NaNoWriMo · Writing

What to do When You Get Stuck During NaNoWriMo

Tuesday was a pretty dismal day for writing. I only managed 700-something words, which was atrocious compared to the previous two days. I ran into the problem because I a) left off in an uneventful moment rather than an action infused one, b) did not do much world building before beginning this project, and c) still needed to figure out an important conflict between the main character and his brother.

Those 700-something words came at a struggle. We’re talking a several painstaking hours to get them instead of the 45 minutes it usually takes.

While it is always frustrating, it is even more so during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) or when you have any sort of deadline.

So what do you do?

Faced with that experience you might be tempted to panic and bang your head against the wall, your desk, and your computer before throwing said computer across the room and swear never to write again.

Like this guy. He looks like he's had better days.
Like this guy. He looks like he’s had better days. (From Pixabay)

However, that would be sad because you would never finish your story.

I suppose since the experience is fresh in my mind, I can explain what I did on the offhand chance it helps you get those plot wheels back in motion. So here we go!

Option 1: Write Out Your Thoughts and Options, AKA Brainstorm in Writing

Try to work out your problem with words so that you can still count them and still be making headway in your novel. I summed up what had happened so far without going back to read.

I knew it was time to problem solve, so I started typing to myself in the middle of my document, though I’ve used other documents too for this purpose in the past.

You’re probably thinking, “But what do you write when you’re stuck though? If I had something to write down, I would have by now!”

Well, you write to yourself. I ended up writing down everything I was thinking. No, no, not the “Oh my goodness this novel is terrible! Why did I sign up for this? Why did I start this project?”

No, no! None of that belongs there. Those words must not be said nor written. They are an evil beast waiting to sink its teeth into you until you begin believing those words. After that, there is little hope left as a writer. You might as well find another career or find a support group to help you overcome that. Then you should probably get vaccinated in case it had rabies or worse – left you with self-doubt that presents itself as flashbacks to those horrible words forever ingrained in your mind.

So no. Don’t write anything negative. Instead, we’re problem solving, so anything relating to the problem is allowed.

For me, it started like this:

Ok so, we have a story of a shapeshifter. His name is Kaleb. Caleb? I like the K but I don’t know. He meets a human with witch powers named Anne (Annali?). She wants to find her family because she’s been separated after other humans tried to kill them all in fear for their lives because one of her own started to kill humans for their souls.

I know. That’s pretty cringeworthy, but it’s what I came up with when I was writing to myself. Did I ever tell you I can be extremely wordy? Oh wait, you probably figured that out by reading my blog. I suppose that’s why I can get to 50k so easily.

Anywho, moving on…

I continued talking to myself via writing (and totally counting the words mind you!) until I got tired. I had a few possible directions to head towards, so I decided to sleep on it. At that point, there really is not point in staying up and beating your head against the desk anymore. Sometimes, the mind really just needs a break.

I woke up the next day (after thinking all night about it too. It was literally my last thought) and jotted down more ideas. I did a little research too since my main dilemma was that I hadn’t done any research or world building in the beginning.

This novel idea was a very late one, so I had no idea what to expect from it. It was the one I was most excited about writing though, so I went with it rather than the one I did more planning for.

I ended up writing down some hand written notes because sometimes it helps me connect better since it is a bit more tangible.

That’s one strategy, but what if it doesn’t work?

Option 2: Start a new scene with a conflict

The next best thing is to just start a new scene with some sort of conflict. It doesn’t matter what the conflict is. Just let your characters deal with it. See how they react. Even if it is a scene that is later deleted, you will gain some insight into how your characters operate.

There are all sorts of conflicts. Think about fights you’ve had with others. What started it? Look at the news. What sort of things have led to conflict between individuals? Countries? Communities?

It can be something as tiny as your main character never gave back their best friend’s shirt and now it’s missing or ruined or the antagonist peed on it. Okay, so that might be a little strange. Unless your antagonist is a dog.

Option 3: Do Some Mundane, Physical Task

Take a walk. Take a shower. Do the laundry. Vacuum. What other chore have you been procrastinating on in order to write? Take fifteen minutes and do them now. Remember, it is best if it is physical and it doesn’t involve using your brainpower. TV watching or any other screen involved activity is a no go for this one.

While you’re on autopilot, your brain can start wandering. It might just discover an idea.

And because you’re doing something physical, you’ll be getting some much needed exercise away from your computer.

Back to My Story

After brainstorming through writing (option 1), I found some mundane, physical tasks to accomplish (option 2) like walking around, playing with my cat, taking a shower, and playing fetch with the dog.

I eventually introduced a new character by coming up with my main character’s family members and their stories, which also provided some conflict (option 2). All of that ended up bringing me to a new scene with conflict (option 2), which helped me gain another 3,000 or so words.

In the end, it worked for me. There is still a lot of research I need to do. I gave myself some time to satisfy my curiosity and inner editor enough to understand how some genetics work out in my world, and then I made myself write.

Sometimes in the end, telling yourself to write anything that comes to mind is the only thing we can do. Creativity will never come when you call it. You have to go out in search of it.

If you’re stuck, give these strategies a try. If they don’t work, try reaching out in the NaNoWriMo forums, on Twitter, or here in the comments. Someone is bound to have a solution for you.

And stay tuned for Monday where I give a few more strategies to add to your word count without killing your plot, which is especially important when week 2 starts.

Your Turn

What do you do when your stuck on a project? It doesn’t even have to be a writing project. If you’re working on a writing project, how is it going?

Can’t comment here? Feel free to continue the conversation onTwitter or Facebook with me!

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2 thoughts on “What to do When You Get Stuck During NaNoWriMo

  1. Well, I had a very good streak for the first 2 days and on the 3rd day I was stuck, I partly blame my work schedule that got me extremely tired by the end of the day, but even then on the 3rd day I found myself getting completely over-whelmed. I had the same devilish thoughts in my head “you cant do this, this is not for you, you will never complete it….blah blah blah…” I contemplated giving up…yes on the 3rd day!!
    Since I didn’t want to push myself and strip myself of the joy of writing, I took a break that evening and did not write even a word. I know NaNo means write every day, but I am following the Reverse NaNo option customized to fit my lifestyle and schedule (you know being a single and full time job!!), so I discussed with some blogging buddies, came up with an editorial for the remaining days in Nov.
    I gave myself 3 break days until end of Nov – that really helps me relax – so I am not over-whelmed. I did that on the 3rd day/night. When I settled that, I almost immediately stopped feeling over-whelmed and last night I was able to write another 3-4k words.

    1. I guess day 3 was rough for everyone. Taking days off is necessary sometimes. I never actually write every day during NaNoWriMo either.

      I’m glad you found a schedule that works for you. You’re doing great!

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