Writer's Block: Avoiding the Struggles of NaNoWriMo

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At this point in the month of November, if you've stayed honest and true to your daily word count, you should be a third of the way to your 50,000 word goal. If you're not, that's still totally fine. There's a lot of ways to pick up the pace on your word count, even on the go.

Moreover, you'll want to pick up the pace and keep writing because the inevitable stumbling blocks await. And, during NaNoWriMo, you don't necessarily have the luxury of waiting to break out of a dreaded period of Writer's Block. You have to force your way out of it, especially if you've slacked in recent days.

How do you overcome issues and problems you run into in your writing? How do you do it during NaNoWriMo or when you're on deadline? Do you have a trick to making sure you churn out a certain number of words? Share your techniques and ideas in the comments, because you never know when you could help out another struggling writer!

Have you missed any of the other posts in our NaNoWriMo blogging series? Be sure to check the others out:

Question: Have you run into any stumbling blocks this week? If so, how did you overcome them, and how will you avoid them in the future? 

Natania Barron: Life has a sense of humor, to be sure. I've been going along quite nicely until this [past] weekend, and while it hasn't been enough of a stumbling block to knock me completely off course, I've lost a little momentum. First, I ran out of plot. I'm not sure when this happened, but having abandoned my typical approach of just hoping things fall in line, working with Jonathan has meant that I have to keep to a script more or less. So I stalled a bit and had to go back to the drawing board.

Then came a foot injury. I've been trying to maintain 10k steps a day on my Fitbit while doing NaNoWriMo. Let's just say there was a run-in with a flying object [Sunday] morning, and it meant that I was off my feet for the majority of the day. While you'd think that would have given me plenty of time to write, the pain was a bit more intense than I bargained for. So, instead of words, it was lots of crochet.

I still plan to make my word count for the day, and I'm still tracking ahead (aiming for a 1,600 word minimum) but it's definitely not coming as easily as it has before!

Rachael Herron:The only stumbling block I've run into this week is not quite living up to MY goals. I'm trying to Reverse NaNo (in which you do the majority of the words upfront and early so the end of the month is easier), but I'm a good 3,000 behind that goal. That said, I'm still ahead of the "real" goal, so the ability/desire to slack off has gotten stronger and more alluring.Take a day off, that pretty voice says.You deserve to relax, it whispers. It also tells me we need extra fuel for NaNo, and therefore sugar is on the November menu. I can't really disagree with that. 

Nikki Hyson:The first six days were one gigantic stumbling block. Work just chewed me up and spit out what remnants of energy I had at the end of the day. I managed to write for an hour on November 1st but then didn't touch it again until I got off work—9a.m. of the 6th. Knowing I was about 10k in the hole, I let everyone at home know I would be alternating naps with writing for the next 2 days. I have managed to close the gap, closing in on 8k when I should be touching 12k. There will be a lot of long days ahead and very little TV, Internet, or the myriad of "time sucks" out there. If I need to research something I'll put an asterisk beside it for December. How can I avoid this next year? Hmm. Last year it was a backed up septic system that kicked off the first week of NaNo. "The best laid plans of mice and men..."

Regina Kammer: Names! I had established all the names for my main characters. Well, I thought I had. I ended up hating the original surname for my main characters (a married couple). It just did not trip off the tongue as much as I liked. And then suddenly—as is usual though, so I really should be prepared for this by now!—all sorts of characters appeared. Servants, relatives, friends, people I should have had names for all along but was too lazy when I did my outline. And to add insult to injury (so to speak), since I’m writing a Victorian novel involving British aristocratic characters, many of them have to have multiple names, e.g., “Reginald Aristocrat, Viscount Snobber, called Snobby by his close friends” or what have you.

Sometimes I just ignore the need for a name and just write [name] as a placeholder. But sometimes I’m compelled to come up with a name or else the plot will just get too complicated. I have been keeping a running list of potential character names for a couple of years now, and every time I use one I cross it off the list with a note about which book it was used in (since I write series, this is crucial). I have last names and first names on the list (not enough first names, I admit).

I also crowd-source my names by encouraging my friends via Facebook to post name suggestions. I have actually used some of the suggestions in my books (“Mason” the butler in The Pleasure Device was such a name). If anybody reading this wants to post Victorian-appropriate names to my Twitter feed or Facebook author page, please feel free to do so!

November/December 2014 Writer's Digest

 The November/December 2014 issue of Writer's Digest
has tips, techniques, and a wealth of resources to help you hit
your goal of 50,000 words during the month of November.

Kathy Kitts: This week has been routine, and I am grateful!

However, before I retired, I was a college geology professor and had to do NaNo while putting in some vicious hours. (One year I had a NASA mission in flight, a couple of grants to administer, several grad students, and a full course load.) So I learned to plan ahead.

