So you’re well into the NaNo now, happily bashing away on your writing on the last day of the first week. Who said this was hard? You just need to meet that daily total and pace your story properly, and you move along swimmingly. You have spent several days now carried on a wave of enthusiasm, and it’s not hard at all. In fact, you’d almost call it easy!
Except maybe not. Maybe, to your surprise, you are suddenly not actually “bashing away” after all. After a few days of running on straight adrenalin, you suddenly feel the letdown of that initial energy, and WHOMP! Now you are into the nitty gritty of the thing. Maybe instead of watching the words flow like sweet, sweet water from your fingertips onto the page, today you are looking at a dry, cracked desert surface, waiting for that precious flow of inspiration. And nothing’s coming. What can you do?
Write in order to write
Isn’t it a little harsh to say, “Write anyway,” when that in fact is precisely what you want to do in the first place but are unable to do? Isn’t that rubbing salt into the wound? Yes and no. This is where the discipline really comes in. Think of people like journalists or others who write blogs and articles for a living. They have regular deadlines—sometimes daily ones. Are they brilliantly inspired all the time, so their writing just flows and never gets blocked up? Not at all. But they write anyway, because they have to. If you know how to string words together in coherent, grammatical sentences (and please, do learn grammar so people outside your own head will actually understand what you write), then you can write, even when you don’t “feel like it.” This is when you discover how tough and disciplined you can actually be. These are the moments you’ll be most proud of on November 30.
Even if you can’t think of anything brilliant (or even moderately worthwhile) to say—write anyway, especially if you do have an idea where the plot is supposed to go. Make it go in that direction, one way or another. We are back to what the facilitator told me in that novel-writing workshop so long ago: “You can’t steer a car that’s not moving.” If your creative flow is blocked up, you’re not going to get it unblocked by just sitting there. Start to force some words through. After a few sentences, you’ll probably find that the words are flowing a bit more easily. They’re probably nowhere near close to perfect yet, but at least there’s a trickle. And eventually, as the clogged areas of your brain are cleared of whatever it was that had blocked you up, you may find that you’ve actually written several paragraphs, and you know exactly where you’re going to go with the next several.
Or not—sometimes you just have to grind the words out. But do it.
Get a prompt
But what if you don’t actually know where the story is going next, so you don’t even have that way or directing your hard-written words? This is where it can be an advantage to be part of a group who are all doing or cheering for the NaNo together. Sometimes you can go there and describe how stuck you are, and others in the discussion can suggest prompts for you to write about. Some writing websites have lists of prompts that they’ve posted for each day or the month or for the month in general. Some will be too big to tackle if they involve major plot points, but some smaller ideas may just get things flowing for you again.
There’s a sudden small fire in a room down the hall, and your character(s) quickly deals with it. Someone shows up at the door with a pizza nobody had ordered. Someone feels a lump under a sofa cushion and discovers a…what? (You decide.) There are fireworks in the park nearby. What is the occasion, and how does it relate to your story? Your character forgot to feed the dog. Someone casts a forgetting spell, but only with respect to a certain event. That little creature your character recently found in the garden is growing bigger every day. A duo of missionaries knocks on the door, but they are promoting beliefs of a very unexpected kind.
There are all sorts of things you can throw into the story to give your characters (and you) some new inspiration.
Write a different scene
So you’re stuck in one spot, primarily because your current scene is kind of boring and you don’t know how to get out of it? Guess what—you can write a different scene! Pick a really interesting scene that you know is coming later, and write it instead. Watch the words flow then! I did this once with a fanfic I did a few years ago. I knew that the story would end with one massive, climactic event that my two main characters would be in the middle of. That scene was written very early as I wrote that story, even though it actually turned out to be Chapter 8 (out of 9).
I would offer one small caution on this one, though. Try not to jump ahead to the “good scenes” too often, lest you “use them up” and discover by mid-month that you have none left. You do need something be working toward; sometimes it’s just enough to know those great scenes are coming, to help you get through the more mundane scenes that lead up to them.
On the other hand, when you have a few major scenes already written, they sometimes influence the story “retroactively.” That is, you learn something in a later, more interesting scene that requires you to change what you were going to write in an earlier scene. This new revelation might just make that earlier scene less boring after all.
And we’re back to the “chunking,” or writing in chunks, that I talked about in the first post in this series. There are ways of getting yourself moving that involve writing in shorter bits and then rewarding yourself in some way. With every “reward” you get, you are closer to the 1,667-word goal of the day.
Short word targets
There are some apps and online “helps” that are designed to get you bashing those words out. One pretty deadly app in this regard is called Write or Die (and you have to be really dedicated to your writing, because it’s not a free app). The reason I use the word “deadly” is that on certain settings, if you go without typing into the app for more than a few seconds, it actually starts deleting the words you have already written. This you don’t need. Well, not unless you want that to happen. Because you can at least choose your settings on this app, setting a time period (a certain range of minutes) where the app keeps track of your writing progress. On less “deadly” settings, if you go a few seconds without writing, it might make nasty noises or pop up an unpleasant photo, even if it’s not deleting your work. Whether this provides you with incentive to keep going or becomes so irritating that you want to stop writing altogether will probably depend on your temperament.
There is another website called Written? Kitten! that used to pop up a new picture of a kitten every time you made 100 words (or more; there were a few “100s” settings you could choose from). It was later expanded so you could choose puppy photos or other types of photos. This was a fun “reward” for managing to churn out a certain number of words. I used to keep writing just so I could see what the next kitten would be. However, even though the site itself still seems to exist, when I recently tested it, it wasn’t bringing up any photos. I haven’t been there for a while, but I think it’s been this way for quite a while now. That’s a shame (the kittens were adorable), but even so, it might be worth using this site just to aim at 100 words at a time. You will have to copy what you’ve written to paste and save into your own word processor document, though.
You might also consider trying a site called 750 Words. You have to register on the site, but that’s easy. Once you’re there, you can use the site to prompt you to write at least 750 words at a time. Once again, you’ll need to copy and paste what you write into your own document. The site encourages you by giving you points for particular milestones (especially if you write for three days in a row) and offering monthly challenges. And at the beginning of every month, you get new clean slate. Kind of perfect for November, don’t you think?
You can approach a giant task by regarding it as one big, long tunnel whose end is, say, thirty days away—so far, in fact, that you can’t see the light at the end of it. Even a 1,667-word goal can seem like an awfully long tunnel, some days.
But you can make some progress on a grinding day by journeying through several much shorter tunnels, each one of which has a light at the end of it. Can you write a single paragraph, at least? Sure you can. So write that paragraph and then get up and go make a sandwich. The freedom of making the sandwich is the light at the end of this particular tunnel. Munch on the sandwich thoughtfully for a few minutes while gazing out the window at the great view or watching your cat sleep peacefully. Then write another paragraph and reward yourself by getting up and doing something else for another ten minutes or so.
You can even set a timer for ten minutes at a time, if you really want to be disciplined about this. Write for ten minutes (and be sure that you write), and when the timer goes, set it for another ten minutes and, oh, make your bed. Write again, and then hang yesterday’s clothes up in the closet. Write another ten minutes and then clear the dishes from lunch and put them into the sink (maybe even wash them). And there you are—getting your NaNo writing done and tidying your room or your place at the same time! (You don’t have to tidy; you can switch to other types of tasks too, as long as they are things you can also do in small, discrete bits.)
You don’t have to stay stuck even on days when you’re stuck. You can do a great many things to help get yourself unstuck, or even just to keep grinding on through this slow day. There will be more inspired days to come, so take heart and keep writing!
(Photos from Pixabay)