NaNoWriMo: What To do When You Hit the Wall

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year … but alas, I can’t seem to stay away! There’s something addicting about the frenzied dash for 50,000 words that has me getting up early and pounding through pages.

How is everyone else’s NaNoWriMo novels coming along? We’ve made it to that second week stretch … but sometimes this is where inertia can start to dwindle. Maybe you haven’t made your word count each day and are falling behind. Maybe you aren’t sure where to take your story next? Has the cold hard reality of 50,000 words started to hit you?

If you’re struggling, I thought I’d offer some of my secrets to keeping the NaNoWriMo word count fires a-burning:

1) Stop worrying about crafting a full novel.

50,000 words isn’t a full novel. Instead of trying to craft your masterpiece, go on a glorious exploration instead. Forget about crafting a great work of fiction. That’s not going to happen until revision anyway. Think of your novel as a lush jungle that you get to go on a fast and wild expedition through. Catalog and record, don’t craft. Look around and describe what you see. Go down that tangent to see what’s on the other side of that rickety bridge. Stop worry about if what you’re writing will end up in the finished book. Instead, explore what the book could be.

2) Write the candy bar scenes first!

Candy bar scenes are the ones you can’t wait to write. Usually they’re scenes filled with high stakes and drama: a first kiss, a break up, a big battle, or that scene when the protagonist reveals he’s really a woman! Don’t slog through boring transition scenes, jump straight to the ice cream. You’ll whiz through your word count when you focus on writing the scenes you’re super excited about.

3) You don’t have to finish scenes.

Just because you start a scene, doesn’t mean you have to finish it. At least you don’t have to finish it now while you’re writing your NaNoWriMo draft. If you find the energy of a scene is dwindling go ahead and skip to the next scene. Don’t get stuck staring at your computer and wondering: “How am I going to get them out of this?” Instead, leave yourself a big note in red letters that says: Finish this scene later! Then move on! I often find that the solution to the scene I’m stuck on reveals itself when I write the aftermath. 

4) Write out of order.

I give you permission to skip scenes. I give you permission to write the scenes you know happen in the middle of the book. You don’t have to worry about how the book flows right now. It can be a big choppy mess! Every scene you write is going to inform the whole. Every sentence you write is an important step in your novel’s development. There is no rule that says you have to write in a linear fashion. Write the scenes you think are part of this story. Explore them. See what happens. Have fun with it.

5) Play!

Stop thinking of this as work. Instead, have fun and play. I wrote a whole blog post about this earlier this year. We often think every scene has to count. But when you’re this early in a novel’s development, that isn’t true. Here’s the quote that really got me thinking differently about creativity and how we approach writing:

Wonderbook“Inherent in the idea of play being immature and frivolous is the idea that, just like business processes, all creative process should be efficient, timely, linear, organized and easily summarized. If it’s not clearly a means to an end, it must be a waste of time. In the worst creative writing books, this method is expressed in seven-point plot outlines and other easy shortcuts rather than exercises to help encourage the organic development of your own approach. This bind in codification sometimes reflects fear of the unpredictability of the imagination and the need to have a set of rules in place through which to understand the universe.” – Jeff Vandermeer (Wonderbook)

In my opinion, NaNoWriMo is all about play. It’s about letting your imagination run free. Embrace the unpredictability and try it without censoring yourself. Allow yourself to tap into that elusive creative energy and let it flow.

Fun ways to play when you get stuck:

  • Write the scene from another character’s point of view. Try the villain!
  • Write the ending.
  • Write a backstory scene. Ask your protagonist to tell you about the worst day of their life, or about a day when they felt proud, or that secret they’ve spent 10,000 words dancing around.
  • Write backstory scenes for your secondary characters.
  • If you’re writing in third person, try a scene in first person. Or vice versa.
  • Shake it up!

Do you have any writing tips that have helped you keep going during NaNoWriMo? Please share them in the comments!

Happy writing everyone!

Want more tips for NaNoWriMo? Here are some other blog posts I’ve published on the subject:


3 responses to “NaNoWriMo: What To do When You Hit the Wall”

  1. Yvette says:

    Nice to find a fellow Wrimo! These are all great tips…congratulations on your new book release and good luck this month!
    ML: New Hampshire

  2. Just the kind of inspiration I was looking for as I feel like I’ve hit a wall. I too wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year but almost at the last minute changed my mind. Here’s to both of us allowing our words to playfully dance on the page!

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