Friday, October 18, 2013

Writer's Block and Reaching 50K

When NaNo rolls around there are a lot of people generally asking one of two things: 1) How do I deal with writer's block and 2) how do I reach 50K/how do I know if my novel is going to be 50K?

There is no right or wrong answer for either. The boon and bane about being individuals is what works for me might not work for you. Regardless, in the spirit of NaNo and all that is writing I decided to organize some tips and tricks for writer's block and reaching 50K. Cuz I'm nice like that. I'm actually procrastinating on finishing my WIP because I'm about to kill off a main but that has to do with "writer's block" so hey, it works.

Writer's Block

Writer's block is defined as "a condition in which an author loses the ability to produce." There are plenty of causes, one for everyone who writes and it would take more than this blog to explain them all. The main ones are as follows.

Lack of inspiration: This is probably one of the most common forms of writer's block. You just can't think of what to write, how to write it, or why your characters are doing the things they're doing. Solution: Move around. Take a walk, change your writing spot, change your writing position, vent to a friend or even a stuffed animal. Sometimes a change of pace can clear your head and let your muse back in.

Distraction: One more YouTube video. Oh, NaNo forums. One more episode. Been there, done that. The internet is the most distracting thing for anyone, never mind a writer who may or may not be procrastinating on finishing their novel. Solution: Get rid of the distraction. I'm not saying cut off the internet completely, just use something to block it for a while. This right here is what's stopping me from finishing my WIP and moving onto planning things for NaNo.

Pressure: This can be anything. You just broke up with your significant other, you lost your job, someone close to you has died, or you're being forced to write in a way you're not used to. Solution: Time. I know, it sucks, but sometimes you just have to wait it out. It takes time to get over death, rejection, and other things and sometimes you have to concentrate on "fixing" that problem before you can move on. Take the time and effort to make yourself happy again before trying to write. On the opposite spectrum you can try to use this time in your life to simply write about what's making you feel so horrible. Perhaps once your thoughts are on the page you might feel unblocked.

Intimidation: This can go one of two ways. 1) You've written something so great that you don't think you can write something else as great. 2) You've been a victim of the cruel reviewer. Solution: For one: well, there isn't one writer out there who's ever written their "last novel" because everything else after will suck. No novel truly sucks and what might make your best work great will shine through in any novel you write. You can only get better, not worse. For two: Sometimes that bad review can do you some good. No really. It can point out any mistakes you may have made and then you can fix them. Feel free to feel bad, but take a look at the review objectively afterwards. Is that person right in what they're saying? If so don't be depressed about it. Fix it. You'll become a better writer by reading those bad reviews with a clear and unemotional head.

Reaching 50K

There's actually a whole forum dedicated to this on NaNo. What you're going to see below are the things I do to not only reach 50K, but go above and beyond, not only in Nov. but for every month for about a year.

1) Wrist Position: This is a biggie. If your hands and wrists aren't aligned properly for typing (or simple hand-writing) then you're going to be in a world of hurt, especially if this is your first time writing anything of length. Keep your wrists flat with your keyboard and give yourself a break every now and again to rotate, flex and rest them. Last NaNo I was starting to think I couldn't participate because in Oct, my wrists began hurting something fierce. I got a wireless keyboard which put my arms, fingers and wrists into proper position and now I can write again. You'll have a longer writing career if you take care of your hands.

2) The Idea Shuffle: How do you go about picking one? Easy. Put them all in a hat (I put them face down on a dart board) and pick one. I can almost guarantee that the idea you pick won't be the one you write. Why? Because once you're "forced" to pick one, the one you really want to work on will kick you in the face. Why is this important? You won't hit the 50K on an idea you're not excited about.

