By Rochelle Melander, aka The Write Now! Coach
When we moved into our first house, it was late December and well below freezing. Our movers rushed to unpack the truck so they could get to their next job. Then the box spring got stuck halfway up the stairs. The men didn’t have time to waste on figuring out a fancy solution. One said, “I have a saw. We can cut it in half.” The other said, “They sell them that way—we’ll haul this away, and you can buy a new one.”
With time and patience, you can solve almost any problem—whether it’s a stuck box spring or a plot gone awry. But what if you have a bad case of writer’s block and it’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? If you want to reach your word count goals, you need a quick fix. Here are three ways to get unstuck:
1. Play with possibilities.
I usually run out of plot long before I reach 50,000 words. It’s a NaNoWriMo tradition—and a lot like spending Thanksgiving Day with my relatives. Long before the pie is served, I’ve already used up my stash of polite conversation topics and worry the next thing I say might be the wrong thing.
As a novelist, running out of plot doesn’t mean you’ve run out of ideas; you may just be afraid that you don’t have the right ideas. Take a deep breath and remember: You can fix anything—later. Let go of what seems “correct” and play with possibilities. As Neil Gaiman said, “You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if…?”
Try this: Set a timer for fifteen minutes and repeatedly answer the questions What if? or What happens next? Use your NaNo document so that your ideas add to your word count. Don’t limit yourself to reality: Everything is fair game. Maybe adding a vampire love interest to the novel will make it more fun!
2. Change point of view.
Marlon James wrote the first hundred pages of his novel about the attempted murder of Bob Marley—and got stuck. He started over, this time from a different point of view. After multiple failed attempts, he confessed to a friend that he had no idea whose story this was. His friend asked, “Why do you think it’s one person’s story?” Boom! That comment led James to tell the story from myriad perspectives, and his book A Brief History of Seven Killings won the 2015 Man Booker prize.
Try this: Get into the head of any character who will talk to you. Listen to the antagonist. The best friend. Even the barista. Let them fight evil, cause trouble, or explain how to brew coffee. Who knows…you might just create an award-winning novel.
3. Fill in the gaps.
Nancy Joyce began writing fan fiction to fill in the gaps of her favorite television shows, like Veronica Mars. She wrote the stories that happened off screen, taking the characters on summer adventures and exploring romantic relationships. When the series ended, fan fiction made it possible for Joyce to keep Veronica and her gang alive and sleuthing.
Try this: Take a look at your novel and ask: Have I missed any of the juicy parts? Is there backstory I need to tell? Avoid any temptation to revise. Just fill in the details you’ve ignored—description, narration, or missing scenes. It’s a great way to add words and explore the missing pieces of your story.
Bonus tip! Do more of what you do well. I rock dialogue. When I get stuck, I let my characters have a heart-to-heart conversation. What do you write effortlessly? Write more of it!
There you have it—no matter how stuck you are, you don’t have to abandon your novel and start a new one. You can use these tools to carry that NaNo book right across the finish line.
And in case you were wondering, we didn’t abandon our box spring or cut it in half. With our help, the movers hoisted it up onto a second-floor balcony, where we could easily carry it through the door.
Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She’s the author of ten books, including the National Novel Writing Month guide—Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It). Rochelle teaches writers how to overcome obstacles, increase productivity, navigate the publishing world, and use social media to reach their readers. For more tips, visit her online on Twitter, Facebook, or her website.