Swoon Author Karole Cozzo: Karole's Basic Rules of Planning for NaNoWriMo

Definition of pantser: in the writing world, someone who prefers to write by the seat of their pants without any forethought or planning.

Antonym: see Karole Cozzo.

I love planning. Love, love, love planning. I love me some Excel spreadsheets, I love me some good ol’ fashioned pencil and paper planners. There are few things in my life I haven’t found a way to plan. The following multi-column schedule, designed by yours truly to guarantee a wrinkle-free wedding day, still haunts my husband’s nightmares (yeah, well, he made it to the altar anyway. And right on time, mind you.).

wedding schedule

And this is the picture of the back of my kiddos’ bathroom door from the night before I returned to work following my second maternity leave. School outfits, down to the socks and undies, planned out for the week. (No, this system did not hold up – who was I kidding?) but I still think the plan itself was ingenious.

outfits for the week

So, obviously, there’s no way in heck I’d be flipping the calendar to November 2015 without a plan in place for NaNoWriMo. Allow me to share with you some of Karole’s Basic Rules of Planning, as they apply to NaNoWriMo.

1.)   It’s all about the visuals.

A plan that exists solely in your mind isn’t really a plan at all. Your plan should be printed out, in black and white or better yet color, taped to your freezer, ready to greet you each and every morning when you pad over to get the fat-free pumpkin spice creamer for your coffee. You shouldn’t be able to avoid, ignore, or neglect your plan. It should stare you in the face.

2.)   Your plan should account for variables.

Fifty thousand divided by thirty equals 1666.66666666, you get the idea, let’s say 1,667 to be on the safe side. But… what about Thanksgiving? Chances are you’re going to pass out from the turkey, surrounded by family, watching football, before you get your word count in. And are you unable to resist the Black Friday sales? Then chalk up another day that might be a wash. Account for the expected, and plan for the unexpected as well. Factor in a few days when you might suffer a crippling headache or have your sinuses feeling like they’re going to explode out your face. And add some extra words in a few other days so you won’t find yourself in a huge deficit midway through the month.

3.)   Planning is pretty.

There’s a reason why as soon as PR’s Nicole Banholzer posted a picture of her she plans planner on Twitter that I’d ordered my own within minutes.

she plans

Following a plan is more fun when the plan itself is pretty. I don’t care if you use glitter to decorate the edges, stickers to celebrate successful days, or electric pink Sharpie smiley faces. Make your plan something you want to look at, and something that forces you to pay attention to it.

4.)   Accountability is key.

This is one of the primary reasons I like having an actual printed out, paper and pencil plan to work with. There is something to be said for physically acknowledging your successful days and physically admitting to your less successful days in keeping a person on track. Hold yourself accountable! Don’t give up on the plan just because you have a single bad day. Put it down on paper…and then look back at all those days when you did get your word count in. They’re physical evidence that you can get yourself back on track.

5.)   It’s okay to reward yourself. In fact, I highly encourage it.

The finished product, while a wonderful reward itself, doesn’t have to be the only reward. I recommend identifying one larger reward that you’d like to “work for” by meeting your NaNo goal. That pair of booties on sale at Nordstrom? That concert ticket? The cute but slightly silly tote bag you can’t really justify buying but can’t stop wanting? The upgrade in your Netflix subscription? Go ahead. Treat yourself. And as a certified psychologist, might I add, I also highly recommend smaller rewards along the way to remind yourself all your hard work is paying off, way before you reach the finish line. A vente toasted graham latte. The festive pair of holiday socks from the dollar aisle at Target. The black and white cookie you usually feel guilty about eating (but not today – all those words on paper, dammit!).

Just be mindful, there’s a difference between bribes and rewards – rewards are payment for a job well done, and aren’t paid out until the job is, in fact, DONE. No cheating! Or what’s the point?

Well, my fellow writers, I hope these ideas are helping you feel more organized, confident, and motivated as you dive headfirst into a month of whipping out the words. I’m including my planning sheet so you have one less thing to do – just print this bad boy out, personalize it for you, and plant it firmly upon your fridge. I sincerely hope it’s helpful. And I’d absolutely love if you shared progress pics with me on social media (@KACozzo) so I can see your plan in action. There’s nothing like a good planning picture to make me smile. #theplansthething

Karole's calendar

Happy writing, friends!


Every weekday in November, we’ll be including a super special writing prompt at the end of all our blog posts! Check out today’s:

Prompt 11.5

Author spotlight

Karole Cozzo

KAROLE COZZO is a school psychologist by day, a wife and mother of two by night, and a writer of …

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