What To Do If You Get Stuck During NaNoWriMo

We’re halfway through week two of NaNoWriMo, and this is when things start to get tough. The word count’s mounting, but the initial enthusiasm and excitement is starting to wane as you realise that, actually, this is really pretty damn hard, and it’s kind of exhausting to devote so much of your time to one project. I for one have really struggled over the past few days. I got completely stuck with my story, and spent a few days consistently making very little progress. This means that my word count started to slip behind more and more, and it did begin to feel a little overwhelming.

If this has happened to you too, don’t panic! I’ve tried a number of different things over the past few days to get myself out of this rut, and I’m slowly getting back on track. I’ve not quite caught up with the target word count yet, but there’s still plenty of time for that. Most importantly, I’m feeling enthused about my story again. I know what I want to achieve in it, and I’ve got a clearer idea of what I need to do in order to make this happen. These are the different techniques I’ve tried which have helped me to get over the infamous writer’s block.

  1. You need to hold yourself accountable. It’s really easy to just throw your hands up and say ‘sod it all, there’s no point in carrying on because I don’t know what to do with my story.’ Do not accept that! Your story’s not going to progress until you sit down and work out how to fix whatever plot hole or problem you’re faced with. No one else is going to deal with it if you don’t. Stop putting it off and shirking away from the hard work. If everyone stopped writing as soon as things got difficult, I doubt there’d be a single finished novel in the world. You can fix this, and you will!
  2. Write early. If you can, try and reach your word count as early in the day as possible. That way if you get stuck, you have the rest of the day to be pondering the problem in the back of your mind and coming up with a solution. If you leave it to the last minute and get stuck late at night, you’ll go to bed feeling like you haven’t really achieved anything, and then you’ll still be faced with a dead end the next day. Allow yourself some gentle musing time, and if possible try to end each day with an idea of what you want to write the next day.
  3. Mix things up a bit. Try changing location, or listening to a different kind of music when you write. It’s surprising how much something as easy as moving to a different room can stimulate your thoughts in different ways.
  4. Try writing in smaller chunks. If you’re stuck, lower your goals regarding how much you hope to write that day. Attempting to write 1666 words when you don’t know where to go next can seem hugely overwhelming. Try aiming for 300 instead, and gradually build it up as you start to feel more confident about what to write. Also write for shorter periods of time. There’s nothing more frustrating than staring at a blank page for hours and feeling like you’re not making any progress. I’ve been trying to write for around 45 minutes to an hour at a time, but when I was feeling stuck I used a Pomodoro timer and wrote for 25 minutes instead. It felt like a much more manageable time span to fill.
  5. Write what you can. If you don’t know how to get your character from point A to point B, but you know what happens once they get to point B, then write what happens once they get to point B. Don’t be afraid to write out of order, you can go back and fill in the gaps later. Plus whatever you write at this stage could spark an idea of how to fill in the gap anyway.
  6. Work backwards. Start with a plot point, and then fill in the steps that are needed to make this plot point happen. I’ll use Harry Potter as an example. Harry’s aim is to defeat Lord Voldemort. How does he do this? He needs to destroy the horcruxes. How does he find the horcruxes? He needs to track each of them down in turn. How does he find out about the horcruxes to begin with? Dumbledore guides him to the information. That’s massively over-simplified, but you get the general idea. Working backwards can really make the difference in helping you to work out how everything will fall into place.
  7. Try introducing a new character. This can really change the dynamic of your other characters, and can take your story in a whole new direction. Alternatively, kill one of your characters off. The first draft is the perfect place to experiment with your story. Never be afraid to axe any of your characters (quite literally, if the fancy takes you), even if they’re your main protagonist. After all, it worked for Psycho. This could be a really fun way to keep your reader on their toes. No characters are indispensable!
  8. Try writing a scene of dialogue between your characters. This will help you to get to know them a bit better, and may therefore give you a clearer idea about how this particular character could manage to get themselves into or out of certain situations.
  9. Talk it over. Whether you choose to discuss the problem with someone ‘in real life’ or using the NaNoWriMo forums, it can really help to get a fresh perspective. I would recommend not showing anyone what you’ve written so far, unless you’re feeling really brave. (We’re going for quantity over quality remember!) Give a brief synopsis of your story so far, and explain which aspects you’re stuck with. The solution may be really simple, but if you’re that close to the project it can be so hard to see the wood for the trees. If the person you’ve asked can’t think of a solution either, get them to ask you lots of questions. This is a really great way to trigger new thoughts and ideas, and might just lead you to that magic fix.
  10. If all else fails and you really don’t know how to make any headway, then by all means feel free to walk away from your computer. Take a proper break. Even take a day or two off to think it over if you think that will help. Do something completely unrelated to writing. Take a bath. Relax your mind, and see what floats to the surface when you’re not straining to get at an answer. I heard a talk from Jenny Colgan the other day, and she recommends going for a walk if you’re stuck. She says to walk for half an hour in one direction, and then turn around and go back the way you came. By the time you reach your starting point again, more often than not you’ll have solved the problem.

If you have found yourself getting stuck, experiment with one or two of these and see if they work for you. Feel free to also leave a comment with any tips or tricks that have worked for you in the past. Persevere! It might feel like you’re dragging your heels in the sand for a while, but it’ll all be worth it in the end. Don’t stress too much about word count at this stage. Once you know how to progress with your story, that’s the time to work on keeping up your word count momentum. Good luck!

See also Ten Things I’ve Learnt From NaNoWriMo So Far.


3 thoughts on “What To Do If You Get Stuck During NaNoWriMo

  1. Pingback: NaNoWriMo: The Week Three Ramble | The Steel Review

  2. Pingback: NaNoWriMo: The Week Four Meltdown | The Steel Review

  3. Pingback: Writing Since NaNoWriMo | The Steel Review

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