Five Sure-Fire Ways to Beat the NaNoWriMo Blues

Only 1667 words

Participant-2014-Web-BannerYou’ve outlined — plus created character sketches, researched settings and historical context, and honed the details of your magic system.

Your freezer is filled with prepared foods — buying you more time at the page, time in which to pen (or type) those words every day, come what may.

You’re determined — just 1667 words a day and by November 30, you’ll have a NOVEL, 50,000 words strong.

Your plans are beautiful…except for one, small problem.

It’s now day 3 (or 5, or 17 — insert your day # here), and your plans aren’t going quite as anticipated.

Perhaps you’ve been at your computer for an hour already today. Maybe more. You’ve cranked out a measly, what — 500? 200? 150? — words. You’re never going to meet your day’s word count goal at this rate!

Worse, as panic sets in, that pathetic trickle of words threatens to dry up completely. Your stress is mounting, and stress is not a friend of flow.

Before you sink into despair — before you give up this crazy affair known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated) — take heart, take a deep breath, and take a look at the tips that follow.

You might have forgotten to prepare your most important #NaNoWriMo asset: your mindset.

Prepare Your NaNoWriMo Mindset

It’s easy to overlook this most important tool for  NaNoWriMo success: a winning mindset. Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell you to give yourself a Rah-Rah, Go Team! pep talk. I’m not even going to tell you to think positive and banish those pessimistic “I can’t” thoughts from your vocabulary.

I WILL tell you to check out your mindset: do you have any of the following unwanted assumptions tagging along?

These assumptions are common and easy to make. They’re easy to miss, if you aren’t looking for them. And, unchecked, they can seriously damage your ability to benefit from (and yes, meet your word count goals during) NaNoWriMo.

Are any of them directing your writing this November? If so, it’s time to kick ’em to the curb. You’ve got writing to do!

Assumption #1. I need to get the language perfect!

The pursuit of perfection — whether you’re trying to attain perfect language, perfect flow, perfect description, or something else — never fails to sabotage first draft writing efforts.

Truth is, you probably know about this stumbling block. You probably tell yourself not to strive for perfection yet, because you’re only writing a draft, and it’s okay for there to be mistakes or for the wording to be a little rough. You tell yourself these things. But do you listen? Or do you find yourself backtracking during the writing process, looking over previous paragraphs and letting your brain start pointing out flaws and edits that you need to make?

Watch out for that drive to be perfect! At best, it will slow down your NaNoWriMo writing productivity; at worst, it will slam your writing to a screeching halt.

Assumption #2. I need to write the story in order.

Most of us don’t necessarily feel the driving need to write a story in the same order in which events unfold but, until someone points out that there are other possibilities, most of us don’t consider that there are alternatives. I’m here to tell you that if you’re stuck on a scene, it’s perfectly okay to jump to a scene that occurs later in the story.

In fact, jumping to another scene often leads a writer to focus on writing the pivotal and climactic scenes first. Those are often the scenes that are clearest in the imagination. Writing them is often easier, even fun!

On top of that, writing any scene tends to reveal information about things like your plot, story world, and character motivations. The process of writing those compelling, “easier” scenes first often leaves you with a writing to-do list to inspire your next writing session.

Assumption #3. I have to finish this scene/chapter/whatever before moving on.

This is a variation on assumption #2. There can be many reasons for stalled writing. Read through the following list and — this is important — choose your best answer quickly, without taking in a lot of time to “logic” your way through them:

  1. Your brain is tired; you could probably take a break and come back to writing and it would go fine.
  2. The scene is a good idea; you’re just having a hard time finding your way through it.
  3. You don’t know enough (about the character’s motivation, the setting, etc.) to write the scene; you need to do more research.
  4. You have a feeling that this scene is going in the wrong direction, which is making it hard to write.
  5. The scene isn’t inspiring you and you’re not sure it ever will; deep down, you feel like there’s something irreparably wrong with it.

Sometimes, when you feel stuck, you just need to power through it. (My DH calls this the “beating your head against the wall” approach.)

However, that stuck feeling may be sending you information about some obstacle to writing flow. Identify the obstacle and you’ll solve your problem far more quickly than if you just try harder.

Assumption #4. I have to stick to my outline.

This one’s only relevant if you’re an outliner, not a seat-of-the-pants writer. It’s also an assumption I can speak to personally, since I tend to outline my stories in detail…and then resist getting off the outline’s planned track with all my might.

But if your muse is calling you to turn left when the outline says go right, then by all means check out that left-hand turn! You can always return to your outline if you don’t like where it takes you. Meanwhile, following your gut instinct (or intuition, or muse, or whatever you want to call it) is the best way to make unexpected creative connections.

Similarly, if following your outline makes you feel like you’re slogging through hip-deep mud, that can be a sign that you’re not heading in the right direction. Try asking “what if…?” questions.

  • What if your character cooperated with his abductor instead of fighting?
  • What if your antagonist felt unexpected sympathy for her victim?
  • What if that important message didn’t reach its destination?

What if your carefully planned story goes in the complete opposite direction of what you planned? You might be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Assumption #5. I shouldn’t write this scene, because I’m not sure it has a place in my final manuscript.

Don’t be afraid to write scenes, character descriptions, settings, and dialogues that probably won’t appear in the final story. Even if these are “only” backstory, if you feel drawn to write something — write it. In the long run, these writing side trips will help you create a richer story with greater depth.

Besides, you never know what will make its way into your final manuscript! Those scenes may end up appearing as memories, flashbacks, or daydreams that build character and provide additional story layers.

If you’re writing a story from a single point of view, you may be making this assumption unconsciously. Be open to the possibility of testing out key scenes with a different point-of-view narrator. Sometimes a different narrator can give your reader different insights into a story’s events. This technique can also be used to add narrative tension, provide critical backstory, or withhold information from your reader.

This isn’t a post on writing craft; if it were, I wouldn’t advise you to randomly change narrators during your story. However, during the first draft stage — which is what you’re writing during NaNoWriMo — experimenting with different narrative voices can be a powerful technique to help move your story forward.

Join the discussion: What hidden assumptions can sabotage YOUR first draft writing attempts?

P.S. For those of you working on NaNoWriMo this year, friend me! Username Cherylreif

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  1. says

    Another great tip if the words are flowing. 100 words at a time, just 16 times a day and you’ve got it.

  2. says

    Another great tip if the words are not flowing. 100 words at a time, just 16 times a day and you’ve got it.

    • says

      Hi Wanda, I like that! Take one small bite to make a *little* bit of progress, but do it regularly to make a *LOT* of progress. It makes perfect sense, but it’s not necessarily something that people (read: me!) connect until we stop to think about it. Thanks for the addition. In fact, I’m going to try it right now, before getting back to my normal work of the day :)

  3. says

    Fantastic Tips! Really enjoyed this post Cheryl, thank you. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year but for my WIP, very useful stuff. :) Assumption 3 resonated especially. Really like your gentle approach to writing. It’s so easy to be hard on ourselves or be so intimately connected with our work that if it’s stuck, we can feel stuck too. Also like writing the scenes out of sync, whatever scene is coming up is written. Thanks for writing it!

    • says

      Hi Jo, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! That assumption resonates with me, too…but then, that’s why I come up with them. They’re all things I’ve found hold back my own writing! I’ve found I’m more productive when I become my best cheerleader instead of my harshest critic!

      Happy writing :)