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Sara General


So. It happened. I finally won NaNoWriMo! Winning was like the cherry on top of an already awesome week in which I saw Amanda Palmer at her book signing tour in Toronto, switched to the iPhone and best of all – was accepted into the Doctor of Education program at the University of Western. But all of that is for another post. This post is my chance to reflect on what I did this time that was different than all the other times I tried and did not win. There are three main points, I think.


1. I kept trying


This was my third year participating in NaNoWriMo. I first heard about NaNoWriMo on the excellent podcast Writing Excuses back in 2009. I didn’t try it until 2012 and though at that time I barely managed to scrape together a couple thousand words, I was hooked on the idea of being able to write a rough draft in a month. The first two novels I wrote were written over a period of about two years apiece (a figure that I admit shocks me now). Looking back, I can see why it took me so long to write them. In those days I was taking long breaks in between writing and I was doing a lot of thinking, a lot of plotting, a lot of brainstorming, and a lot of imagining. Basically, I was doing a lot of everything except the actual writing. The reason I put trying as #1, was that I almost didn’t do NaNoWriMo at all this year. I had a major research assignment to complete, my short collection of stories and other writings had to be completed by the end of the month and I had more than enough editing to keep me busy for months. But I wanted to try and guess what? Thanks to the support of my family and the fabulous NaNoWriMo sprinting Twitter account, I did it-I actually won and managed to finish all the other work that I had to do.


2. I wrote even when I couldn’t think of what to write


This was a big one. I was tossing around ideas for my NaNoWriMo novel right until the day the contest started which meant that I didn’t have an outline, which meant that I often got stuck about where things were going. How did I get out of this? One thing I did, was let my characters help me. So long as they wanted something that they didn’t have, there were places for the story to go. The other thing I did, was condense huge and potentially complicated action points into a single, small paragraph that allowed the story to move from one place to the next. For example, when my characters got stuck transitioning from the village to the thriving metropolis they needed to be in, I just supplied some brief sentences to get them there, knowing that I could come back to this part and fix it later. This isn’t the text I used but here’s an example:


“Her sister Adelaide did not want to leave the village that had protected them for all these years, especially for the city-which was full of danger. Margaret knew both of these things. But she left anyways.”  


The next scene I wrote showed my characters arriving in the city where more exciting parts of the story needed to unfold.


3. I wrote everyday


This was probably the biggest thing that I did and I have to thank the many authors from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman who have suggested developing the habit of writing every day and working until a project is complete. I also have to thank the Monthly Writing Challenge writing community, who’ve managed to create such a wonderful and supportive environment for developing good writing and editing habits. I joined this group in mid-July of this year. Basically, this community was for those who wanted to write but could maybe not commit to 1,000 words a day. Instead, the idea was that writers could do 500 words or 1 hour of editing a day. This was a perfect fit for me. Some days I would write and some days I would edit. And by writing a minimum of 500 words a day, I managed to complete the first draft of a young adult novel called The Fortune Teller’s Daughter by mid September. I kept on with the challenge throughout October. By the time November rolled around, I had developed a relatively strong habit of writing everyday.

The December Writing Challenge is just about to begin. The hashtag is #DecWritingChallenge. The website is It’s a wonderful online community. It’s the first online community that I’ve really participated in and the writers in the community are wonderful. They have some really great blogs filled with updates on their progress, helpful tips and encouraging words.


So there you have it! All these little things that when put together helped me to write the first draft of my novel in under 30 days. Congratulations to all who participated in NaNoWriMo, whether you wrote 500 words or 50,000-each and every one of them counts!


Happy Writing & Editing,