Plot: 4 Ways to Get Unstuck in NaNoWriMo

I’m a hypocrite, okay? I fully acknowledge that. I, a dedicated writer, am not participating in NaNoWriMo2018 and yet I still have the gall to write about how to get unstuck when knee-deep in first-draft Plot. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo before. This is not exactly new territory for me. I just had the foresight to recognize my LAST YEAR of college (good lord, how time flies) would be way too busy for things like this. So I write when I can. 


(1) If you’re trying to write chronologically (as in, just belting out the story from inciting incident directly to climax, etc.), stop writing for the day halfway through a scene of interest.

I find this tactic to be incredibly helpful in terms of getting motivated to write the next day, but also incredibly difficult to follow through with. If you’re in the zone, it’s hard to tear yourself away. However, a lot of the times, the whole motivational issue comes from simply not knowing what to write. Since I write on Google Drive (you can do this on Microsoft Word, too, but I prefer the convenience of Drive), I sometimes use the comment feature to leave myself a little note on what I’m envisioning ought to happen in the story the next time I’m sitting in front of my computer getting ready to write it.

Trust me, it’s nice to knock out 3,000 words in one night because you got into a really interesting part, but after such high-stake scenes, it can sometimes be difficult to know what exactly ought to come next. So, you know, sometimes pacing yourself is a good thing. 

(2) Try to write scenes out of order so that you can focus on the more important things and worry later about the filler.

nanowrimo-shinywordsThis is not usually a writing tactic I employ. Most of the novels I’ve started (including every single redrafting of Dire Fate to date), I’ve written in a chronological fashion. When you write scenes out of order, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of where the information is first introduced in the timeline of the novel and when it is first introduced in the timeline of the writer. As in, I might be writing a scene that happens very late in a book, and I might introduce a magic law in that scene, forgetting that such introductions should be saved for the beginning of the book, and that at the very least I will have to re-introduce that concept in another scene anyway.

But this is NaNoWriMo we’re talking about here. This is not an exercise of writing the perfect draft on the first try (which, by the way, is impossible so don’t even attempt it). It’s about simply getting that word count in. It’s finding what parts of the story you’re interested in and telling it. Which is why, to increase my motivation to begin writing my next novel, I’ve begun to use this technique. Editing on this scale is easy once you’ve had to deal with several redrafts. And it seems to be a technique that works thus far. 

(3) Don’t be afraid to summarize what needs to happen between Point A and Point B if the in-between stuff isn’t currently interesting.

Another thing you can try if you’re not sold on the whole skipping-around thing and you’re struggling to find interesting plot points to stop on is to simply condense some events into a few sentences. NaNoWriMo only asks you to write 50k words, and if you’re writing fantasy (as I tend to assume most of my readers are, even if many of my blog posts are not fantasy-writer-specific), 50k words are like half of a narrative. You tend to be halfway through the story by the end of it anyway, so there’s really no reason to force yourself to write something that is otherwise really slowing you down.

You might find it weird that these tips so far are basically telling you to cut corners or whatever, but all a first draft has to do is exist. You’ve probably already heard that saying a hundred times by this point, but it’s important enough to repeat. It’s better to have a 50k word mess of a novel than it is to quit at 10k words because your story feels like it’s just too damn slow. So just… write the story that you really want to write, and then worry about the rest after. 

(4) If you’re just convinced that what you’re writing isn’t up to snuff, remember that you can rewrite it later, and focus right now on just getting in the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next page. Baby steps.

Image found on Hope College
Look, I’ve been there. Loads of times. I’ll stare at my screen for maybe a solid two minutes, trying to imagine what comes next. But I’m stuck, and the words aren’t coming, so perhaps I’m just not in the writing mood today. So up comes Netflix, or YouTube, or (if I’m trying to be at least somewhat productive) maybe a book. And, yeah, I’ll admit, sometimes waiting a day helped me figure out what was wrong and how to fix it so I could start writing again. 

But, for a very long time, while I tried to finish up Dire Fate, I made it my goal to write every single day. Sometimes, all you need to do to fix writer’s block is to write through it, like it’s a big Styrofoam wall painted to look like it’s made from bricks. But it’s not made from bricks. It almost never is made from bricks, and, either way, mentally punching through an actual figurative brick wall in your writing is much less painful than trying to literally punch a brick wall. The most you have to lose is a terribly written scene or two. And that’s okay! Let’s say it again: all this draft has to do is exist. So don’t get bogged down by the “terribleness” of the scenes (and I put them in quotes because they’re usually not actually that terrible), and just let the draft exist. You can fix it later. 

Leave a Comment!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? How is your word count? Are you finding the story interesting still? Did you do any prewriting (outlining) and did it help you with your writing process?

I happened to come up with a useful outline of questions and formatting to plot out one rather complex novel idea that I’ve had in my head for some time. But I haven’t tried it fully on other novel ideas, and I also haven’t tried to actually write with that outline in hand. Hopefully, by next October, I’ll have something to help you outline and write your next NaNo project.


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