Laura Howard: Make Your Own #NaNoWriMo Survival Kit


Make Your Own #NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

Who's doing NaNoWriMo this year? I've never done it, but friends I know have let me know they'll be doing it for their seventh and ninth year! Amazing!

And since it's right around the corner, I've recruited someone who knows NaNo! Warm Welcome to Rochelle Melander, The Write Now Coach!

I’ve done NaNoWriMo enough to know that at some point during the month, I will run out of ideas. I’ll be stuck smack dab in the middle of the month with nary a scene in my head. The characters I once enjoyed writing about will begin to annoy me and I won’t really care if the book is set in Paris or Poughkeepsie. Yikes! This year, I am making myself a NaNoWriMo survival kit to get me through the long middle of the month and help me cross that finish line again. Interested in joining me? Here are five tools to put in your writing survival kit to sustain you throughout the month-long writing marathon:

1. Character Cheat Sheets. Most days I can’t remember why I walked upstairs let alone what color car my character drives. Save yourself some time and angst, and make a chart for every character in your book. Each chart should contain the basics (name, age, characteristics, family, etc.) as well as any details that are essential to the story. Now you don’t have to wonder what kind of wine your character favors. You can check your cheat sheet.

2. Plot Lists. I don’t know if you’re a plotter or a pantser, but by mid-November, you’ll definitely want some ideas about what happens next. Make a list of scene ideas. Start with the statement “What if” and list away. What if the protagonist runs into an old love at the rehearsal dinner for her wedding? What would she say to him? To her fiance? Keep asking random questions until you have created a good long list of scenes—at least thirty (one for each day).

3. Descriptions! When my husband was invited to a shi shi restaurant in town for a wedding reception, I pressed him for details. What was the décor like? What did the bride and bridal party wear? What kind of cake did they serve? He stuttered, “Uhm. Yeah. The décor was nice and the dresses were, well, shiny, and, uhm, the cake was sugary.” To ensure I do a better job of noticing and describing details in my novel, I am collecting photos and brochures of the places I’m using in the story. I may even create a Pinterest Board for the novel’s setting.

4. Dialogue Book. I like creating dialogue but by the middle of National Novel Writing Month, my characters start sounding all the same. That’s when I need a little jolt of inspiration. As an inveterate eavesdropper, I’ve taken to carrying a tiny journal in my purse just to jot down snippets of dialogue I hear when I am out shopping or socializing. When I’m not sure how a character would say something or am just plain stuck, I page through the journal for ideas.

5. Writer’s Block Tool. The Amazing Story Generator is a flip book by Jason Sacher that provides writers with three categories of ideas that can be combined into hundreds of prompts: a setting, a character, and a situation. I liked this idea so much, I decided to create my own writing prompt tool. I’m dividing an old shoebox into four slots: setting character, situation, and random stuff. Here’s what I’m collecting for each:

*Photos from magazines, old books, and junk stores can fill either the setting or character slots.

*Current and antique postcards from museums, art exhibits, and rummage sales can also provide inspiration for both setting and character.

*Headlines and excerpts from articles and blurbs in magazines, newspapers, online articles, and newsletters offer interesting characters and unique situations. Here’s one from a press release: teach children to talk to the dead.

*Business cards and fliers from networking and local shops are great fodder for characters and situations.

*Small objects. Anne Lamott featured a little blue shoe in her book of the same name. I’m keeping a slot open for random stuff and adding small goodies to it for inspiration. So far I’ve collected a miniature painted bird, a child’s princess figurine, and a naked troll keychain.

Of course, if you hate having extra stuff lying around the house, just take pictures of interesting people, places and situations with your phone.

Now don’t you feel better? After completing the simple steps above, you’ll have everything you need to survive National Novel Writing Month with ease. Well, almost everything. I’d also encourage you to stock up on snacks and wine, including plenty of chocolate.

Your turn: What would you put in your National Novel Writing Month survival kit?

Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including the National Novel Writing Month guide—Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) Rochelle teaches professionals how to write good books fast, use writing to transform their lives, navigate the publishing world, and get published! For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at


  1. I've done Nanowrimo for years and even teach it in the Elementary School. It's an inspiring program.

    1. That's cool! I am teaching it at the public library this year with middle school students. I am looking forward to writing with tweens!

  2. That's an interesting idea... I've never heard of anyone doing Nano in school. I'd love to know how that works!

  3. Some other practical points are:

    # Ensure that you back up your work periodically. You would hate to lose most of what you have written.
    # Get your writing tools in top shape. You shouldn't lose time in scrambling for things when you need them the most.

  4. I've been making character sheets, writing down plot points, browsing Etsy to get inspiration for clothes (I know I probably won't describe the clothes, but I'd like to have a picture in my head.)

    I like your suggestions. I used to have an "Idea File," where I'd have headlines and pictures and snippets of this and that. Wish I hadn't lost it :-/

  5. This is my 11th nano! Woot! Can't wait until it starts. LOVE your shoebox idea, by the way!


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