How to Get Unstuck During NaNoWriMo by Emily Potter

November 19, 2018 3 min read

The halfway point of NaNoWriMo has come and gone and, if the writing gods happen to be smiling upon you, you are sailing into the home stretch with plenty still left in your head to pour out onto paper.

But the writing gods are especially busy in November and there is always a chance that you’ll become stuck. Stuck with just ten days to go – or less. If this happens but you’ve already surpassed the 50K mark, you’re probably not too worried.

It might have been nice to continue that streak, but you can afford to spend a day or two sitting back and deciding what happens next. On the other hand, if that 50K marker is still a beacon in the distance and you think you’ve run out of words, you might find an uneasy surge of panic beginning to form.

Although it seems logical to assume that hitting a block would be more of a problem for Pantsers (those who willingly approach the blank page with no set plan), Plotters face their own share of potential trouble here.

When Plotters sit down – usually in October – to organize their Nano ideas, most don’t know ahead of time how many words will wind up in each section. Admittedly, some writers do go the extra mile and plan out a word count for each section, but they exist in a separate reality from those of us who are likely to run into blocks in the first place.

ForPantsers, the risk of losing the story’s path runs higher. I say this as a self-professed Pantser, who has had more than one story wander off the path and then spent many hours either trying to coax it back or figuring out how to wrangle the new direction.

If you’re a Pantser too, perhaps this has already happened to you along your Nano journey once. If you’re still uncertain about the fork in the road you took a few thousand words ago, another twist is not going to be a welcome surprise.

Pantser or Plotter, what can be done to find those words and drive your project over the 50K line?

If you’ve had success in overcoming blocks in the past, try those methods first. Just because this is Nano, doesn’t mean that your previous solutions won’t work. Nano sounds daunting, but it’s really just another story with a deadline. Sometimes remembering this can help to keep it in perspective.

But what if you don’t have a system for breaking through blocks? In this scenario, you’ll have to take the time to find out what works best for you. There is no shortage of suggestions on how to get unstuck, as thirty seconds on Google will prove.

The ideas fall into two camps, and you may need to try both before you know what works best for you.

Recommendation #1: Immerse yourself in something completely unrelated.

  • Paint your bedroom
  • Walk your dog
  • Go to the gym
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle
  • Play with your kids or your pets

The idea here is to take your mind off your Nano project and to keep your conscious occupied while your subconscious wrangles with the problem.

Keep your smartphone handy or stash a couple of index cards in your pocket, in case a Eureka moment happens, but otherwise ignore the project completely for a few hours and see what happens when you’re not driving yourself crazy with it.

Recommendation #2 (the opposite approach): Attack the project from another angle.

  • Sketch your characters or a scene
  • Paint models that could be related to the setting or characters
  • Work on detailed character sheets
  • Write vignettes that won’t appear in the story (or maybe they will. Either way, you can always add these to your word count!)

With these activities, you seek to gain a deeper understanding of your story and those within it, which just might show you where your project wants to go.

“Wait! This is NanoWriMo! I can’t spare a day doing something other than writing!” This is a reasonable protest. But if the choice is to spend one day not writing the project or to spend the next week and a half staring at a blinking cursor, it will be worth the sacrifice.

Have you ever run into trouble finishing your Nano project as either a Pantser or a Plotter (or maybe a bit of both?) What tricks have worked well for you in the past? Let us know in the comments. And happy writing!


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