This is a guest post by Rochelle Melander
I woke up this morning with the words to Bon Jovi’s song, “Living on a Prayer” floating through my mind: “We’re halfway there / Living on a prayer.” Chronologically, November is more than half over, but I have barely a prayer of surviving the month. The energy I brought into November has dwindled. Last weekend, I led a writing seminar for several other NaNoWriMo participants—and we all felt the same way about our NaNoWriMo projects: bah, humbug! We didn’t have writer’s block exactly, but the long list of juicy ideas and delicious plot twists had been used. We were facing a big stack of blank paper and had no words to write.
It happens to all of us. We get to the middle of writing a book or to a sticky part in the plot, and we do not know what to write next. Sometimes writer’s block strikes because we are tired. At other times, writer’s block hits because something in our book is not working. Whatever the cause, writer’s block happens. During National Novel Writing Month, we cannot afford to wait for the right solution. We need to go with the good enough fix and get the words on the paper. Here are ten “good enough” tools to make your writing feel fresh.
1. Write out of order
Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, wrote all of his novels on 3 x 5 index cards. Each day as he began his writing period, he would shuffle the cards until he found a scene that had energy for him and started writing from there. When the scenes were done, he rearranged the cards until he discovered the novel’s order. How many NaNoWriMo projects are abandoned half way through because we are slaves to writing in order? Skip the boring or difficult parts and write the scene you have the most energy for right now.
2. Rewrite a scene
Before you freak out, notice that I did not say revise. I do not want you to go over an old scene and revise what you have written. I want you to take a scene you’ve written and write it a second time in a new way. Try a different point of view, add new conflicting elements, or change the setting. Sometimes the best way to move forward is to rewrite the past!
3. Add a ritual and stir
Nothing brings out the conflict between families and friends—real or imagined—like a wedding, funeral, or even a baptism or birth. When author Susan Woodring did National Novel Writing Month, she gave her characters “long, sad funerals” to weep over. If your characters are boring you to tears, give them a ritual and enjoy watching them fight over the color of the dresses, the reception meal, or the religious affiliation of the officiant.
4. Try a new genre
At 25,000 words or so into your NaNoWriMo project, you may be wondering why you decided to write a romance, mystery, or literary fiction novel. As my trainer says, “Let’s change things up a bit.” Instead of plodding through the rest of the month trying to make it work while all you want to do is kill off all the characters and eat chocolate, try another genre. If you are writing mystery, write the next scene as over-the-top romance, slapstick comedy, or a screenplay. Who knows, maybe dabbling in another genre will give you fresh eyes for the one you started with!
5. Writing Exercises, anyone?
As a nearly full-time professional writer, I don’t have time to devote to writing practice. Everything I write has to be billable, or my family does not eat. For most professional writers, National Novel Writing Month gives us the exciting opportunity to play with our writing. We know we won’t be able to submit our NaNoWriMo novel without tons of revision, and we accept that.
Because of that, this is the perfect time to pull out that book of writing exercises you bought but never read—and do them. Only this time, do the exercises using your cast of NaNo characters.
6. Your Characters Know Best
Many writers like playing god and in doing so take their characters for granted. I tend to stick so closely to my plot that my characters must feel (I’m projecting here) like I have them working in straitjackets. It’s not a bad idea to sit back and ask the characters what they would do if they didn’t have an author pushing them around. Go ahead—ask. Then let the characters do what they want for a few scenes. You won’t lose too much control, and the characters might take the book in an exciting new direction.
7. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Many great stories have been built around dinner events or parties, like in the movie The Last Supper, where a group of liberal, educated friends invite a series of conservative guests to dinner and murder them after the meal. Let your characters throw a dinner party and then make sure it does not go well. Write in a surprise guest, allow the guests or hosts to get wildly drunk, or make the meal a disaster—and reap the rewards with several conflict-laden scenes!
8. Work out your own issues
All writers have unresolved issues from their past—the end of a significant relationship, an argument with a boss or colleague, or a fight that stung long after the last words were spoken. Give the unresolved situation and all of its emotional content to your characters, and let them work it out for you. If you don’t like how it turns out, don’t worry—it’s fiction!
9. Ask for ideas
Despite the fact that most writers are idea hounds, tracking down even the scent of an idea, National Novel Writing Month often diminishes our store of ideas. Share the basic storyline of your novel with your friends and ask “What would you like to see happen next?” Because your friends don’t know the whole story, they can often come up with fresh ideas. Use some, discard others—and enjoy playing with fresh material!
10. Step away from the computer
Author Wayne Dyer has said that using a pen instead of a keyboard allows our ideas to flow right from our heart to the paper. I don’t know if that’s true, but for those of you who write only on a keyboard, changing to pen and paper or even changing your environment can be enough of a shift to help you move your writing forward.
Last week I spoke with a friend who was also doing NaNo. We moaned about being behind on our word count and questioned our sanity. “Wait a minute,” I said, “Wasn’t this supposed to be fun?” Maybe the key to getting over writer’s block and finishing NaNoWriMo is learning to play with the words again. Stop worrying. Instead, play with the characters, dialogue, and plot. Before long, you will have reached your goal and won!
About this author: Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com or www.writeathon.com