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How to Beat NaNoWriMo Writer’s Block

Updated on November 4, 2016Writing Tips
How to Beat Writer’s Block image

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began Tuesday, November 1. Are you ready to unleash your creative energies and churn out 50,000 words this month? We’ve been doing our best to help you prepare during October. Here’s what we’ve covered so far:

NaNoWriMo Begins!

Every writer hits creative roadblocks. NaNoWriMo attempts to push writers beyond them by making them write fast and write every day. But what if you find yourself struggling nonetheless? We’ve got some tips to help you keep the words flowing right up until your deadline at 11:59 p.m., November 30.

1 Tell people you’re writing a novel

Telling family, friends, and coworkers that you’re participating in NaNoWriMo can help keep you on track. For starters, you’ll have people cheering for you. Writing is hard work, and crowdsourcing some encouragement can help. It may also make you feel accountable. You don’t want to let your biggest fans down, do you?

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2 Embrace crappy writing

You have to write fast in order to win NaNoWriMo. (The winning is in the completion, by the way; the only prize NaNoWriMo offers is a finished novel and self-satisfaction.) What you produce is likely to be far from perfect. This quote, attributed to prolific bestselling author Jodi Picoult, sums it up nicely:

“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

3 When you’re stuck, freewrite

If you’re staring at the dreaded blinking cursor and the words just won’t come, try freewriting. Freewriting is a creative process with a few simple guidelines. Start with a blank page and a time limit. (Not too long. Ten minutes is good.) Set a timer—or use the word sprint feature on the NaNoWriMo website—so you won’t have to worry about watching a clock. Start the timer, and then write whatever comes into your head without stopping. Don’t edit or fix typos; the point is to let the words fly without really thinking about them.

For a more structured freewrite, pick a topic before you begin. Let’s say your character is jealous and you’re struggling to describe the feeling. Prime your freewriting engine by writing: “Jealousy feels like …” and then start your timer and let ‘er rip. When you’re done, you can review what you’ve written and mine it for gold nuggets to use in your story, or you can just use the whole freewrite in your novel and edit it later. And if the freewriting exercise left you feeling inspired, use that momentum to continue working on your novel.

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4 Take a walk

If the words just aren’t coming, step away from your desk. Literally. A Stanford study suggests that walking improves creative thinking. The research also showed that it’s the physical activity, not the setting, that gets the creative brain in gear, so if the weather’s not cooperating, go ahead and walk indoors. Even a treadmill facing a blank wall will do the trick.

5 Change your writing environment

If sitting at your desk for hours has you spinning your creative wheels, try shaking things up. The image of the writer lurking in a favorite café or coffee shop arose for a reason. Writers need stimulation, and public venues can provide just that. They’re also a place to people-watch, and people-watching is creative fuel. Caffeine doesn’t hurt, either.

If you’d like to connect with other NaNoWriMo writers, make sure to check out the regions page on the official website and join a local group. Most groups offer write-ins that you can attend, as well as kickoff and wrap-up social events.

Do it for yourself

Ultimately, NaNoWriMo is for no one but you—you decided to participate because you want to be a writer, and the act of writing is what makes you one. Whether this annual event results in you completing a 50,000-word novel isn’t necessarily the only barometer for success. Be proud that you stepped outside your comfort zone and made a conscious choice to challenge yourself.

November has arrived. Sign up, sit down, and get to work!

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