Already suffering from writer’s block this NaNoWriMo season? I got you covered.
If you’re seeking ideas to get your writing back on track, keep reading.
Hello, stress! You’re days (or even weeks) into National Novel Writing Month and the story that you’ve boasted to be the next page-turning best seller has already hit its first snag.
That’s right: You have no clue what to write next.
In every other non-deadline writing scenario, time away can be what your story needs. But when your goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, every minute counts.
Instead of spending minutes—nay, hours!—hemming and hawing what to write next, here are seven tips to keep you writing instead of hating the first draft of your NaNoWriMo novel.
Too much time is spent during National Novel Writing Month on brainstorming how to transition from scene to scene. Sometimes there’s an easy solution. But often your nose is so close to the paper, you can’t recognize a resolution from your own hand.
So don’t think of it now. Instead of trying to write your way out of a transition that you know you’ll hate, just jump ahead in time.
This is not cheating. You will eventually have to go back and write in the words that need to be said.
Make an obvious note in your document where there is a missing story chunk before time traveling to the future in your story. With hindsight on your side, return to the missing story chunk and fill the gap with more deserving words on a day you have a better sense of your story.
NaNoWriMo is about reaching daily word count goals. So write the part of the story where you have a lot to say today.
Describe, Describe, Describe
Is your hero stopping to smell the roses?
If your NaNoWriMo novel is stuck, pause your story and have your narrator or any character for that matter talk about the surroundings.
It’s easy to skip over describing the current setting because the dialogue or action is more thrilling to write. But if your characters don’t know what to do next, it never hurts for them to remember where they are standing.
So have your character step back and recognize what they can see, smell, hear, touch, even taste. Readers love seeing a story not take place inside a vacuous bubble.
You might find that the setting has more of an impact on your story than you realized.
Give a Recap
There’s a reason why television shows often begin with a “previously on _____” intro. It’s easy to forget all that’s happened, even if the show is new or if the viewers are well-researched fans.
Same with your NaNoWriMo novel. It’s okay to summarize your story within your story. A quick sum up of all the action and dialogue in chapters past can renew your reader’s interest in the story as well as your dedication to finishing your National Novel Writing Month novel-in-progress.
So let Character A explain to Character B (who for valid reasons has missed a plot point or two) everything that’s happened and been said—all in Character A fashion, of course.
This will both boost your word count and refresh your memory on what has happened in the story. If anything is missing from your draft, you’ll know where to fill in the cracks with extra words before moving forward in your story’s timeline
Take It From Another Angle
I know that you want your story to focus solely on the narrator’s first-person perspective or that your third-person narration needs to be experienced from the viewpoint of Character A.
But this isn’t the final version of your novel. This is the first draft.
If you’re stuck in your NaNoWriMo story, let yourself take the challenging scene to write from another angle. What would Character C see that Character A wouldn’t notice? How does Character C feel about the situation, the characters, the setting?
This perspective exercise will give you both more clarity about your characters and plot development as well as more words to add to your daily count.
Pick Up a Pen
I think it’s safe to say that most of us write our NaNoWriMo novels via laptop, desktop or tablet. It’s easy to see why: We instantly get an update on our word count and we save time by not typing up what we’ve already written.
But, then again, you’re already stuck on your National Novel Writing Month novel-in-progress by going about it this way.
If you’re suffering from writer’s block during NaNoWriMo, it’s time to close the laptop and pick up a pen.
We already spend hours in front of technology, be it our smart phones, television screens and tablets. This strains our eyes to focus on a bright screen with tiny words must contribute to this feeling of writer’s burnout.
So give your eyes a break and let yourself write today’s word count by hand. It may take more time to figure out your word count, but the words will come more easily to you.
I have gradually transitioned from writing my stories from paper to computer screen—and I miss it. There’s an artistic rhythm to writing words down in ink. I even had satisfaction crossing out phrases and still seeing them there, having that visual confirmation that the second phrase I chose was the better of the two.
Watch a Movie
Back during my Creative Writing MFA days, I had to rewrite my entire 200+ page thesis in a month—during a non-NaNoWriMo month, by the way—if I wanted to graduate on time.
*Insert grad school groans here*
I needed a guarantee that I wouldn’t be crushed by writer’s block, so I gave myself an assignment: Watch an Indie movie (thanks Netflix and library card!) every night and write a short story inspired by the cinematic tale the next day.
I didn’t view watching the movie as an hour or two to turn off my brain. Instead, I actively dissected the story arc, characters and themes in search of a story within myself.
This is genuinely how I finished my thesis rewrite on time to earn my Creative Writing MFA.
It doesn’t have to be an indie flick. It can be any genre that brings you the most inspiration or pushes you to think of storytelling from a different angle. Just don’t choose a movie where you mentally check out.
Sleep On It
Whenever I’m stuck in my writing—be it during National Novel Writing Month or not—and I can’t find my way out of a problem in my fiction, I step away from my writing workspace and go to bed.
No, I’m not quitting. In fact, I’m being strategic.
As I lie my head on my pillow and feel the first signs of drowsiness, I rephrase my problem within my writing as a question to ask myself, repeating that question like a lullaby-esque mantra until I’m snoozing.
Our brains are magnificent organs. They can contemplate a problem using all channels within your brain as we catch up on our Zs.
Let’s just say I’ve had some crazy dreams.
I’m a very productive person, so I like the idea that I’m accomplishing something big while sleeping. From doing this exercise, I’ve often realized mid-dream that I found the solution I’ve been seeking.
Don’t overthink your problem. Sometimes you just have to escape the bounds of alert reality to find the fluid solution that’s been there all along.