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7 Steps to surviving NaNoWriMo

by Aliya Ali-Afzal

In November I wrote 50k words in one month. It would normally take me a whole year to write that much. So, how did I make this leap? It felt like magic but in reality it was a series of more prosaic steps that anyone can take, to reach a seemingly impossible target.

1. Embrace your eccentricity. Your family and friends will think that you have gone mad or joined a cult. To some extent they are right on both counts.

2. Join Twitter. Celebrate your word counts, vent your frustration and be shamed into writing more when you see others speeding ahead. I made great friends, who cared about my progress and checked in on me regularly. We had a Twitter party at the end, posting photographs of our drinks and toasting each other’s success. They were my lifeline.

3. Be flexible. Ten days in, I fell badly behind. My children got flu, my mother’s long awaited endoscopy appointment came through and my husband went away for a week. When I got back to the writing, I had to double up my word count and then increase it to 7k words a day, for the last four days. It’s Ok if you fall behind. You can catch up with a final sprint.

4. Look after your back. I booked in physiotherapy sessions in advance and the smell of Deep Heat became my signature scent.

5. Be selfish. My children called me ‘a bad mother’, I felt guilty about leaving my elderly mum alone at home instead of taking her out to Pizza Express and my poor husband suddenly had a wife who didn’t have time to talk or shower. I decided not to let it bother me. All this was forgotten at the end anyway when they all celebrated my achievement.

6. Find a writing oasis. For me, this was the local café, where I turned up armed with my cushion, a blanket, a hot water bottle and pain killers, settling down at a table where I could plug in my laptop. It’s wise to ignore the looks you get from ‘normal customers’.

7. Take a deep breath. At the end of the month Mum asked me if I could finally sell my book now. Everyone will think that you can make money from all this hard work. Try not to feel too bad at their disappointment and bewilderment as you explain that it could be months, years even, before the book is ready to be ‘sold’.


Aliya Ali-Afzal is writing her first novel. She was long listed for The Bath Novel Award in 2014 and is an alumnus of the Curtis Brown Creative Novel writing course 2013. Aliya was born in Pakistan, grew up in London and studied German and Russian at King’s College London. She works with MBAs and professionals from across Europe and the UAE, to help them find career happiness and success. Twitter @aliyaaliafzal

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