Planning for NaNoWriMo: Part 1 - Choosing Your Topic

Planning for NaNoWriMo is difficult.

The first step one should take is to choose what they are going to write about all month.

Dedicating an entire month to write a novel can be a daunting task. This is especially true when you cannot make up your mind as to what you want to write about.

When you believe that you have selected the perfect topic for your novel, you start to doubt your choice and then it's back to square one. Or worse, you decide to 'wing it' with the first idea that comes to mind and three days in, you are already struggling with attempting to maintain the daily quota of 1667 words with your poorly planned out novel.

It can be difficult. I've been there, done that.

In this post, we'll go over how to properly brainstorm topic ideas and how to choose the right one for the upcoming month.

NaNoWriMo Planning Tip #1: Write Everything Down

You need to start your pre-production for your novel by writing all your topic ideas. Get a sheet of paper and write only the titles or quick summaries of your novel ideas. The goal is to get every little novel idea from your brain to a physical object. Something you can see.

If it helps, put a 15 minute timer as you do this.

This exercise will be extremely easy at first. All your big ideas are going to show up first. The ones you constantly think about. Then as you get rid of more and more ideas from inside your head and onto paper, you may start to struggle to remember your older ideas. The thoughts of novels you wanted to write years ago but never had a chance. You'll be startled with how many ideas you can come up with in such a short span of time.

If the opposite is true and instead of being full of ideas, you can write a single one down... Then write about topics or genres you like instead:

  • Fiction, Slice of Life

  • Table Top Games

  • Drawing

  • DIY

  • Short Stories.

The list can go on and on. While doing this may need more refinement, being broad in the beginning may help you realize hidden passions you never even knew you could write about.

NaNoWriMo Planning Tip #2: Pick Three

Three is a magic number.

Look over your list of ideas you have written and really start to think about what you would like to dedicate an entire month writing about.

It may be hard to only pick three concepts out of the hundreds that are on your paper, but here are some tips you can use to help narrow down your choices.

Are there any topics on your paper that require extended research before writing your novel?

Some examples include:

  • Biographies

  • Non-Fiction Stories

  • Historically Accurate Novels

If you haven't already started researching your topic beforehand and still need to research what it is you need to write about, then maybe a few weeks is not enough time in your busy schedule to properly do that. You'll spend more time in November researching as opposed to just writing. It'll make you stressed out and you'll burn out quickly.

Do you plan on actually editing and publishing this novel?

If so, any subjects that may include copyrighted characters may not be ideal for NaNoWriMo. If your end goal is to have a draft of a real novel that you could actually profit from in the future, then cross out all ideas that could be full of passion but hurt you in the long run due to being a fanfiction as opposed to a fully original piece of work.

Can you talk about the idea or subject all day without hitting a roadblock?

Whatever novel idea you select is what you'll be dealing with for the rest of the month. If there's anything on your list of ideas that you are not knowledgeable about or that you cannot think of more than three chapters for, save yourself the stress and cross it out. Short stories are nice, but you are aiming for 50k words and you need to be chock-full of ideas so that you don't burn out too quickly.

NaNoWriMo Planning Tip #3: Focus on Your Selected Topics

By now you should have three topics circled or highlighted. If you have a little more than that, you may need to continue meditating and thinking about what you can realistically accomplish in one month. Either that or this next step will take longer because you will be doing extra work.

Get a new sheet of paper and write the first novel idea on it. After the work-in-progress title, write a one to three sentence summary of the novel.

Now that you have that written down, write down some examples of chapter titles you may have for your novel. For example, if you are writing a mystery novel you may want the following: Introduction, The Big Question, Finding the Major Clue, Discovering the True Culprit. While these chapter titles are bland at the moment, it'll give you a better idea of this novel idea is something you can write multiple chapters about. You don't need to already start writing these chapters, but having some sample chapter titles will help reinforce the idea that you can and will be able to think of ideas for this story.

Another note, none of the chapters have to be in order. This step is just to help you see if you can actually think up of chapter ideas for your novel. By doing this, you'll save yourself stress in the long run.

Repeat this step with every single novel idea that you have circled. Feel free to use a new sheet of paper for each novel, or simply write everything on the same page. That's up to you.

NaNoWriMo Planning Tip #4: Try it Out

You'll be stuck with your novel for an entire month. After two weeks in, you may realize that while you love coffee, you dislike writing about it. That's okay if what you believed was your passion suddenly doesn't make you feel as inspired when you actually work with it.

This is why sometimes what we are most passionate about, cannot be considered 'work'. It'll feel like a chore instead of enjoyable. This is why so many people switch majors halfway through their college education, when they start to actually do what they supposedly enjoy on a daily basis, they can realize that they actually don't love what they are learning.

Take 15 minutes and write about your novel.

Do not simply do a summary like before. Write a snippet from your novel. Perhaps it'll be the actual introduction of the novel, or you'll spend your fifteen minutes on a scene that would happen in the middle of your story. See if you can actually spend time writing about your novel topic and test each idea out.

NaNoWriMo Planning Tip #5: Step Away & Think

After a focused high-intensity brainstorming session, reward yourself with a cup of coffee or whatever makes you happy. We have discussed cures for Writer’s Block and it’s important that you step away from your work and give yourself time to relax. When you are out of your hyper-focused mode, you'll start to slowly mull over everything you have done and be able to make the final decision of what you want to write about. Ultimately this is your project. The only person you are competing with is yourself.

How do you choose your topic for NaNoWriMo?

We’d love to hear what your thought process is, especially if it’s drastically different than my own. There is value in sharing your thought process and we encourage you to share those thoughts in the comments!