This post by Steve Shepard originally appeared on Storyist.
“What are you writing this year?”
It’s the question on everyone’s lips at the regional NaNoWriMo kickoff parties. The answer, even among seasoned NaNoWriMo veterans, is often “I don’t know.” So if you don’t know either, relax—you’re in good company. Heck, even Chris Baty, the NaNoWriMo program director and cheerleader in chief, claims he doesn’t know what he’s writing yet.
If you’re looking for ideas, there are pleny of resources available to you: The NaNoWriMo forums, and Chris’s book No Plot? No Problem! are two of the best.
As this is my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d add to the mix by writing a quick how-to on the techniques that have worked for me.
Play “What If?”
So what should you write?
Conventional wisdom says that you should write what you know. If you’re a teacher, write about a teacher facing one of the many struggles teachers face. If you’re an accountant, write about an accountant facing accountant stuff.
I disagree with this “conventional” wisdom. For many writers, part of the joy of writing is in learning about something new, and in living in a world of your making. The trick is finding a story idea that captures your imagination.
One of the more effective ways to do this is to play a game of “What If?” Look around you and ask what would happen if something you cared deeply about changed in a significant way. For example: