The first time I did NaNoWriMo, in 2008, I didn’t prepare. I had no idea how one might prepare. I had hardly written prose fiction in over two decades, but I had always wanted to write a novel. My brother had just started running marathons and I was looking for something similarly impressive to prove to myself that I could accomplish a big project. I stumbled on NaNoWriMo in mid-October through a now forgotten series of web searches. I signed up and dove in. On November 25th, I submitted my manuscript to verify my win and celebrated briefly before spending 9 months failing to turn the mess I had written into a story worth sharing with anybody else. There are some good nuggets in the mess, but the overall novel still needs a lot of work.
In September of the following year, I stopped writing and started reading about the craft of writing a novel. I created a couple of characters and the beginning of a plot outline before November. Life was particularly hectic that November and eventually, I chose to work on a play that took away most of the time I had scheduled for writing. Less than 10,000 words later, I abandoned that project. But, I had learned some important things about planning a novel.
Committed to writing a complete first draft of a novel, with or without NaNoWriMo, I have spent the past year studying craft and writing short stories. A few weeks ago, I started thinking seriously about NaNoWriMo. This year, my goal is a complete first draft of a Middle Grade novel. I tend to write my first drafts long, so meeting that goal will probably take me over 50,000 words. But my focus is the novel, not the word count. I have a chapter outline, character sketches for the main characters.