NaNoWriMo: 8 tips for if you’re stuck or overwhelmed

 In All About Writing, Tips for Writers

We’re in awe of the many people who manage to maintain the discipline of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – while the year is rushing to its end.

Good luck to those of you who are already halfway through the challenge of writing 50 000 words in the month of November. It’s a tremendous feat.

But we know some of you are flagging, and you wonder if you’ll get to the finish tape. We’ve compiled 8 handy tips for you if you’re stuck or overwhelmed. We hope they help you push through.


It’s a problem that most of us encounter from time to time. Here are a few suggested strategies for overcoming writer’s block:


Think, the night before, about what you have to write the next day (preferably while doing something else, like running or walking), and then write down just two sentences. The next day, type those two sentences into your computer – and then you’ve begun.


Trollope deliberately stopped writing precisely at the end of two hours, always in the middle of a sentence – so that he could pick up where he left off the next morning, complete the sentence and be writing again before he had a chance to wonder what it was he should be writing. He had the advantage, though, of writing extremely long sentences.


If you really feel stuck, stare at the screen and force one word out after another. It’ll feel terribly contrived and fake – but after a while, the next word will pop out spontaneously – and you’ll be on your way. Otherwise, it’s a little too easy to say: the inspiration hasn’t come – I think I’ll go and watch the cricket or count the tiles on the kitchen wall.


Try writing notes about what you want to write about, rather than force yourself to write what you want to write about. You don’t intend to keep these notes, they’re just badly written scribblings to yourself. But after a while, you’ll find that the notes about what you want to write about become precisely what you want to write – and you’re away. Then go back and erase all the notes, and keep the bits that start sounding like the real thing.


Try a little freewriting when your writing muscles feel a little stiff. This means you start writing without worrying about subject-matter, or how to spell manoeuvre. Your unconscious mind simple covers a page or two and before you know it, ideas are flowing.


If all else fails, consider whether you haven’t allowed your characters to carry you off into a cul de sac. To make sure that doesn’t happen,settle on your story’s ultimate destination before you begin and keep half an eye on it while you’re writing. But if you are stuck in the cul de sac, go back to where you did feel comfortable, and strike out again.

Feeling overwhelmed?


E.L. Doctorow has the best answer to this problem. He says, writing a book is like driving at night in the fog to a distant destination. You can only see as far as the headlights. But if you continue diligently, you’ll arrive at your destination, even if it takes 30 days.


The thought of writing 50 000 words in 30 days is, naturally, daunting. But the thought of writing the next scene is entirely conceivable. And the next scene is all that you need concern yourself with.


Best of luck! We’re rooting for you to finish your novel this November – or at least, have a lot of fun trying.

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