In the first of three blogs, author Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw introduces NaNo Prep
My middle grade contemporary fiction story idea was brewing since a crazy dream I had one April night. I spent the summer thinking it through, researching setting, etc., but as a picture book author, drafting a middle grade novel seemed daunting at best. I dabbled in a makeshift NaNoWriMo club with my students several years ago, so I was familiar with the basics. I decided to run with my story idea and give the true NaNoWriMo program a whirl.Since I am the consummate “planner,” I perused the NaNo website in August under a writer vs. a teacher lens. I was surprised at the number of resources offered not only for the month of November, but for the months surrounding the main event.
The process actually begins in September with a six-week NaNo Prep course. Each of the first four weeks are dedicated to an aspect of planning your story and the last two provide tips on organizing and managing your time in November.
Week one’s topic was Developing a Story Idea. Each week NaNo Prep assigns an exercise to do, provides a forum to converse with other WriMos about the week’s exercise, and lists additional resources. Since my idea was already developed, I chose to skip the first topic and move directly to week two Creating Complex Characters. I utilized their Character Development Questionnaire to flush out my protagonist and my main supporting characters.
Week three’s (my week two’s) topic was Constructing a Detailed Plot or Outline. Since most authors fall somewhere on the “planner vs. pantser” continuum, NaNo offers a quiz to discover what type of plotting method works best for you. Already knowing I was a planner, I took the test for fun and was glad I did. It led me to planning and outlining resources best aligned to my spot on the continuum. I chose to use the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet created by Jessica Brody, the author of Save the Cat! Writes A Novel. For me, one week wasn’t nearly enough to work through the outline so I was glad to be a week ahead of schedule.
Week four centered on Building a Strong World. Initially, I didn’t think I needed this since I wasn’t writing a fantasy or sci-fi, but soon learned this section was geared to any setting. Coincidentally, that week, I was scheduled to take a trip with my husband to explore Marquette, Michigan where my story was set. If you’re able, I highly recommend turning your research into a working vacation.
Weeks five and six’s topics were Organizing Your Life for Writing and Finding and Managing Your Time. Again, I didn’t delve too much into those sections. Last year was my first year as a retired teacher and I knew I would have a lot of time to write, or so I thought…(stay tuned to part 2 of this series for more about that).
Instead, I used those two weeks to continue developing my story outline. I combined the Save the Cat! organizer
with professional writer and editor Erin M. Brown’s Master Story Map (which I received from a previous SCBWI-MI workshop). Melding the two enabled me to better understand and outline the story beats needed for the ENTIRE novel.
Come November 1, this “planner” was ready to roll!
Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw is an award-winning nonfiction children’s book author and former elementary special education teacher who is passionate about growing young minds. Suzanne’s first nonfiction picture book,, I Campaigned for Ice Cream: A Boy’s Quest for Ice Cream Trucks, debuted in April 2019 from Warren Publishing. Her second book, Mighty Mahi, launched from Doodle and Peck Publishing in March 2022. Suzanne enjoys speaking to schools about writing, leadership, and how kids can make a difference in our world.
You can visit Suzanne online at: