Sunday, November 20, 2011

Overcoming NaNoWriMo Obstacles

Guest post by Emily Matthews

You've had a novel brewing inside you for years, but every time you sat down to write you felt the weight of the world -- or, to be more accurate, the weight of your big, fat, inner critic -- on your shoulders. Then you discovered National Novel Writing Month and you were inspired. 10,000 words went by like nothing at all. But inspiration is flagging, and that inner critic has set up residence on your frontal lobe.

Even if reaching the 50,000 word finish line has lost its appeal, don't give up. This isn’t your masters degree thesis you’re writing. This is supposed to be a fun challenge. The first thing to keep in mind is that nearly everyone who participates experiences the exact same deflation at one point or another. Check their website's forums and you'll see you are not alone.

Purdue University Online Writing Lab offers tips for overcoming anxiety when you sit down to write. Deep breathing, physical exercise, comforting rituals, and stream-of-consciousness "free-writing" may help loosen you up and keep the fun of the competition alive.

The beauty of the contest, however, is that your novel doesn't have to be brilliant or even readable, despite what your inner critic keeps growling at you. If you've written a certain number of words and find yourself not caring about the story you've begun, start a new chapter with a completely different cast of characters, a new setting, and a plot that has nothing to do with the one you started writing. Surprise yourself.

Put your inner critic to work for you. If he won't shut up, simply transcribe the things he's muttering at you as you hear them: "You're stupid. This is never going to work. You're not a novelist." Writing these negative thoughts out may help you look at them more objectively, see their absurdity, and move beyond them.

Describe your inner critic. Make him -- or her, depending on what you imagine -- a villain in your novel. Come up with a spectacularly violent scene in which your Inner Critic dies a horrible death. Or, if your sensibilities are more delicate, write a scene in which your inner critic sees the light and has a change of heart like Ebenezer Scrooge.

In the mad rush to churn out words, you may forget how inspiring the words of other people can be. Read great novels that remind you why you wanted to become a writer. Read bad novels and savor the feeling of smug superiority.

If none of these techniques get you back into the spirit of the contest, get out of the house and participate in a local NaNoWriMo event. Talk to other people about your struggles and listen to them describe their own. Writing is an isolating endeavor, and too much isolation leads to madness.

Keep in mind that the goal is not literary genius, nor a Pulitzer Prize, nor even publication. All you have to do is type 50,000 words. Visualize that word count on your computer monitor. Plan a celebration for December 1st. Decide that failure isn't an option.


  1. It's true that the NaNoWriMo is all over the forums with support. I could never do NaNo on my own.

  2. I wish I could jump into the Nano fray...never done it :)

  3. @Jenny, I'm not sure I could do it w/ support. The idea of deadlines makes my mind shut down.

    @Damyanti, I've never done it either.

  4. A number of the bloggers I follow do it, and made the mark. I can't do it, because November's very busy from an academics perspective.