NaNoWriMo Bootcamp #1

Drop and give me 20! 

20 unique letters and number, maybe a special symbol or two, for a password. No, don’t tell me. You’ll need it for the two things you should set up before you start writing.

The first thing we need to do, before we start talking about craft, is setting up everything you need to succeed. Now, how you choose to write, how you choose to set things up, this is entirely your own thing. I’m just going to outline for you how I set up my digital writing space so you can take what you want and leave what you don’t.

First thing first, I know there are a lot of you who prefer to write by hand, but you won’t survive NaNo that way. You need to write 50,000 words in the space of 1 month, and to officially “win” you need to be able to drop those 50k in NaNo’s official word count verifier, so they have to be typed. Can you imaging trying to hand write 50k words and THEN having to type them all in as well? That right there’s a nightmare, that’s what that is. So you need to set up a digital space in which to write.

You don't want to end up like this guy!

You don’t want to end up like this guy!

(Edit – According to the official NaNo site, if you don’t have access to a computer, you can write by hand, count all your words the old fashioned way, have a friend verify that, and then use a random word generator create the words you need to fill the word checker on As you were…)

I highly recommend setting up your space in an online file storage system like Google Drive. Dropbox works, or whatever your favorite cloud storage system is fine, but Drive is my favorite for two reasons: ease of use and auto-save. That’s right, it saves your work FOR you, and frequently, so if something crashes, you won’t lose everything you forgot to save from your writing session which started three hours back. If you already use drive, good for you! If you want to set up drive, click here.

My favorite cloud-based text editing service!

My favorite cloud-based text editing service!

Next, you want to set up your files within Drive. Create a new folder with your working title, so all your files are in one place. Then I create three files immediately. Outline, People Places and Things, and Table of Contents. Lastly, I start creating separate files for each of my chapters. This allows the files to be more manageable, have fewer errors on saving, and open faster. Of course, you it’s harder to tell what your total word count it, but that’s where the table of contents file comes in handy.


I use table of contents to do three things. 1) Track word count 2) Check that my relative word count per chapter is roughly balanced for whatever effect I’m driving for (sometimes having long and short chapters is desirable, sometimes more equal lengths creates the proper effect) and 3) Help figure out my chapter naming scheme once the book is written. It’s totally fine to keep your chapters numbered and unnamed, most people do, but this particular series uses quippy fun titles to reference what’s coming up in the chapter, so making sure they work together is necessary. Here’s what my TOC looks like at set-up:


Ahhh, nice and fresh! I’ve left my cursor on the total count cell so you can see the equation I’m using to track the important stuff. The equation for total page count is, you guessed it, =SUM(D1:D15). The reason it goes to 15 is because I’m pretty sure I’m going to have more than 11 chapters, so i’m just being prepared. The nice thing about Google Spreadsheets is if I insert a line within the equation parameters, it automatically adjusts it for me. How sweet! Make sure to update this every time you write, and then you can drop your total word count into the NaNoWriMo site.

What’s that? You don’t have a log in for the NaNoWriMo site yet? Well, that’s the second thing you should probably set up. I mean, you can totally go it alone and not bother with NaNo at all, but I find the community and tracking system very motivating. So, if that sounds like fun to you, you should go here and set up your free NaNoWriMo account!

From there, you can set up your profile and the details for your novel for this year. It’s a lot of fun thinking up a working title and designing a quick little cover. You can also link up with your friends (my username is writerlybliss) and keep track of how well you all are doing! Check out my page for this year:


I think that about wraps it up for the prep work I like to start with. Come back next week when we start the story prep with plotting! And even if you’re a pantser* you can still benefit from this session, promise.

*A pantser is a novelist who prefers to write by the seat of their pants rather than creating an outline prior to beginning work.

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