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NaNoWriMo 2018 A Survival Guide

NaNoWriMo is on us again. Some people are approaching it with excitement, others with trepidation. But all with the intention of creating something new – the first draft, or the first 50,000 words of a first draft, of a novel. It’s no easy feat. It requires focus, determination and skill. But here are some ideas to help you through the next month:

Nanowrimo is a chance to explore an unfinished thought

Before you start:

Have a basic premise of where your novel is going. Whether you’re a plotster, and planster or a pantster, it helps if you have an idea of HOW you think your novel will end, even if you don’t know how it gets there. Although if you’re planning on writing a murder in a sealed room, it’s a good idea to know how it was done.


The most important part of NaNo is to set aside an appropriate amount of time to write. Most of us have full-time jobs, studies, families et cetera. And busy lives. And there are times when you’ll blink and suddenly have 500 words and others when you will feel like you're scratching ten words into granite with your fingernails.

Think about the cornerstones of stories:

Christopher Booker says that there are seven basic plots: 1

Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth

Stephen King cites only six plots

Success, failure, Revenge, mistaken identity, love and loss and the Search for a Higher Power

And consider Joseph Campbell’s The Hero Journey.

You don’t have to conform to it, but it might encourage you if your plot isn’t taking the direction that you hoped.

While your story doesn’t need to include all these elements, it’s worth considering the above to see if they enhance your story.


The path of true love never runs smooth, or whatever the protagonist wants to achieve, the antagonist wants to stop them from achieving. When things are going well, have someone derail the protagonist’s plans; if things can’t possibly get any worse, have them suddenly become catastrophic.

The Writing Process

It’s not quantity over quality. It’s both. There is no point in writing 50,000 words if you have to cut half of them out of your finished novel. Set aside enough time to write and write well.

Have some idea of plot

Sit down and write a list of 30+ seems that you think might appear in your story. Having an idea about what to write each day will make the daily writing process easier. If you know how they connect, that is a bonus.

The Muse

Accept that the Muse won’t always strike. Use this time to write the ”glue"--how we get from one scene to the next. It’s hard work, but better than nothing at all. And something that must be written.

Limit the number of characters

Even if your final novel runs to 100,000 words, that’s not a lot of space to deal with a cast the size of A Game of Thrones. Make your characters earn their place. What do they contribute to the story. Sure, have minor characters, but limit the amount you reveal to your readers. We don’t need to know about their traumatic paper round or that their mothers never loved them as a child.

Know how your Characters will develop in the story

The events of the story will change the characters so that they are not the same person as when they started the story. Have they found out something that changes their perception; have they overcome some adversity; have they fallen in love or escaped a volatile relationship?

Think about your characters’ back stories

How have your characters got to where they are? What events have shaped them as a person, and which are still relevant to the narrative. Know who they are, but remember you’re not writing David Copperfield.


Unless you have hit your word count try to resist the urge to edit, except when it’s critical to your plot. You will end up cutting out words and will need to replace these.

Make notes rather than rewriting

If you find that an idea needs you to rethink what you’ve already done, then just make notes rather than destroy what you've already created. But, by all means, fill in extra details as they become relevant

Try to get a day in the ”bank"

By writing about 2000 words a day, you can have a ”spare day", just in case, because life gets in the way.

If you miss a day, adjust your word target to try to catch up over a week. Don’t try to do it in one day. That will just demoralise you. Use word sprints to up your word counts.

Support groups have a support group around you who can share your pain and encourage you.

Be prepared to push yourself

Even if it’s just an extra 110 words, It will ”buy" you two days grace.

Allow yourself time to read.

Either for research or to inspire you, but you cannot exist in a vacuum of your own writing. Try and read outside of the genre your writing.

Remember you are not writing the FINISHED product. There is no point in agonising over the first line or choosing the right opening scene as an excuse to not write. This is a luxury you don’t have time for. To start with a scene that you feel excited about writing, knowing that this is likely to be a second, or third or even tenth draft.


Enjoy what you’re doing

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