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NaNoWriMo Survival Guide

In last week’s entry, I briefly explained the concept of NaNoWriMo and my own struggles with it. Two years ago, I beat NaNoWriMo; this year, I’m looking set to do it again.

Here’s a breakdown of my essential NaNoWriMo survival skills. This advice isn’t just for adults – it applies to young writers, too.

What type of writer are you?
I don’t think you can teach a magic formula to creating good fiction, but I’ve definitely found it useful to think more introspectively about my writing style.

When you first create an account on the NaNoWriMo website and pledge to write your novel, you’re asked a simple question: are you a planner, a pantser, or a plantser? Planners tend to have elaborate spider diagrams and timelines that describe every event of their novel in chronological order. Pantsers throw themselves at a vague idea or concept, and let the narrative guide itself along. Plantsers are a jack-of-all-trades combination of the two.

There’s no right or wrong style, but it’s important to think about what kind of writer you are so that you can manage your expectations. As a self-confessed pantser, I’ve gone into this year’s challenge with the realisation that, some days, I won’t be able to hit my daily par of 1,667 words. At other times, I’ll hit a rich vein of plot and end up writing as much as 8,000 words. A writer who plans ahead won’t have the same peaks and troughs.

The important thing to realise is that there’s nothing wrong with either style.

Don’t stifle creativity
In general, people don’t like to be told how to work. It stifles creativity. Young writers in particular can be too easily bogged down by being made to process too much information at once. On the other hand, other children may experience the opposite; they may feel lost at sea if you force them into a story without giving them the opportunity to plan ahead.

Try not to force your students into writing the way you want them to write. This advice holds true across the curriculum, but it’s particularly true for creative writing. Hand your students creative freedom, and empower them to take charge of their own story – the imagination of children will always surprise you.

Abandon your inner editor
One of the hardest things to do is to write without censoring yourself. While working on this blog, I’ve chopped and changed sections, moved sentences and paragraphs around, altered my phrasing, and corrected mistakes. However, once you start writing 1,667 words of a novel every single day, you come to realise that you don’t have the luxury of worrying about these things; you just have to write. You’re a busy person, so leave those imperfections for the next draft!

If you’re pausing every few seconds to pick over what you’ve just written, you’re not just wasting time: you’re letting your inner editor tire out your creative mind. Combat creative fatigue by drowning out your inner editor with the sound of clacking keys or of pen scratching against paper.

Don’t live your novel
This advice may seem counterintuitive. It may seem like common sense to spend every morsel of free time thinking about your plot, characters, and settings, but this can make your story seem commonplace, and it saps the joy out of what you’re doing. Remember: writing is unconstrained fun, not a mindless chore. Similarly, don’t force your students to live their novel. Let them lose their current train of thought and find a new one. If you’re teaching a class, inject a sense of spontaneity by throwing random ideas at your students, and see if they can take them to another level.

Write what you know
Your life may seem mundane to you, but you live it. To an outsider, the everyday things you do are impulsive.

Write the inverse of what you know
Having said that, if your plot does seem a bit bland, it’s never a bad idea to shake things up a bit. Try to surprise yourself by coming up with spur-of-the-moment plot twists. If you don’t see it coming, your readers won’t either.

Reward yourself!
Writing is hard work. If you’re tackling NaNoWriMo yourself, make sure to reward yourself each day for a job well done. If you’ve managed to convince your students to join in this madness with you, make sure they understand exactly how proud they should be – they’re achieving the impossible.

This is part two of a four part series. Next week, we’ll be taking a look at what to do once November ends and the dust settles.

Are you considering giving NaNoWriMo a go? Have you already taken part in NaNoWriMo, and have a story to share? Let us know by commenting below, or getting in touch with us on social media.