I've been wanting to do NaNoWriMo for years and finally decided that this year will be the one. But I already have extensive notes and a plot outline, and I'm concerned that this might actually trip me up.

I've been working very slowly on a storyline for an epic fantasy novel for a few years now. It's set in a complex world to which I have dedicated much thought and note-taking. I only recently got to the point where I'm ready to start serious writing, and I have outlined what should be at least 50k words worth of plot.

That said, is NaNoWriMo still a good idea for this book? It's my first major work so the idea is appealing to me as a way to get into the habit of writing regularly, and to get a lot of words down on paper- something that I have not been able to do despite (or due to?) all of my ideas.

I'm not expecting this to anywhere near complete after a month, either in scope or quality. I expect that I'll have to go back over and rewrite significant parts of it anyway. But from what I'm reading about NaNoWriMo in other discussions, it sounds like it is better suited for stories that are not planned out and come with few preconceived ideas.

Am I better off starting fresh with something else for NaNoWriMo and continuing with this novel at my current pace, or is it OK to go into the month with this much information?

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    What NaNoWriMo will force you to do is take a step back from planning and actually write. It's easy to get stuck in the trap of endless planning. This will make you actually get the story down, even if it's, as someone once said, a "*****-y first draft."
    – justkt
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 16:14

5 Answers 5


There is absolutely no reason not to start the book with NaNoWriMo.

In a recent discussion I was having about the writing process, someone brought up the idea that there were two types of writers, those who write like architects, and those whose writing style mirrors a plant germinating out of a seed. The architectural style requires a great deal of planning and forethought, and the act of implementing involves adhering to and carrying out your previous plans (which is not to say that you shouldn't allow the structure of your piece to change based on revelations during your process.) The germinating seed begins with an idea, scene, image, place, or any other spark, and the writer writes out of that spark and finds the story and it's characters through the process of writing.

(This is a false dichotomy, and I'm not at all convinced that these are the only two styles of writing, and I feel like the idea that you can only be one or another is absurd, but they are two very common approaches to writing fiction which are worth considering and also pertinent to this question.)

NaNoWriMo does encourage the seed germination model of writing, but that shouldn't stop you from being an architect with your prose. The nice thing about writing out from an initial spark over a short period of time such as a month is that spark-writing has a far lower barrier to entry, making it a great model for someone who wants to write a first draft of a novel in a short amount of time. By choosing to plot out your model, you've given yourself more work before, and during, the writing process. You've already spent a great deal of time working on your world, characters, and plots, so once you begin, you will have a set of guidelines for how your plot and characters should progress. As you begin to write, you may find that your characters develop differently than you expected, and you might need to revise your plot because of these surprising characters. Changing the plot you've worked so hard on might slow down your writing, and generally deter you from completing NaNoWriMo. You may also face the problem of becoming bored with your story — since you know what's going to happen, you might feel less interested in writing compelling prose. Finally, being an architect incurs the problem of not necessarily knowing how long your piece will be. You may have written a plot which you think will take ~65k words. If you realize after a week that you're at ~20k words and only one tenth of the way through your plot, you might become discouraged by the goal of finishing NaNoWriMo in a month.

Despite all of those issues, I still encourage you to start your project with NaNoWriMo. It sounds like you have a well thought through idea for your novel, and there's no reason not to start the process of writing it with NaNoWriMo. All of the issues I've mentioned regarding the difficulties of preparation are valid, but remember that there are just as many problems with the seed germination process of writing. The latter involves far more rewriting, cutting of unimportant scenes, ideas, and tangents in subsequent drafts; the nice thing about these problems is that they still allow you to quickly churn out a first draft in a short amount of time. Many of the people who I know that write off of sparks end up rewriting their second draft completely from scratch based on the ideas and concepts that came out of their first drafting process. I know far fewer people who write from heavy outlines, but I'd imagine that their rewrites are generally less grand in scale (though I have no confirmation on this, and should spend some time finding out.)

Good luck on your novel!

  • Thanks, this was very helpful. I am most certainly an architect :) Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 15:16

There is no harm in starting Nanowrimo with a basic plot outline. Writing without plotting is very hard, and few people other than Stephen King can pull it off, as I said in another answer.

The reason many people fail at writing is because they fail to finish anything. Everyone has great ideas, about books that will become best sellers, movies that will win Oscars, poetry that will move everyone to tears. But ideas are a dime a dozen. Ideas require hard work, sweat and tears to convert them to something useful and beautiful, something that people would be willing to pay for.

Nanowrimo is perfect for you. You say you have been plotting for years, yet you have written nothing. Why is that?

There are some things that cannot be done. You cannot become a writer without writing. So drop all the analysing and thinking, and start typing your book.

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    +1 "You cannot become a writer without writing. So drop all the analysing and thinking, and start typing your book." Wise words wise words
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 7:51

No, actually, I think it's perfect.

NaNoWriMo kills your excuses for Not Writing. You've done homework, you've done plotting, you've done character sketches, blah blah blah fishcakes, just start writing the bloody thing already.

The benefit of NaNoWriMo is that it encourages/forces you to dump onto the page. Don't worry if it's any good. Seriously. Just write. You have your structure in place. Just write. Afterwards you can edit, rewrite, get help from a friend, scrap it, whatever. But get the first draft going. You can't edit what ain't there.


I had to laugh when I read the header of your question. We try to encourage people jumping into NaNoWriMo and just write, and with that we unsettle people who are already well prepared.

One Monkey started to counter the other answers, so I will continue this wonderful practice :)

First, his advice to start NaNo with a new idea for practicing is a good one. But I think the idea of the one work, the one epic you have to write, the book of your life, is a false one. If you have this idea, skip it (the idea, not the novel). I think this idea comes from inexperienced writers. People who do not know yet, that after the book they write now (or want to write) there is always a better story just waiting that you finish your work.

Now to counter the other posts so far: You can attend NaNo with your preparation, no problem with that. If you need a reason to start writing, go with NaNo. But I tell you:

Start now!

Why do you want to wait till November? Why don't you grab your pen, your keyboard, sit down and start writing? Just do it now! You do not need NaNo, you do not need permission, you do not need an excuse. You know why I will not take part at NaNo? Because I am already writing a story.




  • "If you have this idea, skip it (the idea, not the novel). I think this idea comes from inexperienced writers." Do you mean, forget about it being "the one work", or write something else first and come back later? Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 15:12
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    @TravisChristian: "the one work" is an illusion. If you have written it down, when it's done, you will get your next "one work" idea. And another one. And one more. And on and on and on. Ideas are a terrifying beast. Commented Oct 16, 2011 at 18:48

To counter the other answers (although I still believe they make some excellent points) I think there's something to consider here as an opportunity. Most other writers I encounter, not all but a good proportion, have the work in their mind; that one piece they're backing to reach whichever heady heights they're aiming for.

All the other writers, myself included, have "too many ideas, not enough time" syndrome. Generally speaking the writers in this latter category are the ones most comfortable with being writers and doing new projects. The writers in the former category can enjoy great success but they often find they struggle with the actual writing part.

If you are wondering if putting all your eggs in a basket this year is wise maybe it's not. Maybe it would take the pressure off you altogether to just run at it without a real plan and get something completely different done. Plus, when you succeed, you will feel that the investment in your current work isn't a burden, it's just a really good start. You'll be confident that even if your epic fantasy doesn't work out you'll have a fallback project and another and another.

At the very least you'll discover what kind of writer you are. Like I say writers who only ever really feel comfortable with the one massive project still have the potential to be successful writers.

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