I scheduled my class assignments in such a way as to have all the big projects due the third week of October. I’d grade like a madman and get it all done in time for Halloween. My students would pen new choruses for the song "Oh Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," claiming they didn’t have enough time to properly prepare. But when November rolled around, and I was the only faculty member who didn’t ruin their Thanksgiving with a semester project, I suddenly achieved minor godhood. Each fall I had half a dozen come to my office and thank me for thinking of them and altering my schedule for them. I smiled graciously and said, “You’re welcome.” What I didn’t say was that my schedule had nothing to do with their sorry behinds. It was all about NaNoWriMo. Gotta keep the priorities straight.

Kristen Rudd: I started to run out of steam last week—I watched my word count slowly dwindle each day, falling further and further below the daily word count. I didn’t write at all on Saturday, and now I’m behind where I should be. My husband was away on a business trip, so it was just me and the kids. I found it so much harder to both make the time to write, then when I did, to not be completely brain-dead.

So now I have to make up for it by writing over the daily word count. Which, pressure, you know? It’s one thing to write over just because, but now that I have to in order to catch up? Lots of people say you don’t have to write the 50,000 words to really win at NaNo, but come on. Those are the people who have never done it.

The good news is that I learned I can write 1,100 words between 11:35 p.m. and 11:59. I don’t know that they’re good words, but hey. They’re written. C’est la vie.

Once I can start putting words on the page, I can put words on the page. That’s not really my problem. Where I struggle isn’t so much with my inner editor as it is with my inner outliner. I don’t have the luxury of time to hang out with her right now, and she keeps running up to me, her arms in Muppet flails, yelling, “Wait, wait! You don’t know where this is going! You haven’t fleshed out this character! What about your subplot?” When I ignore her, she gets really sulky and critical, points out all my writing flaws, cries, and then starts drinking. She’s totally fun at parties.

EJ Runyon: Not this week, but I’m sure I may hit snags later in the month. I’m high on the several days of creating now; me going over my daily 1,667 words daily is a hoot. Sure, that always lags a bit once the first NaNo blush fades. The good thing is that you don’t need that high, we just love the feel of it. We love racking up the Word Count. Who wouldn’t?

I’ll overcome [a stumbling block] (when it hits) by meeting a daily word goal and letting go of the overachievment. That’s easy enough to do, day by day. So I’m cool with the stumbling blocks of slowing down during some weeks until I revv back up again. It’s all about not believing we need to burn so hot for the entire 30 days.

Jessica Schley: My main stumbling block is always getting down to writing when I'm tired or there are other things going on. Since I travelled this weekend for my dad's birthday, there were lots of other things going on! I'm a little behind on my word count as a result.

My combat technique? A timer. I used to use the software Write Or Die to get me through tough patches of writing—having something eating your words if you go too slowly is a great motivator. But over time I learned that it wasn't the word-eating but really just the timer that was keeping me going. 25wpm is a fast, but sustainable writing pace for me over a half hour, so I set a 30 minute kitchen timer, and shoot to hit 250, 500, and 750 words at 10, 20, and 30 minutes. Then I take a short break and repeat. If I can do that, I can crank all but about 167 words in a little over an hour—and that's an amount of time that's actually pretty easy to find in a day.

Brian Schwarz: It's happened. I've reached that time each year when I decide my plot is garbage. Everything about it seems to resemble some worthless ripoff of George Lucas or George R. R. Martin or one of the other famous George's. It's inevitable, taking the wind out of my sails and the breath out of my lungs, but such is life. I always try to load up on inspiration before NaNo begins for this exact reason, but what is one to do when the idea well runs dry?

If you're anything like me, you've finally got in some kind of flow. You're still behind by a day or two, but you're slowly writing 300 extra words a day to make up the difference and you know eventually this cross country race will help you make it through to December 1st. And here's where it gets hard. So here's my best advice.

Breathe. Take a moment to watch a movie or a TV show or do something other than write. Not for long, just give your creative muscles a few hours to not flex for the sake of surviving. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. We're 1/3 through, and you're doing great. Even if you're only halfway to your goal for the month, you're making progress and you're not alone. Lots of us are in the same boat. Lots of us are procrastinators and poor cross country runners. Keep up a pace, any pace, and figure out the rest tomorrow. Build up a pile of sheer willpower and creativity and spend a saturday blowing your word count out of the water. I know I will.

* * * * *

If you make time to write and put away all of your excuses, could you stay on track and finish your novel in only a month? With a structured plan and a focused goal, yes, you can!

Book in a Month

Using a combination of flexible weekly schedules, clear instruction, and detailed worksheets, author Victoria Lynn Schmidt leads you through a proven 30-day novel-writing system without the intimidation factor. Book in a Month shows you how to:

  • Set realistic goals and monitor your progress
  • Manage your time so that your writing life has room to flourish
  • Select a story topic that will continue to inspire you throughout the writing process
  • Quickly outline your entire story so that you have a clear idea of how your plot and characters are going to develop before you start writing
  • Draft each act of your story by focusing on specific turning points
  • Keep track of the areas you want to revise without losing your momentum in the middle of your story
  • Relax and have fun—you are, after all, doing something you love

Cris Freese is the associate editor of Writer's Digest Books.

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