Congratulations, NaNoWriMo participants! You’re halfway to your deadline!
But what if you’re a little behind on your goals? What if it’s even worse — you’re a little behind and starting to dread writing? What if you feel — gasp! — blocked?
Most projects reach a point when the writing, or the writer, seems to go a bit stale.
1. Party On, Dude!
Writing is essentially a solo art. Even if you are working with someone, at some point it comes down to a person composing the words. This can be especially difficult if you are under the pressure of a deadline and spending all of your spare time alone at your keyboard. Take yourself off to a NaNoWriMo Write-in or writer’s group where you can at least be tapping away in the company of others and at some point socialize when you all take a break.
Don’t have a Write-in scheduled in your area? Organize one! Post a notice on your NaNoWriMo Regional Board with a date, time, & location, or ask if anyone else would like to meet up and work out the details from there. If your not a NaNoWriMo Participant, post some notices at your local library, coffee shop, or other bulletin boards, or use social networking board like Meet-Up or Twitter to spread the word. It only takes one other person for a meet-up. I do recommend that you set up some ground rules starting with a requirement that there’s at least 1-hour of silent writing time before socializing. That way you get some real work done — and have something to talk about!
And don’t forget that there’s no reason you can’t keep meeting as a writing support group after NaNoWriMo ends. There’s always the excuse of a Holiday “Party.”
2. Run Away from Home
If it’s hard to arrange a social gathering, at least change your scenery. Go somewhere different to work — the library, a coffee house (remember J.K. Rowling and The Elephant House?), a cafe (Think of Paris in the 20’s) or even just moving from your office to the back porch. A new perspective will give you a fresh perspective.
The first two years I did NaNoWriMo I’d make Sundays “Catch-Up Day” and hie myself off to a favorite coffeehouse for at least 3-4 hours of intense effort, trying to make up for lost word count from a hectic week. Sometimes, when I was really far behind, I spend the morning in one coffee house and then move to another and continue to work in the afternoon. Other times I bustle down to the library early to tuck myself into my favorite nook with a garden view. I once discovered that the three other people working there were also doing NaNoWriMo!
The point is to get a change in atmosphere and view. Research shows that a change in the environment often stimulates creative thought. It definitely stimulates new neuron pathways in the brain and often produces boosts in endorphins and dopamine.
But remember your headphones or ear buds so you don’t get too distracted!
3. Give Yourself a Carrot — and a Stick
Behavioral research has shown that the carrot (a reward) works better for some while a stick (a punishment) works better for others, but the combination seems to work best. So think of a reasonable reward for getting a reasonable and doable writing goal done, like 15-minutes or 200 words, and then a reasonable punishment, such as no sweets for the day, for failing to meet the goal.
Now if you really want to boost the impact, go public! Tell a reliable friend (the one who will remind you of your pledges if you start to cheat), family, or even post it on your social media. By going public with our goals, and the consequences for success or failure, we greatly increase our commitment to them. It’s one of the reasons why Write-ins work — public peer pressure.
Keep the goals, as well as the rewards and punishments, reasonable and attainable. The purpose is to get those fingers on the keyboard, not negative reinforcement for persistent failure to reach outlandish goals. I once promised to watch a certain truly reprehensible “reality” show with a friend if I missed my personal Write-in time. (I loathe “reality” shows!) After one episode I never missed my Write-ins again!
4. Write Whatever the Heck You Want
Sometimes the problem is that we don’t want to write what we’re supposed to be writing. Possibly the scene isn’t working for us or the dialog sounds flat. Forget about it! Write whatever you want — in or about the project, no wasting the writing time tweeting about Benedict Cumberbatch or Jennifer Lawrence, no messaging or checking Facebook.
But if you want to write a dirty limerick about your protagonist instead of that fight scene, go for it! If you really want to write the backstory about the uncle but feel you shouldn’t because someone told you backstory slows down the narrative action, go ahead and write the backstory. It won’t be wasted time. You’ll have a better understanding of the character and who knows, you may be able to work it all in to the novel in revision. Maybe you want to write a series of texts or tweets between two of your characters about a third character? That is perfectly fine!
Take off whatever invisible handcuffs you’ve put on yourself about your project and forget about what you believe you should be writing and write whatever you want in any style or manner you want for at least 15-minutes.
Bonus Tip: Exercise!
Well yes, some physical exercise is good for stimulating the brain, boosting the spirits, and pumping up our confidence, so if you’ve been sitting too long in the same place, I do recommend getting up and doing something physical — not throwing your laptop in frustration or anything, but positively physical like stretching, walking, cycling, dancing. Dancing freely and with abandon is one of the fastest ways to light up all the joy buttons in the brain, by the way, so don’t hesitate to crank up the volume and tempo and let loose.
But the other thing to try is a quick writing exercise.
A quick writing exercise, especially when you can’t think what to write, can prime the mental pump. I’ve posted a few quick ones from previous Hugo House Write-o-Ramas here and here and here. Another one I haven’t posted yet based on the Donald Bathelme ‘s story “Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning.”
Spend 15-30 minutes writing brief in which other people tell something they remember or think about your character, or the character tells us something he, she or it thinks. For example, if the subject is the character Sherlock Holmes, you might write:
Mrs. Hudson: “You never know what you might find in his rooms. I once swept a hand — a severed hand! — out from under a chair. Scared me half out of my wits, I don’t mind saying. Of course, it was scientific research but still, it ain’t easy. It did keep Mrs. O’Reilly’s second oldest boy from being hanged in the end. The research, not the sweeping. So I guess its all right, really. Still.”
John Wright, navvy: He’s the toff who bested Jim Sykes inna fight. Ain’t no one ever done that before. Beat Syke’s hand to a bloody pulp with ‘is own stick until it cracked. Funny bloke. He carried off the stick and the dog what Syke’s ‘ad beaten near death just before the fight. Smart though. Wrapped in both in Syke’s coat so’s not to get any blood on ‘is own. Don’t know why he wanted the stick and the dog, though. They’d both be useless after that.