November 2nd, 2015

NaNoWriMo: Don’t Get Stuck

Jami Gold


Thousands of writers have joined the chaos of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with the goal to write 50,000 words during the month of November. NaNo can be a great motivator, as we all cheer each other on and watch our word count increase. I’ve completed two books during NaNo and will be finishing a third this year, so it can help our writing.

But NaNo doesn’t always work well. We might:

  • struggle to find the time to write,
  • not have ideas for what to write, or
  • feel like we’re rushing out a rambling mess of a story.

If this describes you, you’re not alone. We’ve probably all been stymied by these problems at some point, so that means help is out there. *smile* We’re just at the beginning of NaNo, so the time to fix these issues is now—before we’re too far behind to reach our goal.

Can’t Find the Time to Write?

That can be a trick question for some of us. Sometimes we think we don’t have the time or brainpower to write, and really the problem is procrastination. There’s a difference between real obstacles to writing (new babies, new jobs, and new stresses) and obstacles that let us make excuses.

In other words, do we have to solve our external conflict (rearranging our obligations to fit in writing time)? Or do we have solve our internal conflict (fixing our lack of motivation—which the group aspect of NaNo can help with)?

Either way, we won’t know what’s holding us back until we analyze our situation. Once we have a better understanding of what’s keeping us busy, we’ll know what to attack. As writers, we often suffer from self-doubt, and that means we often walk a fine line between setting realistic goals and feeling guilty because we can’t do everything we think we should.

These four tips I discovered the first time I did NaNo might help us either way:

  • Write Every Day: Even if we only get two minutes while we’re waiting in line at the grocery store, some words are better than no words. Think of the Aesop fable The Tortoise and the Hare. That’s how I’ve won NaNo multiple times—I’m the tortoise. *smile*
  • Create Daily Word Count Goals: The nature of the NaNo website, where we report our daily word count, can be hugely motivating. The NaNo website’s “My Month” calendar widget with the colors for whether we hit or missed each day’s word count is awesome. I want green on every day.
  • Know What Motivates Us: By keeping track of our daily word count, we have better insight into what works to motivate us. Is our daily word count higher or do we reach it faster when we want to get in our NaNo words before our favorite TV show? Or maybe our word count is better on the days when we reward ourselves with chocolate.
  • Learn How Far We Can Push Ourselves: By writing every day, we learn which events throw us off our game, and more importantly, which don’t. We learn whether we really need to turn off our internal editor to get the words in. We learn how many words we can get in on a normal day. We learn how much we can squish into a day if we’re not procrastinating.

Don’t worry about winning or what others are doing. I’ve seen friends jump out of the gate on November 1 like the hare in the fable, and sometimes they burn out before the end. We each need to find what works for us and repeat the mantra: “Some words are better than no words.” *smile*

Suffering from Writer’s Block?

It’s not always as simple as just wanting an answer to making it pop into our head. Brainstorming often happens when we’re not at our computer. When our mind wanders, that’s often when our subconscious can mull ideas and let us know what it’s been doing for us in the background. But that’s not the only way to come up with answers.

Here’s a list of ways we can trigger our muse:

  • Brainstorm ideas with family or writing friends
  • Drive aimlessly or take a walk
  • Take a shower (I keep a waterproof notepad in there to capture ideas)
  • Listen to music to get in the mood, inspire ideas, or increase focus
  • Focus on the question while falling asleep (I’ve often woken up with the answer in the morning)
  • Clean, garden, or do laundry (or other “mindless” tasks)
  • Work on other art or “gut feel” projects
  • Bounce ideas off our dog, cat, or other pet
  • Think of how another story handled that plot issue and twist it (maybe into the opposite approach)
  • Change the point-of-view for the scene
  • Ask the characters
  • Do a virtual “dartboard” and pick a random event to throw into the story and shake things up (one writer swore by inserting a dead body)
  • Back up to the last place the story felt “right”
  • Go back to our premise or story seed and remember why we wanted to write this story
  • Use a beat sheet to see if we’re off track
  • Figure out what should happen later in the story and see if that fills in blanks
  • Write a different scene
  • Start writing things we know aren’t right and see if our muse shows up to take over
  • Set a timer for five minutes and write every crazy possibility
  • Do a word sprint to force ourselves into the moment
  • Act out a scene—what would we do next?

“Wasting” Time with a Messy Story?

The fast pace of NaNo sometimes means that we might put words on a page that we know we’ll have to delete later. Maybe we’re going off on a tangent, or maybe our story just isn’t making sense. Let’s take a look at how to make sure our story doesn’t end up a “hot mess.”

Hot Mess: A story with no overall arc; feels like random bits and pieces thrown together; plot events happen for no rhyme or reason; characters don’t grow; story themes undermine the story’s goals, etc. (i.e. a revision nightmare).

Before we get too deep into that mess of a story, let’s see if we can fix our idea with a bit of planning—at least of the kind of planning that will help us the most.

Need Plot Help?

If we’re better at making up characters as we go along, we might want to plan some of the main story turning points.

  • What drags the character into the story and forces them to make a choice to get involved?
  • What raises the stakes and tension during the middle of the story?
  • What’s going to make the character lose hope before the end?
  • What’s going to push the character to change and face the obstacles at the end?

We can plan a lot more, obviously, but that gives us a starting point and an ending point. That Point A and Point B will give us a direction as we write.

Need Character Help?

On the other hand, if we’re better at making up scenes and plot points as we go along, we might want to plan the character arc. That means we have to know the character’s Point A and Point B.

