How to create a writer’s notebook for NaNoWriMo

Twas the night before NaNo,
and all through the house,
Mel was plotting and scribbling,
trying not to freak out…

Happy Halloween, y’all! And for those of you who are tackling NaNoWriMo this year like me, happy End-of-Preptober!

I decided to do NaNoWriMo earlier this month, so I had a solid three weeks to plan and plot.

My journey is slightly different from most folks’. I’ve been working on my WIP, Escape Artist, for a little over a year now. I’m using NaNoWriMo to finish the first draft so I can start querying next spring.

Check out the NaNoWriMo cover:

How to create a writer's notebook for NaNoWriMo

(Can you tell I’m super proud of it?)

I’m also super proud of what I accomplished in #Preptober:

  • Created all scene cards.
  • Created all character cards. (Still in progress.)
  • Organized scene cards by their timeline and era. (Escape Artist covers 70 years and 4 generations, so I gotta keep my dates straight!)
  • Researched all historical eras (Prohibition, Great Depression, WWII, etc.) and made notes of events most relevant to my story.
  • Created 13 chapter summaries. (This is still in progress.)
How to create a writer's notebook for NaNoWriMo

As you can see, all those scene, character, and timeline cards were done by hand. (I, erm, decided to ditch Scrivener.)

I know what you’re thinking:

It wasn’t an easy decision. I love Scrivener, but I don’t love the dev team’s lack of commitment to their Windows users.

I won’t get into a whole spiel here, because I know software engineering is more complicated than I could ever hope to understand. That doesn’t change the fact that I need universal access to my story. With Scrivener, I can only access it on my laptop. 

(It also doesn’t change the fact that Scrivener have dragged this update on and on for over two years and made countless promises to deliver…but I digress.)

I’m now working through paper, index cards, and Google Drive, which, surprisingly, has worked much better for my needs. (Except for word count tracking.)

I find working by hand is a much more involved and downright delightful process. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good notebook and colorful pens…

Which leads us to the goods you came here for: how to create a writer’s notebook for NaNoWriMo!

How to create a writer’s notebook for NaNoWriMo

Speaking of notebooks, I absolutely couldn’t get through NaNoWriMo without my beautiful Voyager traveler’s notebook. (That’s not an affiliate link, by the way. I just really love this notebook.)

First up is the quintessential writing notebook and motivational tool, lovingly dubbed The Master Plan 2.0. My first morning pages notebook was called The Master Plan, so I figured I’d continue the theme.

How to create a writer's notebook for NaNoWriMo

This beauty contains my creativity contract, a list of artist dates, a rather scathing letter to my inner editor, my artist’s prayer, and my writing tracker.

how to create a writer's notebook for nanowrimo

Ain’t it purdy?

This little notebook is now a non-negotiable part of my writing life, and it’s the ultimate remedy for self-doubt.

Just last night, as I was beating myself up for just about every writing sin under the sun, I read my artist’s prayer and letter to the editor and immediately felt better.

The writing tracker also shows me the time I invest in this project. I was under the impression that I wasn’t doing enough.  I now see that I put in work daily, for several hours at a time, usually, and I’ve got over 11,000 words done in just three-ish weeks.

Decorating The Master Plan 2.0 also helps me channel my creativity in other ways when the words aren’t flowing. I’m not super good at lettering, so I use stencils, washi tape, watercolor paints, and stickers to make it cute.

how to create a writer's notebook for nanowrimo

Next up is The Brain Dump. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who bestows corny nicknames to my notebooks…) This is where all my ideas, epiphanies, and questions go. As you can see, it’s kinda plain.

When I’m in the zone and a question pops up or I realize I need to research something, I usually just grab the nearest piece of paper and write it down. Now, I’ve got a single place to put it which I can easily access while drafting.

And finally, perhaps the most important NaNoWriMo notebook of all: the morning pages. First thing in the morning, every morning, I write my morning pages while drinking my first cup of coffee.

how to create a writer's notebook for nanowrimo

I won’t go into the value of the morning pages (a tool from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) here, but they’re kind of like my compass. They lead the way on my writing journey.

I’ve had countless epiphanies on these pages.

I’ve cried on these pages.

I’ve been so homesick on these pages I could hardly stand it.

I don’t hold back on these pages. I write down every worry, every fear, every triumph, anything and everything in my brain that might be holding me back, pushing me forward, or keeping me stuck.


And there you have it: a few ideas on how to create your own writer’s notebook for NaNoWriMo, or your writing life in general.

Got some pretty writing tracker layouts of your own to show off? Let’s see ’em!

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