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4 Ways to Pre-plan Your NaNoWriMo Story

Few people can sit down and start writing. Most of us hem and haw as we mentally walk through how to get from introduction to conclusion. It’s called ‘prewriting’ and everyone does it. What differs is the method–what best suits our communication style?

Here are four approaches I’ve seen work for writer friends:


Brainstorming, also called ‘mindmapping’, is a visual approach for collecting all the bits of a topic that may find relevance in the fullness of your manuscript. It enables writers to come up with many ideas without worrying about where they fit, leaving that for the writing process.

Here are basics for brainstorming your novel:

  • There are no wrong answers.
  • Get as many ideas as possible.
  • Don’t evaluate ideas–just record them.
  • Build on the suggestions of others (if you’re doing this as part of a critique group or writer’s workshop).
  • Stress quantity over quality–get as many ideas as possible. Sort them later.

There are many online tools that facilitate this process. If you’re looking for a webtool, try Inspiration, MindMeister, or another from this list. For iPads, try iBrainstorm, Ideament, or another from this list.


Timelines are graphical representations of a sequence of events over a period of time. Researching and creating timelines appeals to the visual, mathematic, and kinesthetic intelligences in a writer’s mental toolbox. They are critical to developing the story’s temporal flow, making sure events are in the proper order, with necessary scaffolding.

They can be created in:

  • a desktop publishing tool like Publisher or Canva
  • an online tool
  • a spreadsheet program

If you want a webtool, try Piktochart, Canva, or another from this list. If you have an iPad,  try Timeline or another from this list. Here’s an example of my novel’s timeline, built in Excel:

story timeline


Outlines are a tried-and-true approach to organizing knowledge on a topic. They:

  • summarize important points
  • encourage a better understanding of a topic
  • promote reflection
  • assist analysis

Once a general outline is established, they are a valuable method of curating thoughts on subtopics of a theme.

Outlines can be completed easily and quickly in most word processing programs (using bullet or numbered lists) or a note-taking tool like Evernote or OneNote. Excellent web-based options include OakWorkflowy, or Outliner of GiantsIf you’re an iPad user, try Quicklyst or OmniOutliner.

pre-writingDigital note-taking

Note-taking not only collects information, but power boosts learning. Consider this from the 2008 Leadership and Learning Center:

In schools where writing and note-taking were rarely implemented in science classes, approximately 25 percent of students scored proficient or higher on state assessments. But in schools where writing and note-taking were consistently implemented by science teachers, 79 percent scored at the proficient level.

Regardless of whether you write fiction or non-fiction, note-taking is an important approach to remembering and activating knowledge. This includes quickly jotting ideas down as well as the extensive note-taking employed during your novel’s research. Doing this digitally allows you to rearrange, edit, and move thoughts into the order best-suited to the writing phase.

There are lots of digital note-taking tools that are both web-based or for iPads. One of my favorites is Notability.

How do you organize your thoughts and research in preparation for writing?

More on writing:

How to Write a Novel with 140 Characters

Technology Removes Obstructed Writers’ Barriers to Learning

66 Writing Tools for the 21st Century Classroom

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

50 thoughts on “4 Ways to Pre-plan Your NaNoWriMo Story

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  9. I am a planner but I’ve never found a platform that supports the way I like to plan and map my thoughts. Notability sounds awesome. Definitely going to check it out. Thanks for reminding me how planning really is the start of any great project. I’ve got some planning to do!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Have I mentioned before how little I like NaNo? I know it words for some people, but I’m a total numbers junkie. I get obsessed. I get distracted. I freak out. All bad things if you’re planning to write a book, eh? I’m so glad it works for some people. It’s definitely a great way to get a ton of words on the page all at once.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Timely advice, Jacqui and so often it’s tempting to wing it but the effort to get some solid support behind you pays off in the end. My son showed me mind mapping when I was a bit lost on my novel and wow, it was a revelation – I lost myself for a couple of days just jotting characters, events down…such a help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s something about the physical act of creating a list that can’t be reproduced with mouse clicks and thumbing. Which is why I’m considering the Surface Pro, which will let me write on the screen!


  12. For the book I am currently working on, I wrote out a time line and story outline. Plus I felt the need to understand my characters better so I did a number of written character studies where I explored the characters – the appearance, attitudes, history and so on.

    Liked by 1 person

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