Fighting through Writer’s Block during NaNoWriMo

Sometimes you run out of steam unexpectedly. You’re cruising along, writing well and everything’s fine, and then bam! The ideas stop flowing. It’s like someone turned off a faucet. You’re stuck.

This is the most sinister form of writer’s block. Being stuck without an idea is bad. But being stuck when you know what you want to do next but you don’t know how can be worse. The frustration is doubled, and frustration is the enemy creativity.

I had this exact problem start on Friday night. I had a very productive week of writing Roses Are White. I’d made it through Chapter 22, and the plot was accelerating nicely towards the big climax.

I spend my weekends plotting the chapters I’m going to write during the week. That way, there is nothing to slow me down or trip me up (from a creative perspective), which is critical during NaNoWriMo, where I have zero margin for error. So I sat down Friday night, wrote, “Chapter 23” in my notebook, and . . . couldn’t think of a damned thing.

Now here’s the catch. I knew what I wanted to happen. May’s brother Gavric is becoming radicalized, and his terrorist friends want access to his sister’s apartment. They have plans for the Captain of the Elite Guard. So they convince Gavric to steal her keys, so they can make a copy of her apartment key and be able to sneak in.

Chapter 23 is supposed to be about Gavric pulling off the theft. So I sat down to plot it all out and discovered I had no idea how he was going to do it. His relationship with May is fraying. How would he get close enough to her to do it?  She’s the head of the chief security force in the country. How would a young elf with little training steal keys from someone like her without her noticing? Even if he could do it, how would she not notice they were missing the next time she tried to leave the apartment?

I thought and I thought and I thought. And not one freaking idea would come to me. I spent most of the weekend trying to puzzle this out, and, given that this was the first of the five chapters I’m supposed to write this week, that put me behind on getting everything mapped out.

In the end, I took the advice I always give in this situation — just write. I sat down yesterday and just started writing Chapter 23. I decided Gavric would visit her at the apartment and look for an opportunity to steal the keys. With that in mind, I started typing.

A thousand words into the chapter, he’d pulled off the first part of the plan. But he also had to get them back without her noticing. He needed to stall while his friend made the copy. I glossed over the conversation he had with May while he was buying time. It wasn’t relevant to the story, and my creativity wasn’t too very sharp. I figured this would be one of the shorter chapters, coming in at between 1500 and 1700 words.

But I let the flow take me. I let May and Gavric tell me what to do. And when I was done, I had a 2733-word chapter that accomplished the plot device of getting a key to May’s apartment into the hands of the bad guys while revealing a lot about Gavric. The chapter is from his perspective, and through it we really come to understand who he is — what he thinks of his sister and why he is doing what he is doing. He’s a three-dimensional, complicated person as a result of the chapter wherein I couldn’t figure out how to get him to steal his sister’s keys.

If you’re stuck in your current project, I encourage you to just keep writing, especially if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo. You just don’t have the time to ponder what to do for very long. To stay on pace and hit your goal, you have to keep writing.

It sounds strange and counter-intuitive, but if you don’t know what to write, writing is the way to figure it out. Getting into a flow solves the problems.

Hopefully, you haven’t hit any snags on your NaNoWriMo project. If you have, leave a comment below and tell us how you battled out of it.

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