30 October 2016 - 1:31 pm

NaNoWriMo 2016: Pre-NaNo Planning Day

Every year, I try to do at least one new thing for NaNoWriMo. It’d get boring if we did the exact same thing year after year, right? I strive to keep what works and what people like, and throw in new stuff just to see what happens.

This year, we (my co-MLs and I) have a few things we’re trying out. The first of these was the Planning Day. Held two weeks before the kick-off, the idea was that it’s an opportunity for Wrimos to get together and prepare for this year’s NaNo adventure.

Now, the challenge with doing something like a ‘planning day’ is that not everyone plans. Many writers prefer to be pantsers: write by the seat of their pants with no formal plan at all. Others plan out in great, painstaking detail. The most, I venture to guess, lie somewhere in the middle (that’s where I live, closer to the pantsing end of the scale these days).

So, I have a group of people of an unknown size, with different levels of planning to cater for, who are all at different stages of their preparation for NaNo.

One of my main goals with my events is to be as inclusive as possible (across a whole range of criteria!), and that’s always one of the hardest elements to balance. So I had to think about how to get pantsers to come along (or at least feel welcome if they did), how to make it useful no matter where people were in their process, and how to make it feel like a fun, group activity.

Luckily, I like a challenge.

I considered a bunch of approaches, including doing workshops or brainstorming sessions on things like character creation, scene settings, etc. Ultimately, that sort of thing isn’t going to appeal – or be useful – to everyone. Every time I thought of something structured we could do, it all seemed too narrow.

In the end, I went for a looser, more casual approach, opting for breadth rather than a narrow focus. It was up to the writers, then, to choose how best to use the time.

So we put together a bunch of handouts, and gave each attendee a copy when they arrived. (We talked a bit about how and when to do this: do we hand out sheet A at a specific point, and talk about it? Stagger things? In the end, we decided that the attendance was likely to be so uneven across the day that people would miss out on stuff if we timeboxed it, so we just provided the whole pack on arrival to get people started.)

The pack included sheets for characters, plots, settings, etc, among other tidbits. These are now all available in our Digital Goodie Bag (more on this soon!).

That was our approach. Because we’d never done this before, and I’m never sure how these things will go, I was incredibly nervous in the lead-up to the event. We’d made 30 copies of the handout packs, thinking that would be plenty.

One of the busiest parts of the day!  (Picture by one of our Wrimos)

One of the busiest parts of the day! Everyone you see is a writer.
(Picture by one of our Wrimos)

We were wrong. The event started at 11am; I got to the restaurant where we hold these things at 10am to set up; people started arriving around 10:20am. By 12:30pm, we had run out of handouts and were scrounging copies off our regulars to give to new arrivals. An hour or so later, I released the Digital Goodie Bag, so people could at least get to digital copies of the sheets! (Always part of the plan, but I hadn’t planned on releasing it that day. Luckily it was all in place and ready to go!)

We were floored by the response to the event. We lost count due to people’s various comings and goings, but there was at least 40 people at one point. We took over the entire back section of the restaurant and stole tables from other sections to have enough space for everyone to sit down with their laptops/writing implements of choice. (The Coffee Club at Milton is very accommodating to us, and larger than any other one I’ve been into. They made heaps off us that day!)

On top of all that, many of the faces were new to us, so we got to meet loads of new writers as well. We wound up with a bunch of tables, and conversations happened about stories (and other stuff), with people swapping ideas and suggestions and so forth.

We ran a bunch of little, fun exercises across the day, for those who wished to join in, and those were well-received. Small things to spark ideas and get us thinking in different ways about our stories.

On the day and since, I’ve had a lot of positive comments on the handouts and sheets, which also made me happy. Not just because I created the sheets, but because I like to know that what we’re doing for our writers works, that they’re useful, that we can inspire and support writers.

I don’t think I could have asked for a better day. It makes me hope that this year’s NaNo is going to continue to be so chock-full of people, and I can’t wait to find out if it is.

Our NaNo got off to a roaring starting this year, even before 1st November. This is definitely something I’ll do again!

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  1. NaNoWriMo 2016: Decascriptum : : Adventures in Text says:

    […] tried a couple of new things already this year: a Pre-NaNo Planning Day, and a Digital Goodie Bag. Both of them went so amazingly well that I can’t wait to build on […]

    October 31st, 2016 at 4:28 pm

  2. NaNoWriMo 2016: Digital Goodie Bag : : Adventures in Text says:

    […] forum on the NaNoWriMo site when I happened to be in the middle of creating the sheets for the Pre-NaNoWriMo Planning Day. It resonated with me because I’m often thinking about how to help those who can’t make […]

    October 31st, 2016 at 6:01 pm