Some people find character arcs harder to “see” because they’re more mental than physical. But in character terms, Point A and Point B means we have to know their destination (what they want) and their beginning (what’s holding them back).

  • What does the character long for and desire? (story ending)
  • What choices are they making that keep them from their dream? (story beginning)
  • What do they learn? (how they change)
  • What are they willing to do at the end that they weren’t willing to do before? (story climax)

Hopefully with those tips, we’ll all be able to make progress in our writing this month. Happy writing!

Are you doing NaNo? How have the first couple of days gone for you? If you’ve struggled, do these tips give you any ideas? Is there something else holding you back that wasn’t covered here?


Jami Picture 200 x 300After triggering the vampire/werewolf feud with an errant typo, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in making her sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Find Jami at her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Goodreads.




IroncladDevotion--200x300NLAbout Ironclad Devotion:

A faerie princess evading her fate…

Earth is no place for a faerie, but Kira can’t go home without dooming her people. Desperate to avoid the pull of her homeland, she fosters an abandoned girl, the child’s joy a source of much-needed energy.

A blacksmith with something to prove…

When Zachary Chase discovers he has a daughter, he’s determined to be part of his child’s life and not repeat his mother’s neglect. But to open the little girl’s heart, he must earn her foster mother’s trust.

One night is never enough…

Despite their rivalry, Kira and Zac’s desires tempt them into one no-consequences night. Yet the more passion flares between them, the more Kira risks destroying the life she’s carved out on Earth—and endangering those she cares about in both worlds.

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21 comments to NaNoWriMo: Don’t Get Stuck

  • Thank you for having me here, ladies! I always enjoy coming by WITS. 🙂

    I’ll confess how my first day of NaNo went so everyone can know I’m serious with these tips:

    My grand total of words yesterday? 190.
    (Nope, that’s not missing a zero. LOL!) But I’m not beating myself up because “some words are better than no words.” 🙂

    I had a lot of other things on my plate yesterday (time issue), but I was getting them done to clear out the rest of the month. I also had some story issues to work out (which involved both what to write and how to make the story hang together), but I’m hopeful those have settled in my brain now.

    So I hope everyone can see that the point is to keep moving forward as best we can. 😀

  • I’m not doing NaNo, Jami, but I can count the days I don’t write in a year without taking my shoes off. But I’m in the ‘hot mess’ section of my WIP – when the characters fade, I lose the plot line, and The End isn’t even a glimmer on the horizon.

    Thanks so much for these tips – they’ve helped me already!

  • I’m not doing NaNo (tried it once and it just wasn’t for me), but I did find this very helpful. I’m a die-hard pantser, better at making up scenes and plot points as I go. Usually it all works itself out in the end, but my current WIP is a hot mess. It’s been giving me fits. lol The character arc questions ended up being very helpful. Thanks. 🙂

  • Good article! But where did you find a waterproof notepad for your shower? I get so many ideas in the shower as do most writers, so I would love to know where to find this magic waterproof notepad? Please .

    • Hi Kathleen,

      I shared the link, but forgot to hit reply to your comment… *sigh* So just in case you wouldn’t see the other comment, here it is: 🙂

      • KathleenBaldwin

        Thanks Jami!

        Cool! Yeah! this is a brilliant invention. And thanks so much for sharing the link. Water relaxes us and lets our brain waves dance across the hemispheres a little easier. Having a pad will be a big help to me and lots of writers. I’ll share your link.

        Like Laura and Joanne I’m an extreme pantser. But I do use scene and sequel to keep me from getting into a “mess.” I can analyse right after I’ve written. Then I’ll know immediately if I’ve gotten myself in a tangle or off the story arc. Scene and sequel keeps me focused on the character’s story arc.
        Loved your post. I’ll go tweet right now.

        • Happy to share! I love my shower pad. 🙂

          And yes! I’m a pantser, but that scene-and-sequel idea is a great way to describe how we make sure that our story is following an action/reaction chain that all makes sense. 🙂

  • Hi Kathleen,

    LOL! Here you go:

    Brilliant idea, right? I think my muse *lives* in the shower. 😀

  • I do a mini-NaNo, which I talked about at More Cowbell in DON’T STOP – Your Story is Waiting:

    I’m probably never going to do 50K in a month…but I can do 30K. 🙂

    • Hi Jenny,

      Exactly! I say to make NaNo work for you. 🙂

      I’ve used NaNo to finish stories I’ve already started (only counting the new words toward NaNo of course), and this year, I’m hoping to finish one story and start another. Yep, I’m officially a NaNo Rebel. LOL!

      But I’ve won NaNo twice, and both times, I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself as hard without the goal-setting aspect of NaNo. So as the point is to motivate us to get words on the page, whatever works for us is a win. 😀

  • christopherlentzauthor

    Great information. I wasn’t in an good place to do NaNo this year because of my WIP. But I’m going to try next year. But I’ll need to set myself up for success. I need some structure from which to run wild! Thanks.

  • […] Jami Gold writes at Writers in the Storm – NaNoWriMo: Don’t Get Stuck […]

  • I’ve passed along your wonderful advice to my fellow Wrimos. I know I’ll have to read this a few times this month. Thanks.

  • […] Don’t miss my guest post at Writers in the Storm with tips for how to avoid getting stuck with our writing—whether due to time, writer’s block, or story issues—especially during this NaNoWriMo […]

  • I’m not participating in NaNo, but these tips WILL help me quite alot with my creative block of my w.i.p. Thanks so much!!

  • […] is a must visit on its own. November , she just guest-posted at Writers In The Storm. The post “NaNoWriMo: Don’t Get Stuck” is a great motivator and a mini-clinic on getting […]

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