Writer’s Block, Blunders, and NaNoWriMo

by | Nov 13, 2019 | The Writer's Life, On writing | 8 comments

November means NaNoWriMo!

It’s November, which means a lot of writers are doing NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month (which for me is only half a novel). I participate every year in an unofficial capacity, usually because I’m on a deadline, and I am looking for any way possible to boost my word output. 

As usual this time of year, the days go by faster than I could possibly hope. Before I know it, my deadline that was 3 months away is suddenly upon me. I tell myself that this time, I will do things differently. I will stay off Facebook and Twitter. I won’t check email before I’ve made my word count. I’ll ignore the headlines. I will write.
And it works for a day or two.
But then I’m back to the same old, same old. 
I can stare at that computer day after day and get very little done. Writer’s Block? Or is it something else? I refuse to believe in Writer’s Block. I think that if Nancy Drew were to investigate, she’d also refuse to believe. She’d find a very practical reason for this lack of progress.
Freedom App on computer

So what is the reason for this frittering away of valuable writing time (besides the obvious social media visits)? I’d hazard a guess that there’s something wrong in the story. Whether it’s plot, or character, or both, I don’t know. What I do know is that I cannot possibly write further (or farther) until I discover exactly what that something might be. Unfortunately, until then, I’ll often do anything else but write. 

I’d like to say I know what the absolute answer is but I don’t. No doubt, doing a proper synopsis might be key. I tend to write organically (some call this a “pantser,” a writer term for writing by the seat of your pants). I’m not sure organic works. Perhaps if I spent that month plotting a good synopsis, I might be able to avoid the wasted days of trying to figure out what is wrong or where I’m going. 
I know I need to stay off Facebook and Twitter. (Note: I will be scarce until after the New Year due to above-mentioned fast-approaching deadline.) Thankfully, there’s an app for that. The Freedom app installs right on your computer and helps to manage those particular time-sucks. (You can schedule time to block social media. I paid for the forever version. Totally worth it.) But it’s not the only game in town. There’s a new app that writer Holly West turned me on to. Focus Keeper. (Available on both Apple, here, and Google, here.) This nifty little app installs on your phone. It’s like a metronome that ticks away in 25 minute blocks with a 5-minute break between the four blocks. It works. As long as you turn it on. 
Focus Keeper App on iPhone

Apps aside, there’s still that matter of figuring out why the story isn’t working. Interestingly, I heard more than one writer mention in the last couple of weeks that when they write themselves into a corner, they usually find that they’ve played their hand too soon.They go back, deconstruct their story to find out where, then fix it. Elizabeth George was one of those writers who mentioned this 
particular writerly phenomenon, that, until this last week, I didn’t even know was a thing. I do now, so will be taking a new look at my story to see if this is where I went astray. 

I’d like to know what other writers do if their story is off track. Do they get stuck or forge on? Go back and write a synopsis? See if they’ve played their hand too soon? Add a thread? Remove a thread?
Chime in, Rogue Writers and Readers who are writers. I’d love to know! (And Happy and Fruitful NaNoWriMo!)

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  1. Karna Bodman

    Oh Robin, what a thought-provoking blog!! Writing 50,000 words in a month is indeed a formidable challenge!! I recall an earlier challenge when my publisher gave me a contract for my third novel after I had submitted a synopsis – then my editor sent an email asking, "When will you send me the full manuscript?" The only reply I could think of was, "Soon," – because I had yet to write the words "CHAPTER ONE." (I finally did write it in three months). But I certainly "get" the whole delaying tactic thing — I think I've spent way too much time staring at the sky hoping for some sort of "divine guidance" I guess – praying for a new inspiration. Amazingly, it eventually arrives. Now good luck with your own deadline – I'm sure you'll make it in fine style.

  2. Lisa Black

    This is very interesting!! I'm a plotter, which solves a lot of writer's block type problems because I always know where I'm going , but not a very good one. Every book I swear I'm going to do better, actually write out an outline this time, a really detailed one that will have every major plot point thoroughly mapped out…and then I don't. I get antsy about getting started so I start and I'm not really ready…I'm getting worse with each book, not better. I tell myself that's giving me room to be more creative, but I don't think that's really it.
    What I do when I don't think a book is working is force myself to finish it anyway while carrying around a bowling ball of worry in the pit of my stomach for months, then send it to my agent and wait to see if she tells me to throw it out and write something else. Fortuntely, that hasn't happened in a while.

  3. Jamie Freveletti

    Hi Robin! I also refuse to believe in writer's block. When I get stuck I allow myself some research time. Inevitably I get an idea that will aid the story. So glad to see that you, too, get sucked into the social media thing! To quell this, I write on a computer that's not connected to the internet and my connected computers are on another level of the house. And love Holly's Focus Keeper app. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Robin Burcell

    This is exactly what I go through, Lisa! I used to do an outline, but get progressively farther from that with each book. I need to find my (story) roots–literally and figuratively!

  5. Robin Burcell

    I think that's what I need to do. Unplug completely!

  6. Robin Burcell

    Three months for an entire book! Wow! I'd love to be able to write that fast!

  7. Gayle Lynds

    I don't an author who doesn't face this with every book. There have been times when I did exactly as described — moved the story too fast, and so had to go back and restructure. On the other hand, I've also moved the story too slowly and needed to cut to keep the pace. Btw, I do believe in writer's block. Some authors notoriously get it for years. I think it's all in the definition. But my solution grew into a simple question I asked myself — what's the villain doing? The villain drives the plot, and he/she has his/her own story, desires, fears, and (most important for the book), goal. So if I force myself to focus on the darn villain, and realize what that character is up to, then I can figure out what is most logical and satisfying to happen next in the book. I've loved reading everyone's solutions! We each trod our own writing path, thank goodness.

  8. Robin Burcell

    I know I've read about other authors and years of block. But I do think it's a state of mind, and we all have to find our way out of it. Good point about the villains! Because they do drive the plot on the antagonist side. Thanks for the reminder!!!