NaNoWriMo 2014: Writing Through Troubled Times

Winter Wolf by RJ Blain - Cover ArtI'm jumping the shark. Maybe I should have found a picture of a shark jumping at a helicopter, which in turn is being chased by a blue whale… in space.

If you just stopped and wondered at that imagery, allow me to welcome you to the brain space of someone who has participated in NaNoWriMo successfully a few too many times.

Things like this happen when words won't come–and I need words to happen. Random, silly, never-will-see-the-final-product additions to help blow through trouble scenes.

In Winter Wolf, there is a chapter that has caused me nothing but problems. They (the chapters) are all in my head and more than a few are already on notebook paper, but it was brutally slow to write. What should have only taken my an afternoon took me three days–writing word by painful word. I understand the whole bleeding on the page thing with this chapter. It's my bane.

But if there's one thing I've learned from NaNoWriMo, it's how to write through troubled times. Each writer has a different way of pushing through difficult times. For me, it happens at least once each and every book–usually in a scene critical to a character's development.

Here is how I handle writing through troubled times. These are my tips and tricks to keep words flowing, even if it takes an hour to get out 200 words. There's no shame in writing slow, so long as you write. Remember that: If you're stringing words together, you'll get through the trouble spots. It's inevitable.

Even if it means you write at a snail's pace.

Here's what I do… and my suggestions to you, if this is a problem you're having.

Warning: Foul language ahead.

Step One: Identify the Problem.

The instant I start writing at a snail's pace–which means, an hour of writing with less than 500 words to show for my efforts–I take a look at what I'm doing. I'm a slow writer at times, so 500 words in an hour isn't uncommon for me. But, 500 words in an hour is the slowest I should be going. If I'm going any slower than that, there's something wrong.

I usually average closer to 1,000 in an hour. I can spike up to 2,000 an hour in some circumstances. In recent days, my best has been 3,000 in an hour, and I was transcribing without doing much editorial. (Once upon a time, I could write a lot faster, but… it was garbage.)

The key to being able to do this is to understand how you write–know yourself, your habits, and where you should be. If you write slow by nature, then there's probably nothing wrong if you're writing slow now. But if you're writing slower than normal, that's when you look to see why you're writing slow.

What people like to call ‘writer's block' is usually a symptom of a problem in the story: Faulty character development, a plot hole, that sort of thing. So, take a look at your habits and what you're writing–and learn to identify the problem.

And yes, being lazy is a problem. To that I say, “Shut the fuck up and write.”

We all need a kick in the ass sometimes.

Step Two: Fix the Problem

Knowing what's wrong is only part of the battle–it's up to you to do something about it. If you're being lazy, the answer is as I said above… and only you can motivate yourself. Posters with fancy sayings aren't going to do it. You are.

If you want to succeed at NaNoWriMo–or writing anything, for that matter–get used to the idea.

If you have a plot hole, either identify the hole and write notes on how to fix it or go ahead and fix it. But either way, eliminate whatever is stopping you from writing. If you have a broken character, make a note–and keep writing. It's okay to dramatically shift a character's personality midway through. You'll fix it during the editorial phase. But in the first draft? Your draft zero? You're learning your character. You might even be learning about yourself.

If you feel you must cut text, open a new file, cut the text there, keep it, and resume writing. When you take your daily NaNoWriMo word count, include that text. You wrote it during November. It counts.

If you're telling yourself the writing isn't good enough, I have one thing to say: “Shut the fuck up and write.”

Good or bad isn't even a factor when writing. Just do it.

There is a time to make bad writing good or great–during editorial.

This is actually hard, convincing yourself to write without worrying about the quality, but you have to motivate yourself. Once again, a pretty poster with some fancy text isn't going to give you the ability to sit down and write. You are. It's tough love, but someone has to tell the truth. You are the only person who can help you write. Once you're trying to improve your skills, you'll need the help of others, be it writing partners and editors, but they can't force you to write. You can, though.

So shut the fuck up and go write.

I tell myself this fairly frequently, by the way. Especially when I'm feeling lazy. And it works, it really does.

Step Three: Write.

Once you've finished your psychological warfare with yourself, go write.

That's it. Just write.

At the end of the day, be it a plot hole, a character development issue, or just not liking a scene, if you aren't writing, all you are doing is making excuses.

So stop making them and write.

You might surprise yourself with how much you get done if you really try instead of making up a list of stupid reasons about why you aren't writing.

Writing is hard, but once you're in the habit of writing, and once you're in the habit of ignoring the things distracting you, it gets much easier.

Go write.

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