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Surviving NaNoWriMo 2016

NaNoWriMo (detail)Ah, National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short (or NaNo for shorter)). We meet again. For the…I don’t even know. How many times is it now? Five? Six? It’s hard to keep track after a while.

Fortunately, NaNo is not my enemy. It’s something that I have willingly done every year for a while now and has become a vital part of my routine as a writer. 50,000 words in 30 days. 1,667 words per day for the month of November. It’s a time of unbridled, uncaring creativity. A chance for those of us still stuck working for a living (like the chumps we are) to dip into the kind of word count that full-time writers maintain all year. It can feel remarkably daunting, the pressure to keep up that kind of pace, particularly if you are just starting out as a writer, but worry not, Fantasy-Faction; I am here to tell you that you don’t need to fear the NaNo. True, there is no way to win NaNoWriMo without putting in the time and effort needed to get those words down on paper each and every day, but there are things you can do that will greatly increase your chances of success.

Make A Plan (Or Don’t)

There is an eternal debate between Planners (those who plot out their novel and write up their character descriptions in the months leading up to November) and Pantsers (those who just wing it, like the brave explorers into the literary unknown that they are). Each path certainly has its merits and you’ll easily find those who extoll the virtues of both.

NaNo - Participant (banner)

Personally, I go at it with a bit of both. I plan my characters, including all the hopes and dreams that I intend to destroy in a fiery mess, and the beginning of the plot, usually the first five chapters. After that, I tend to wing it based on how the characters react to their impending doom. This has worked pretty well for me, especially in the last few years, but your approach is going to depend on your style, preference, and the kind of story you are trying to tell. Mysteries will need a lot more planning as you plant the breadcrumbs for your readers to follow, for example. Much like everything else to do with NaNo, there is not right or wrong answer. It’s much less about finding a winning formula and more about finding your winning formula.

Find A Group

NaNo - Imagination & BeyondWriting may be a solitary endeavour, but that doesn’t mean going it alone. If you’re like me and don’t have a regular group of writers to hang out and be super smug with, then NaNo has your back. The website (NaNoWriMo.org) asks for your location when you sign up. This isn’t because it is super clingy. It is because the folks who run it know that you are most likely to not just complete the rather gruelling month but to actually enjoy it if you’ve got a group of people sitting around you, offering encouragement, crying in the corner as their characters refuse to do the one thing they were meant to do, and reminding you that you’re not slinging words at a page by yourself.

The website will take your location and add you to a local region, usually with a Municipal Liaison who looks after the brave writers in their area. They are your guides through the land of NaNo and will be able to give advice, help, and are generally just very lovely people. It will also land you into a forum for your region, where you can digitally meet folks from the region also taking on the challenge. Bounce ideas, get (and give) support, and realise that even when you do go completely mad (it’s part of the job description for a writer), at least you won’t be on your own.

If you’re struggling to find a local group, just remember that Fantasy-Faction has a Facebook group just for our readers who are tackling the challenge. Join us (myself included!) for all the fun and support you could ask for.

Go To A Write-In

2016 NaNo - ParticipantAnother benefit of those lovely Municipal Liaisons? They’ll sort out a time and a space for folks in your region to get together and write in the same place. For my region, this is traditionally in a pub on a Sunday, because where else would writers gather? Once you’re all together, the sheer amount of creative awesomeness (otherwise known as peer pressure) will drive you toward busting out words at an unimaginable pace. A good write-in can help you double your word count for the day. It can get you back on track after missing a day due to work, school, children, or other unnecessary distractions. It can give you that little boost of confidence when you need it. It can be a source of inspiration if, like my region, you’re surrounded by fellow fantasy writers and readers who can offer suggestions if you’re stuck for how to make your magic system make sense. At least, as much as any magic system does.

Best of all, when the room is filled with manic writing, coffee and cake are flowing in glorious abundance, and the people around you are laughing at an unexpected decision by their main character (seriously, is saving the world that freaking hard?), you’ll be reminded of the most important part of the NaNo process: having fun.

Get A Routine

2016 NaNo - WinnerThe number one complaint people tend to have about being a writer is that they don’t have time. I don’t usually buy this as an excuse, particularly when you ask someone how much TV they tend to watch on a weekly basis. This excuse becomes more common when I talk to someone about NaNoWriMo. If you don’t have time to write even 500 words a day, how will you make time for the 1600+ you need during November? The easy answer is that you will make time for it because it is important to you, but how much time do you need to make?

For me, it is usually around an hour and a half each day, though on a good day I can get the 1667 words down on paper in under an hour. I usually make that time by getting up a bit early and getting my daily quota done first thing, or ditching a few TV shows that I can just catch up on in December. Lots of people think that doing NaNo means ditching friends and family for a month all at once, but that doesn’t need to be the case if you make a plan on how to use your time effectively. Find an hour, every day, when you don’t have any commitments other than to yourself and your novel.

So that’s my map to survive NaNoWriMo. Got any other tips for both newbies and old hats alike? Let us know in the comments below. And to everyone taking it on this year: good luck!

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