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Five Ways To Use NaNoWriMo As Your Writing R&D Department

NaNoWriMo LogoNovember sees the arrival of NaNoWriMo, the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. In a couple of weeks many of you will be writing like your lives depended on it. To many it’s a celebration of fiction, a time to brush all other commitments aside and just write without distraction. But NaNoWriMo has its critics. Some say that whilst it teaches you to write with regularity, it doesn’t always teach you to write well.

So what if you are looking to be published one day? How can you make NaNoWriMo, and the motivation and focus it brings, do more for you that just teaching you to write regularly? The answer is to use the month as your “research and development” month, 30 days to play around with your process and craft; a chance to try things that might otherwise prove too risky to devote time to.

With that in mind, here are five suggestions of how you can give yourself more of a challenge and turn NaNoWriMo into your writing R&D month.

1. Change Your Default Writing Style

Reading by doncarstensGeorge RR Martin categorised writers as either gardeners or architects, in so much as gardeners start writing a book not knowing what is going to happen or how it is going to end whilst architects plan and plot out a novel before starting to write. It is mostly likely that you identify with one extreme more than the other.

So if you are more a gardener, why not try approaching a NaNoWriMo novel as an experiment in plotting and planning? Or if you like to plan your novels out, why not experiment with a more gardening focused technique? And what about changing your Point of View? Do you write a lot in the first person? How about trying something in the third person to see how it affects the ways in which you can tell your story?

Likely Result: It’s possible you won’t make the 50,000 word target with this one, but what you will end up with a greater understanding of what type of writer you are. It may even surprise you.

2. Change Genre

Pen and Book by JaxImageryIt might seem like sacrilege to talk about any genre other than fantasy on Fantasy-Faction but many of fantasy’s best authors borrow extensively from other genres. And it’s not as if fantasy doesn’t have its own set of subgenres to choose from: urban fantasy, epic fantasy, paranormal romance, sword and sorcery, etc.

If you’ve spent years working on your epic fantasy novel, taking 30 days out to try to write a crime thriller can feel a bit like a vacation.

Likely Result: Whilst stepping out of your comfort zone can be challenging it will stretch you as a writer and help you improve. And if all else fails just introduce a zombie invasion! Never fails!

3. Diversity

Ancient Discovery by juliedillonDo you find you write predominantly straight, white, able-bodied male characters? Challenge yourself to bring more diversity to your work by making the protagonist of your NaNoWriMo novel different from what you normally write.

A lot of writers live in fear of offending diverse groups and hence avoid their inclusion in their stories but you should be able to find advice and support from either your local NaNoWriMo group or on their forums. Instead of trying to include every possible variety of diversity, try to keep to just one or two and do them very well. And remember, this is an experiment.

Likely Result: You’ll probably get some things terribly wrong first time out and will later want to burn the manuscript but use it as a learning experience rather than a novel you hope to one day put before a publisher or agent (at least not without a lot of rewriting).

4. Measure Your Productivity

Bibliothèque by Francois SchuitenThe writer today is expected to multi-task and it can be a daunting experience if you are not organised. In between writing, blog posts, interviews, editing and promotion, chores still need to be done, social commitments still need to be met, dogs need to be walked, dinner still needs to be cooked. The modern author doesn’t have the luxury of cancelling everything like many participants do for the month of NaNoWriMo, so if you are pretty sure of your processes and productivity, refuse to cancel anything you would otherwise do during November.

At the same time, keep detailed logs of your writing and what else was going on at the time. A simple spreadsheet or notepad log should suffice but spend the time leading up to NaNoWriMo deciding what you need to log in order for the data at the end to be meaningful and useful to you. It might also be helpful to collect a couple of week’s data beforehand in order to have something to compare against.

Likely Result: A social engagement will result in you losing a day’s writing, and as many of you know, once behind target it can feel like a losing battle. However, you can use you logs to identify the things that throw your productivity off. Maybe writing at certain times of day proves more beneficial or you seem to be unable to make your word count the day after seeing a movie.

5. Aim For A Proper First Draft

Make No Misteaks by KrisKoutureGiftsUnless you are writing YA, it’s unlikely you’d see a publisher interested in a 50,000 word novel. In today’s market you are looking at something in the region of 80,000 to 100,000 words (or higher) for a fantasy novel. Of course, this puts your target to almost double that of the standard NaNoWriMo novel. And to make it even harder to write a quality first draft you need to keep away from all those standard tricks WriMos use to generate word count. No record-breaking strings of adjectives or multi-chapter asides recounting the protagonist’s dream.

This one will probably need a lot of planning in the weeks leading up to 1st November. You need to get your research done, it’s possible that you might want to plot out all your chapters in advance. (Tip: Plan for 30 chapters to make it easier to understand what you need to write each day.)

Likely Result: This is the ultimate hardcore NaNoWriMo challenge. It’s possible you won’t get the whole draft complete but even so you’ll have made fantastic headway into a quality first draft of a novel you can hopefully one day sell (and there’s nothing to stop you continuing into December).

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Have a suggested challenge for NaNoWriMo? Share it in the comments!



  1. […] latest article for Fantasy Faction has gone live today and this month it should be of interest for all of you thinking about taking […]

  2. You’ve inspired me! I’m going to change the ethnicity of my main character from white European, to Indian, or maybe Mongolian. I’m also going to take my new architect-ish method of planning for a test drive, prior to 🙂

    My only challenge to add to you list is, finish your current WIP before you start!

  3. Avatar Rachel Heeter says:

    I believe I am a combination of a gardener and an architect. I plan out certain aspects of my stories then let them grow on their own under my pen. If I get stuck I am going to absolutely take your advice about trying a different genre and try writing something other than science fiction/fantasy. Thanks for all the great advice.

  4. Great article! I’m certainly an architect style writer. Number five is the way I’ve done it for years now.

  5. […] See their full post for more details: ‘Five Ways To Use NaNoWriMo As Your Writing R&D Department’ […]

  6. Avatar pd workman says:

    I love Nano! And I have learned so much from participating in Nano, Camp Nano, and Script Frenzy the past three years. I think that my writing has improved more in the past three years than it did in the previous fifteen. I have really learned a lot about myself and how to produce a really good work in a compressed timeline. I look forward to the next Nano event as each approaches.

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