3) Character Love: Just like you won't reach 50K on an idea you don't like, you won't reach 50K with a cast you hate. If you don't have one redeemable character, one that you like (even if he's evil) then your best plots will go bad. If you find yourself hating them all change them or tweak them a bit until you do like them. Yes, in the middle of the story if you must. People do change you know. ;)

4) Thoughts, description, etc: So there was this thread about Chuck Palahniuk saying to eliminate all thought from your novel. Basically he said to stop using "Andy knew Carol liked him" and instead show how Carol liked Andy. It came down to the basic of "show, don't tell." It's fine and dandy, really, but NOT ALL THE TIME. Yes it can help pad your word count but when I tried to read Haunted I couldn't make it through the first chapter because of the insane amount of "showing" and description. And yes, even Guts (as much as I like it) is somewhat over described. You have to have a balance between showing and telling. And for gosh sakes if a character likes another character they will not "roll their eyes, shove off on one foot, and walk away." That means they're mad. That's the other reason for not "over showing": some people react different than others in situations and some people's life experiences make them read body language differently.

5) The Muse: Never and I mean NEVER ignore your muse and by extension your characters. If they want to go somewhere that you don't have planned, just go with it and follow. If you force them you'll start suffering from writer's block. Trust me. I've tried and it doesn't end well.

6) Stick to your style: No matter what anyone says about how they get to 50K (including me) stick with what YOU know works for you. Don't go switching up things because that is a sure-fire way to NOT get your 50K

7) Participate in forums/discussions: when you can. The community is great if you're stuck on where to go, how to get there and if everything is just a mass of frustration you have to let out or implode. There's a forum for every kind of writing problem and there is always a willing writer or dozen who will help. So don't be afraid to take a few minutes and ask a question or rant where applicable.

8) Will it be 50K? No one really knows if the novel they're planning will be 50K or not. There is no way to be 100% sure. For example: Chosen Ones of the Forbidden Object, my NaNo12 project was supposed to be 200K. It's 152K and had to be stretched. I thought Changed, the WIP I'm stalling on (I've got a case of the distractions), was going to be 100K. It just hit 60K and I've only got about 4K to go. Seer was supposed to be about 70K. It's 92K. Heck, the Cara Series was supposed to be one book and morphed into four. Again, just go with it. If you find yourself under don't worry because it's easier to add a subplot or a bit more description then to take stuff out.

9) Social life: The thing that enables me to write as much as I do is that I don't have a social life. No really. I have two really good friends who both work weekends and nights when I'm free. We get together twice a month, sometimes more, but communicate by texting. I'm also a bit anti-social and a hermit so that helps. I'm not saying cut everyone out but you may have to reduce some time with friends/family/etc if you want the 50K. It depends on your typing speed and motivation.

10) Motivation: Even if you feel like crap you have to write. Forcing something onto the page can sometimes break the writer's block and if you're sick it can make you feel better. But, DO know when to give up. If you're almost in tears because you just can't find the right word then stop. Take a break. Take a walk, vent or whatever, then try again after you've cleared your head. Just don't let the head clearing take too long.

11) Write every day: this is a given but if you make a habit of it in November, why stop? Keep going through the year and by next Nov you'll have increased your typing speed, smoothed out your style, figured out how you write effectively and the 50K will be a breeze.

Final words: No matter what happens during NaNo (or during any writing project), remember: YOU HAVE NOT FAILED. Even if you only manage 5K, it's 5K more than what you had going into this thing.

Until next time: comments, questions, rants, rage and out-right insults can be directed to the comments.


  1. All of this is great advice! I had to laugh when I read the part about the idea shuffle. That is so true! I can't tell you how many times I've assigned choices different numbers and used a generator to pick. Then I would keep picking until it gave me the answer I wanted. Why didn't I just pick that one, then?

    I'm definitely more of a hermit, too. The only people I hang out with (besides my boyfriend) are fellow overachievers, so at least they understand. :D

    1. Thanks for the comment. And I instantly pictured your avatar on the NaNo forums in my mind when I saw your name...ha.

      Anyway, I think being a bit of a hermit comes with the whole writing thing, you know? It's one of those stereotypes that in most cases is true.

      The idea shuffle is the one thing that took me a while to learn. I kept bouncing between ideas but would secretly want to work on an old one but the new one was shiny and yeah. The dart board works well for me. I think some people think I'm nuts when I mention it though...haha.