This one is for the hardcore novel writers who are doubting themselves, the ones who committed last month to writing 50,000 words in 30 days, but then… uh, something happened.
Photo on TrendHype
As a person who has completed this challenge 10 years in a row (including this year), I have some important information: It is totally normal, even among National Novel Writing Month “winners” (finishers), to spend some part of the month in a word deficit that feels like a black hole you’ll never climb out of.
But there’s hope. I’d venture that if you have 10,000 words or less left to go, you can bust them out today, even though we’re now in December (more on that in a moment). If you’re down to 5000, that’s gravy. Your individual writing speed may vary, but if you can get the conditions just right, words will pour out of you.
Here are some things to try.
Pretend You’re Overseas
You may think that because we’re now in December that’s it – the month is over. But since the world is round (it really is, I promise) it’s still November somewhere. That’s why I advise you to change your time zone on the NaNoWriMo website so that you can still log a win today.
While it’s December 1 in Australia, it is still November 30 in the US. You buy yourself a few extra hours with this trick, which I am convinced is not cheating, it’s just virtual travel. If you’re unsure what location to pick, Pago Pago, Samoa is 22 hours behind Sydney time.
Get Suddenly Sick
I’m not saying you should lie to your boss or to the friends who are expecting you at some party or funeral or whatever. But if you were to get sick, your boss or friends would totally understand that you have to stay home.
Plan an Evening of Word Sprints
OK, now you have time to write, but you need some reason to stay at your desk, some engine pushing you on to actually finish this thousand words and the next thousand words. I use two things to superpower my noveling:
- The @NaNoWordSprints twitter account, which is staffed 24/7 by encouraging writers who announce word sprints: Writing as much as you can in 15 minutes, for example. Because Twitter is social, this also gives you a place to celebrate and/or complain as you complete each sprint.
- Write or Die, a writing tool that does bad things if you stop typing. Set it to kamikaze mode and it will erase what you’ve written as soon as your fingers are idle for a few seconds. It’s like the bus in Speed, but for writing.
Let’s get right to the sprints and start with a 10 minute sprint at :00.
Optional prompt: Final showdown.
— NaNoWordSprints (@NaNoWordSprints) November 30, 2017
Look, you’re supposed to write 50,000 words that are part of this work of fiction, but nobody says it has to be polished prose. Especially if you’re stuck on a plot point or a bit of world building, just freewrite. That’s a technical writerly term for writing down whatever you’re thinking. If you think about your novel, it looks something like this:
OK I don’t know what to do from here but Matilda has to get onto the train somehow even though she’s lost her ticket. Maybe she sneaks on. Maybe she finds a squirrel that has been stealing tickets and hiding them in a hole with acorns underneath the platform. Maybe that weird guy from Chapter 1 comes back and offers to buy her a ticket and she’s like ew but I don’t want to sit next to you and so then I can spend the whole chapter trying to get her away from him once she’s on the train. Yeah that sounds good. I’m hungry. I wonder if there are any cookies downstairs.
That was over 100 words and it took mere seconds to write. I don’t even know who Matilda is. You can fill thousands this way, especially if you’re trying to feel out your character’s backstory or some aspect of the fantasy world your characters live in. When you get to a plot point you’d like to write, feel free to switch back to “real” writing mode.
Find a Predictable Story Arc
One thing that makes writing hard is not knowing what you’re going to write next. So find something you do know how to write. Maybe you can send a character to the doctor. That means they have to make an appointment, drive over, find parking, sign in, have an awkward conversation in the waiting room, and so on. You can spice it up however you want: They discover the doctor is really the villain they were trying to track down in the previous chapter. Whatever. Make sure to have them run errands afterwards and pick up their prescription.
Do Something Unpredictable
Or maybe your problem is that your plot is already planned out and you are just too bored to write the next thing. So mix it up! For the next scene you have planned out, ask yourself: What is the least predictable thing that could happen here? Maybe your character was going to get in a bar fight with the tough guy that’s making trouble, but the tough guy has to leave early for his job in the morning and your character decides to follow him to see where he works. Or maybe as they’re squaring up to fight, there’s an earthquake that demolishes the bar.
Even Cheaper Tricks
Look, you do what you have to.
- Give your characters lengthier names. Search and replace. For example, Ann can become “Anna Elizabeth, who thinks she is a princess” for literally every mention of her name.
- If you just spent an hour on Facebook instead of writing, gather up all your comments and statuses and put them in your novel. It’s your character that’s wasting time on Facebook, not you. Anna Elizabeth, who thinks she is a princess, would like to spend a whole chapter telling the reader her political opinions.
- Have a two-headed character (or, fine, two separate characters) who get into arguments about everything.
- Write a lot of appendices. Have your characters on a spaceship? Write the ship’s technical manual. Murder mystery? Make an appendix that’s a timeline of how things actually happened and in what order. Western? List the names of all the horses in the town and what colour they are.
- Do you know how to knit? Have one character teach another how to knit. Don’t spare any detail.
- Don’t delete anything, ever. Have a scene that doesn’t quite work? Well, you wrote it, so it counts. Select it and hit Format > Text > Strikethrough (or whatever does that job in the software you’re using) and keep counting those words.
- Your character’s favourite recipes and song lyrics deserve space in the book, don’t you think?
You can do this. I believe in you.