by Eldred “Bob” Bird
November is here and we all know what that means. It's NaNoWriMo time. As we're jogging past the one-week mark, I'm sure that some of you are starting to notice a blackhole forming in your brain. The dreaded mid-November slump is on the horizon.
This is the time when our brains go on tilt, and we start to lose the drive we had on day one. Even if you’re not participating in the annual writing marathon, it’s something every writer will eventually face. So, how do we chase away the darkness and get back into the light? Here are a few of my favorite tips to get you back into the race.
Sometimes the creative pipeline between our brain and the keyboard stops working. When the well runs dry, I often find that freewriting is a good way to prime the pump and restore the flow. Then again, sometimes the problem is too many ideas. Freewriting can help to clear the blockage in that case as well.
Grab your favorite writing device, be it manual or electronic, and dump your brain. Put down every word, sentence, or random thought that pops into your head. Don’t worry about making complete sentences or fixing spelling mistakes. Just let your fingers fly and see where it takes you.
If something keys an idea, follow it and see where it goes. When you start throwing stuff at the wall fast and furiously, something is bound to stick.
There’s no hard and fast rule that says if you’re setting word count goals all the words must be in one single manuscript. At the end of the day all the words count. If you’re bogged down or losing interest in a project, drop it and move on to something else until inspiration hits again.
I never have less than three or four stories in the works at any one time. When I hit a creative wall in one, I shift gears and switch to another project for a while. The change of focus gives me the opportunity to talk to a different cast of characters and get my mind out of a rut.
Sometimes I feel the need to get away from fiction entirely. Doing something totally different can be very refreshing for your brain. That’s usually when I do my research and write my blog entries for WITS. I know the “No” in NaNoWriMo stands for novel, but the lessons I learn while blogging eventually end up improving my novel writing. That makes the words novel-adjacent, so I think it counts!
If you’re like me, trying to force things just doesn’t work. The harder I try, the deeper my brain sinks into darkness. I can physically feel the walls closing in. When this happens, it’s time for a little self-care. I’ve found the best thing I can do is hit save, get up, and walk away.
Getting out of your usual writing space and breathing some different air can be one of the best things to do for your mental health. Whether it’s taking a short walk, driving around the block, or doing a little shopping, the change of scenery gives your brain a break.
Writing in a different location can also be a good way to re-energize your creativity. I’ve written in libraries, parks, doctor’s office waiting rooms, and bars. You encounter a lot of different characters when you write in public spaces. You never know who or what might inspire you.
While being a writer is generally a solitary endeavor, having writer friends you can talk to is priceless. They understand what you’re going through better than anyone else can. I can’t stress enough how important it is to build a network of like-minded people you can lean on in hard times.
I belong to a pretty tight knit group of writers. We’ve been meeting on a video group call every week for years. We bounce ideas off each other, talk through sticky plot points, and offer general support to get through the rough times in life. This group also gives us a place to celebrate the victories, big and small, as well.
One thing we have going for us is that technology allows us to connect without being in the same physical location. If you can’t find a local group to lean on, try social media. There are many supportive writing communities out there on a multitude of platforms. Look around, try a few out, and find one where you fit in.
Let’s face it, sometimes we all bite off more than we can chew. It’s human nature. We set lofty goals for ourselves only to find we lack the tools, time, or skills to achieve them. When we fall short, we often end up questioning why we ever thought we could succeed in the first place.
If you find yourself in this situation don’t beat yourself up. You haven’t failed, you’ve gained experience. You now know how not to do what you were attempting. My father always told us you only fail when you stop trying.
Take a step back and examine your process to figure out where things might have gone wrong. Was your word goal too ambitious for the writing time you’ve allotted? Did you miss something in your preplanning? Is there a specific skill you need to acquire to move forward effectively?
When you think you’ve identified the problem, come up with a new plan and try again. If you still come up short, repeat the process. Keep pecking away at your roadblocks like this and eventually you will succeed.
One thing to keep in mind is that NaNoWriMo is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes a lot of training for an athlete to work up to the mileage needed to finish the race. They learn to pace themselves and pay attention to what their bodies are telling them. Many don’t succeed on their first try, but that doesn’t stop them from trying again.
Writing a novel in a month requires a similar approach. It takes time to get your brain in shape and develop the mental skills and stamina to get across that finish line. Give yourself the time and training you need, and you’ll eventually win the race.
Are you attempting NaNoWriMo this year? What tips and tricks have you found work to get you over the hill and across the finish line? Let your fellow writers know in the comments.
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Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing Karma, Catching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking Room, Treble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.
When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking, and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives).
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