NaNoWriMo is a more than halfway to the finish line. Once again, I’m not participating, because I know my writing pace and schedule, and I’m just not set up for it. Also, I’m on vacation this week. Woooo!
But if you are participating in NaNoWriMo, you’re probably encountering, or have encountered, or have bogged down in the “messy middle” part of writing a novel. Many novelists go through this at every stage in their careers. It seems to be a natural part of the novel-writing process: you get to a point where you’ve got a bunch of characters, a bunch of plot lines, a bunch of things happening, and you’re not entirely sure how it’s all going to come together for a slam-bang ending. No matter how carefully you outlined, you seem to be missing one or two crucial pieces of the puzzle, and at some point, you stall out. Hit a wall. You’ve got tens of thousands of words, and it all seems to be falling apart in front of you. Many people who start writing novels might quit at this point, thinking their once-brilliant idea is, in fact, junk.
Do not despair. Do not quit. These feelings are all normal. Here are a few things I do to get out of the slump, past the wall, and get excited about writing again.
- Step away from the computer. If you normally sit at a desktop computer, take a pen and paper and move to the sofa. If you normally write in a coffee shop, go somewhere else. Change scenery, change mode of writing. This will physically get you out of the rut, and your brain will probably follow.
- Brainstorm. Open a new file, grab that pen and paper again, and make a list of everything that can possibly happen next. Think of your characters in whatever situation they’re in, and think of every possible thing that could happen. Go wild. Maybe they all drop whatever they’re doing and go home. Maybe aliens abduct them. Maybe a man walks through the door with a gun. Be outrageous. You’re not going to use most of these options anyway, but once again, this will jolt your brain into new ways of thinking. You’ll have to reassess where your characters are, why they’re there, and what they want to do next. At least a couple of options should get you excited and give you new ideas on how to move forward.
- Go backwards. Sometimes if you’re stalled out, it’s because you’ve made a mistake earlier. I know on NaNoWriMo you’re not supposed to go back and revise, but sometimes you need to go back and figure out if you took a wrong turn. Maybe a character stayed home when she was supposed to go out and be reckless, or vice versa. Maybe these two characters met too late, or too early. If you find a problem, you don’t have to fix it right this minute — leave yourself a note in the manuscript marking where you took the wrong turn and what should really happen next. But then you can move forward, on the right path again.
- Talk it out. Find a willing partner, maybe another NaNoWriMo buddy, and talk out the problem. Explaining where you are in the story and where you want to go, and articulating the problem out loud can give you new insight on what’s really going on and how to move the story forward.
- Skip scenes. It is absolutely, totally okay to skip scenes. This happens to me all the time: I may not know what happens next, but I definitely know what happens two or three scenes down the line. So I’ll skip to what I do know about the story rather than dwelling on what I don’t. This works up to and including writing the end before you’ve written the middle. I do that a lot. If you know where you’re going, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to get there. If you know A and C, B looks a little clearer. Or, you may discover you didn’t need that middle scene at all, that the story works just great without it. For some writers (like me), this can be a very efficient way of writing! One way or another, you’ll get your word count in.
- All of the above. You might need a combination of these techniques to get you back on track. That’s okay.
Good luck, you NaNoWriMo jockeys out there. I hope this helps you make it to the finish line.