Finding Your NaNoWriMo Muse: Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has begun, and with it comes the fear of the quintessential writer’s dilemma: the dreaded writer’s block.
Writing 50,000 words in a single month is sure to throw up some blocks along the way. You might find yourself stuck on a story point, unable to muddle through a character’s motivation, or be unsure about how to get from one scene to the next. It happens to every writer, but it doesn’t have to put a stop to your writing goals.
What is writer’s block?
Before diving into the strategies for overcoming writer’s block, it’s important to understand what it is.
Writer’s block is a common phenomenon where a writer finds themselves temporarily unable to produce new work or experiences a significant creative slowdown. This could be due to various factors like stress, self-doubt, lack of inspiration, or even exhaustion.
A lot of authors will claim that writer’s block doesn’t exist, but personally, I think that’s a bit reductionist. Writer’s block isn’t permanent, and it’s not something you can diagnose, but the psychological effects of it are very real. No matter your reasons for becoming creatively blocked, the effect is the same. At times during your creative process, you’ll find it difficult to produce new work.
It’s a frustrating situation. Despite wanting and trying to write, the words just don’t seem to flow. Some writers describe it as their mind going blank, while others view it as a wall obstructing their creative thought process.
Despite its challenges, it’s something all writers experience at some point, but overcoming it often leads to renewed motivation and fresh ideas.
Strategies for overcoming writer’s block
While there is lots of general advice out there for overcoming writer’s block, during NaNoWriMo, that advice won’t always hold true.
NaNoWriMo requires you to work on one project for the month, so it’s not as simple as picking up a writing prompt and writing 500 random words to get your creative juices flowing. When you have to write at least 1,667 words a day, every moment of time is precious, and you have to spend as much of it as you can in service of your manuscript.
These strategies are not just about overcoming writer’s block, but will hopefully help you find the catalyst that drives your story forward.
If you’re stuck at a particular plot point or having trouble with a character, take some time to delve deeper into who your characters are. Write a diary entry from their perspective or develop their backstory.
The point of NaNoWriMo is words on the page. It’s not overthinking what you’re writing, as you’ll be able to edit and polish it when you get to the next draft. Writing words to understand your characters better can often help unblock your writing, even if you edit out all the extra detail when it comes to your second draft.
You’ll have a much easier time of writing if you know your characters inside out.
Try writing a scene from a different character’s point of view, using a different narrative voice, or in a different tense (past instead of present, or vice versa). Even if you don’t keep the changes, this can spark new insights and get your creative juices flowing again.
In my current projects (that’s right, I’m writing alongside you all this NaNoWriMo!), I’m writing my chapters alternating first-person narrative voice and third-person omniscient. I’m not sure which I’ll keep yet, and I know I’ll have to do a lot of rewrites for my second draft, but the alternative points of view are really helping me see story elements from different perspectives.
Work on the easiest part
You absolutely do not have to write your novel in chronological order. If you’re stuck on a tricky section, go ahead and work on the easiest or most enjoyable part of your project.
A lot of blocks come from scenes that you’re just not in the mood to write. Feel in the mood to write the romance scene? Go ahead and do that! Want to write a detailed analysis of the chemical structures of genetically modified plants? Do that too!
Once you’ve regained your momentum, you can then return to the more challenging sections. Bridging chapters especially can even become easier to write if you’ve got the big plot points written out in advance.
Break it into manageable chunks
For big projects like a novel, you might be feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of what you’re trying to do. If that’s the case, try breaking your project down into smaller, manageable chunks.
Rather than thinking, “I have to write a novel,” aim for smaller goals, like a chapter or a particular scene. Set little mini-goals while you work, and reward yourself when you achieve them. 50,000 words is a lot. 1,667 words a day feels more manageable. Three bursts of 550 words every day is even more manageable!
A technique that works for me is writing a really rough scene outline of about 550 words. Basically, my novel will usually start at novella length, because I don’t go into too much descriptive detail (unless I feel like it). The first few days of NaNoWriMo are three chapter outlines a day (morning, lunch, and evening bursts of 550 words or so), which gives me a start that I can expand from.
This technique won’t work for everyone, but it’s important to find what does work for you. The trick is to make sure that every writing session feels manageable. If you sit down to write feeling overwhelmed at the scale of what you have to achieve, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
I know this is a cardinal sin during NaNoWriMo, but sometimes, if something just really isn’t working for you, you have to be willing to take a risk.
If you’re really, truly unhappy with a scene, try rewriting it in a completely different style or from a different perspective. For instance, turn a dialogue-heavy scene into pure narration, change the setting of a heavy romance scene from indoors to outdoors, or even try something as simple as changing the weather. You might discover a fresh approach that helps spark some ideas.
But…and I can’t stress this enough…do not delete your original. Just because the original wasn’t working, and the new scene gives you good ideas, doesn’t mean there was nothing you can take from your original piece of writing. Having both to compare while editing will result in the best revisions, and often what you’ll settle on is a hybrid between the two.
The most important piece of advice to get through NaNoWriMo free from writer’s block is the most simple. You need to think of ways to keep yourself motivated.
So how can you do that?
Set realistic goals
While NaNoWriMo is dedicated to a goal of 50,000 words, and it’s a fantastic thing to work toward, for some, that goal simply isn’t achievable. And setting unachievable goals can lead to frustration.
I definitely recommend trying for the 50,000-word mark, but my biggest piece of advice is to set yourself a secondary goal that will represent success to you. No one knows your time availability and schedule better than you. So, by all means, work to 50k, but make sure that you have a secondary metric that will give you a sense of accomplishment.
Completed a chapter? Reward yourself. Hit your daily word count goal? Pats on the back all around!
If you don’t reward yourself, you won’t be motivated to keep going. A reward could be anything from your favourite drink, reading a chapter of your favourite book, or going for a walk with your dog.
Whatever you want to reward yourself with, just make sure you do it. This will keep you motivated to reach your next goal.
Nothing will kill your vibe faster than sitting down to write with a negative attitude. It’s common to face setbacks during writing. But keeping a positive attitude to your work is crucial to keep making progress.
It’s only day three of NaNo, and already I’ve found myself guilty of it. The idea I loved yesterday feels silly and trite today. The characters I was invested in when I started, now seem clichéd and boring. But that’s just a state of mind, and I have to remind myself that giving in to those negative thoughts is going to halt my progress.
Over the course of any writing project, you’ll have a fraught relationship with what you’re writing. You’ll love and hate it in equal measure. Just make sure you keep a positive attitude, with the belief that everything will come together in the end, and you’ll find it easier to stay motivated.
Overcoming writer’s block during NaNoWriMo can be daunting, but with the right strategies and a positive mindset, it’s entirely possible. Remember, every writer is unique and different strategies work for different people. Try the tips mentioned above and find out what works best for you. After all, NaNoWriMo is about expressing your creativity and enjoying the process of writing. Good luck and happy writing!