot.
  • A possible reward: When you reach your word count goals, go cyber shopping for 30 minutes.  Find ridiculous, fun, marvelous stuff, add it to a blog post wishlist. Publish it weekly.

Ok, I think that about does it.

This is really, really long, and likely really, really dull if you don’t live in my head.

But if you read through all of this blather, here’s a little treat:

The story I’m planning ties in perfectly with The Circus Serene. As an added bonus, there are Poodles of Depression, a Swamp of Many Uncertain Dooms, and a Map We’re Not Using Anymore. So stay tuned. This promises to be a lot more fun than expected.

Oh, and you can find me in NaNoLand as DearChoice, and looky! I made a NaNo Twitter account: @NaNoWriDeaux (Go on, click through. The background is worth a giggle)

Comment WriMo!

Wow, you’re still here? I’m impressed! You must be a NaNoWriMo fan. Awesome!

If you’re doing NaNo, drop your name into the comments and I’ll buddy you. If you’re not doing NaNo, please ignore the insanity that the rest of us will be exhibiting for the next two months.  It will be over soon.


  1. I found you through the #nanowrimo hash tag and just had to come see what you were up to since you’re a fellow DFW Rhino! 🙂 I am divajess on the forums…looking forward to a crazy November! (PS I also followed you on Twitter.)

    • Tori Deaux /

      Oh, hi Jess! Great to “Meet” you, Rhino! I guess I should mosey on over to the DFW forums first thing tomorrow and finally introduce myself, eh?

      I’d love to make a rhino noise at you now, but… what sound *does* a rhinocerous make? Grunt? Cough? Hmm…. Research time!

  2. The Princess Bride!
    Little known fact: That film was shot in my hometown, and my Dad (along with pretty much everyone he knows) was an extra…

    Anyway…Yay for you joining NaNoWriMo!

    I’m using the snowflake method to plan out my plot… By using, I mean tentatively looking at it every so often and thinking “Oh my God I need to clear a huge hole in my current workload before I can even give this any thought”.

    I can’t wait to get started, but am a bit intimidated by everyone’s pre-planning stuff. How do you guys even find the time?!?!?!


    • Tori Deaux /

      I went to find a Princess Bride quote to answer you with, became overwhelmed with the greatness of it all, and couldn’t decide. So I’ll just say this… OMG YOUR DAD IS IN PRINCESS BRIDE?! Yay! (ok, I’m done)

      As for finding the time and pre-planning and stuff? Yeah. Ignore it. Some of us are just obsessive, and the planning doesn’t make us any more likely to succeed at NaNo than not planning. No matter what anyone says, it’s the WRITING that matters. How you get there is an individual thing. You could spend the next month pointing and laughing at our obsession, then totally kick our butts on word count and a successful story in November. Remember that the goal of NaNo isn’t to plan a potential best seller – but to churn out 50k words vaguely in the shape of a novel. (and even if it’s not shaped like a novel, you can join the NaNoRebels, who do whatever the hell they want, with the full blessings of the OLL)

      Look at my “plan” again. There’s really not that much there.

      • I won’t watch all those films/tv shows, but I will likely check out some clips on YouTube. That’s maybe 20 minutes a day that I’d spend wandering clips, anyway.
      • I won’t read all those books, either. But I might think about them, flip through them, and read excerpts. It’s reading that I generally do anyway.
      • The to-dos are all nearly all things that were already on my list, and the few additions won’t take long… label a notebook, for example.
      • Which means I’ve got one shopping trip, that can be combined with the usual grocery store trip.

      And even if none of this got done, it won’t really matter.
      Tying it to NaNo is just my way of finding motivation.

      And for getting past intimidation I still highly recommend No Plot, No Problem, by Chris Baty (but buy it now, because it usually sells out everywhere before November). It’s funny. It’s light. And it puts it all back in perspective when I start taking it too seriously!

      • Thanks for this great advice, Tori, especially this part:

        >Remember that the goal of NaNo isn’t to plan a potential best seller – but to churn out 50k words vaguely in the shape of a novel.<

        And thanks, Eleanor, for bringing up the anxiety around planning. I wrote a pre-writing Guide, but do you think I've done anything with it yet? Today's the day I want to beat out my rough but sparkly little plot outline. I keep putting it off, I think b/c I'm afraid something in my head or with my story will get effed up. Have to remember NOT to take any of this too seriously. 🙂

        — Abby

  3. I did NaNo for 5 years before I burned out on it (4 of which I was the Municipal Liaison for my city). But, oh, that monkey-laden participant badge makes me almost willing to give it another go!

    Almost. But not quite.

    Still, I’ll happily cheer you on from the sidelines. Good luck!

  4. RIchard /

    HUGS ya and mucho support (from the sidelines).

  5. I read through the post and skimmed past the bio at the end to read the comments… And the first thing I saw was that you are a fellow Rhino 😀 Scrolled back up and realized “I’ve seen that name before!”. And realized I had seen it on Twitter or something. 😀

    Oh, and those Pandas are most certainly going down this year 😉

    (In case you don’t recognize me from my name, I’m gradyp on NaNo 😉

  6. Tori Deaux /

    @scraps, 4 years of playing ML would WAY burn me out! I have yet to make it to a local get together, being the recluse that I am. (and yeah, when I saw the monkey I thought of you! He’s on this year’s shirt, too.) Thanks for the sideline cheers!

    @Richard, thank you thank you… hugs will be needed, I get *very* moody.

    @Grady Yay another Rhino! Awesome. And yeah. The Pandas are certain toast.

    For those of you wondering what the hell we’re talking about, there are local groups for each NaNoWriMo region, and the organizer types are called Municipal Liasons, or “MLs” which explains Scrap’s burn out. It’s a lot to do!

    The Dallas/FortWorth group is called the Rhinos (no, i dont know why) and this year, we’re competing against the Atlanta Pandas for the biggest word count.

    There is already trash talking going on across Twitter. It’s madness.

    Now you’re all caught up 🙂

    • The Dallas/FortWorth group is called the Rhinos (no, i dont know why) and this year, we’re competing against the Atlanta Pandas for the biggest word count.

      Tori, a couple of years ago, they were trying to find a mascot and, after a vote, the Rhino won. Ever since, we’ve been the NaNoRhinos 😉

  7. Another sort of fun / silly / punny books are those by Terry Pratchett…

    I like your plan not to plan… I found if I outline, I lose all interest in the story. So I do character interviews instead. Helps lots!

    I’ve got my writing space, my lap desk, writing snacks (I love the Monster Trail Mix from Target) plenty of tea… (ooh must stock up on honey).

    ((HUGS)) and I can’t wait to start writing with you!

    Ebil & The Steph
    (Ebil sends good writing and evil vibes to the Fifster)

  8. I love this — in all its quirky, “a plan within an anti-plan” deliciousness.

    I decided last night to do NaNoWriMo this year; for three years I’ve toyed with the idea of committing myself to the insanity of vomiting 50,000 words and calling it “a novel,” but I’ve always held back. Not this year.

    And, in the 12 hours since I signed up, I’ve done nothing but think, think, think about “planning.”

    Then there’s this post — promoting organic writing. Do I dare try that? Eek! I can’t decide.

    (btw, I’m fadedwisteria on the NaNoWriMo site/forum/thingy.)

  9. I just had to drop by again to register my absolute LOVE for the #NaNoRhino name.
    That is all.