By Elizabeth Dykes
It strikes sometime between the second and third week of November. Sometimes the symptoms appear as early as the first week. Your initial enthusiasm has worn off, and you’re probably wondering why you ever thought NaNoWriMo was a good idea in the first place.
“Your store of inspiration is about as empty as your coffee cup. Any decent plot ideas seem to have gathered somewhere in a forgotten, dusty corner of the proverbial basement.”
Your characters are as uncooperative as your villain’s minion back in chapter four. Your outline (if you have one) looks like it’s gone through a paper shredder. The cursor in your word processor blinks steadily, mocking you.
You are about to break the silence with a frustrated scream when your phone rings. It is your writerly friend from Kingdom Pen, sharing exciting news about their own story and asking about your progress. You shake your head and sigh, lips forming the dreaded words, “I haven’t written today. I have writer’s block.”
Fortunately for you, your characters, and anyone else in close proximity to you during the month of November, writer’s block is a mostly curable disease.
Figure out where you’re going
Have you ever tried to navigate a strange city without a map? (Or GPS, or smartphone…whatever level of technology you like.) Rather difficult, isn’t it? You spend at least twice as long looking as it should take to get there; you go down one road, backtrack a little, go down another road, make an unexpected U turn (hopefully without hitting any cats or pedestrians), and finally end up asking for directions or buying a map. An outline is to your story as a map is to your journey; it can greatly reduce the time and frustration it takes to get to your destination.
Perhaps you’ve made an outline. Perhaps you were unlike many of us and were extremely prepared for NaNo. And perhaps your outline no longer applies; maybe you decided it was more logical for the hero to lose the fight with the villain’s henchmen than to win it.
Well, do what heroes (or writers, in this case) must: patch up your outline as best you with the proverbial roll of duct tape and change your course, if you must. Figure out your destination, even if the path you take may vary from the one originally planned.
Sometimes you run into the opposite dilemma. You know precisely what needs to happen to get your characters from scene A to scene B, but something in your imagination seems to have broken and you just can’t seem to get there. It’s boring. Predictable. It’s perfect in theory, but something tells you it isn’t enough. You don’t know where to turn or what to do next.
Most writers would probably agree that this is a common problem during NaNoWriMo and elsewhere. Look away from the blinking cursor a moment, sit back for a moment and think what the worst possible thing that could happen to your characters. Once you have figured that out, type vigorously away, because (alas for the poor characters) this is one of the best ways to peak your own interest and get your story back on the rails again.
Of course, if the worst thing that could possibly happen is causing your story’s sun to explode, which leaves your characters frozen in comical but tragic ice cubes, then I’d advise against it, unless, of course, it makes sense in the story.
Sometimes the worst thing that could happen to your characters isn’t the villain conquering the world or the love interest dying or the sun exploding. It could be something like your characters losing a map, or suddenly running out of cans of beans, or getting lost in an uncomfortably hostile part of the country. Disasters in stories always have repercussions: take advantage of this. It can work wonders, both for your story and your wordcount.
Just do it
Ultimately, none of the hundreds of NaNoWriMo articles floating around the internet are going to actually write your novel. None of the Pinterest boards will craft worlds, nor do the pages of character development come to life and type their own stories. You’re going to have to write your novel yourself. Log off the innumerable social media sites. Push past your doubts. Brew a pot of coffee. Open the document even though every part of you is screaming against it. Write.
Granted, it’s not going to be easy. Writing is one of the hardest things on earth. And for much of November…well, allow me to paraphrase a bit of writing advice. The clump of words you’re going to churn out this November may feel like they’re the literary equivalent of dirt. That may very well be the case. But flowers can’t grow without dirt. Somewhere in the 50,000 word mess is a seed that has potential to grow into something beautiful.
Elizabeth Dykes lives among the hills and ridges of East Tennessee. As a homeschooled student for most of her life, she had plenty of time to read as a child. These stories sparked her imagination, and her daydreams eventually leaked onto paper as attempts at stories. She now dabbles in multiple genres, but primarily focuses on fantasy. She hopes to someday turn these attempts into published novels. When she isn’t studying or spending time with her family, she enjoys blogging, crafting, and photography.