Programs to Help You Prepare for NaNoWrimo

October is nearly over, and that means a few different things:

  • Fall has officially arrived. If you’re in the Midwest, like me, we have left behind the pleasantly warm, sunny days with cool breezes for chilly, wet, miserable ones where the sky just spits at you all day and the puddles are deceptively shallow until you plunge your entire boot in it. If you’re lucky enough to be wearing boots at the time.
  • Halloween is almost here, which means Stranger Things is premiering this weekend! I am binging the season with my entire family, and then carving pumpkins. ‘Tis the season.
  • NaNoWrimo is almost upon us.

Oh, NaNoWrimo. How I have failed you over and over again for the past few years. How I enter November with blind faith in my own ability to remain disciplined and dedicated to that daily quota. How I curl into myself with shame by November 15 as I watch my bar of progress fall further and further behind from where it should be, until that chasm looks impossible to cross. And then I give up, but passively. I’ll still write, but not with the gusto I had near the beginning. And that’s where I do myself a huge disservice, because I’m not just giving up on obtaining a respectable word count by November 30—I give up on the story. Instead of sticking with it and carrying the momentum past NaNo, I put it away at the end of the month like it’s a seasonal piece of decor I’ll pick back up next year.

Anyone else have this problem?

Let’s not have that problem this year. And part of that problem, for me at least, is because I don’t give myself enough time to outline where I’m going. Outlines and brainstorming sessions before November 1 can provide a great structure for what’s to come; a road map to your final destination, and other car/road trip metaphors. It doesn’t mean you need to follow it to the letter—but it can serve to bring you back on the path you want to be on, if a path was written down in the first place.

Writers, let this be the year you go into NaNoWriMo with the confidence of a well-plotted out road trip itinerary, with enough wiggle room to allow for surprise stops and travels off the path. There’s still time! There are plenty of apps and programs out there designed to help you outline your NaNo novel. Here are some of my favorites (that are also free).


This platform is popular with businesses for projects, including the company I work for, and the key word here is projects. Trello can help you visually map out the arcs and sections of your novel. Each list could function as a section of the novel, and each individual card a scene. Cards can hold images, links, and any pertinent information you want to store. It’s a great tool for storing character information, as well.

You know what else it’s great for? It comes with due dates. You can set deadlines for yourself if there’s a certain scene or chunk of scenes you’d like to have written by week one. You can take a linear approach and work down the lists as you write, or you can hop around. Once you’ve finished writing a scene, imagine how good it will feel to mark that card “complete” on your Trello board.

Google Docs

Timelines, research, notes, all at your fingertips—and all saved automatically, with every keystroke. Did I mention accessible from wherever you can access your Google Drive? Use it for outlining and research, and use it for writing, because it functions just like Word. The most beautiful aspect of Google Docs is the peace of mind it gives you about it’s save feature, because it does it for you.

Google Docs also has a built-in document organizer, so you can neatly divide your work into subsections, create a table of contents, and jump around if you need to. Under Tools, select Document Outline, and use the heading styles; Google Docs will recognize each one as a new section.

Stuck on a scene and need a little inspiration? Share the doc with a friend or fellow NaNo writer. If you give them the ability to edit, they can make notes or comments right in the doc, and you can watch the live feedback come in.


Good old Evernote. Use it in your browser, your desktop, and get the app so all your beautiful notes and outlining are handy wherever you are. Got some handwritten notes you jotted down and don’t want to lose? Snap photos of them and upload them to Evernote for safekeeping. Create checklists, upload audio recordings, and organize and outline however you wish. I’ve always found Evernote to be a good place to capture stray bits of dialogue that come to me and I have to get them down or they’ll be lost forever, but they don’t have a home yet. This way, they’re all in one place and I won’t have to hunt for them later when the right moment comes along.

What are some of your favorite programs for outlining? (I know for sure that Scrivener, for instance, is well worth the investment, although it’s been a long time since I’ve used it.) Good luck next week, NaNoWriMos! May you remain steadfast in your efforts to hit 50k, and may you remember to sleep, eat food, and get up and stretch once in a while. Your back will thank you.