NaNoWriMo Tips: Ending Your Story

Welcome to the penultimate post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.

It’s so close you can nearly taste it. The sweet smell of victory is less than 48 hours away. You’ve been writing since the beginning of November with one goal in mind — to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. But in addition to that, if you’ve been sticking with a theme running through these posts, you’ve likely spent the better part of a month writing the story that you w

That means that you’re to the two parts of the story that are, in my opinion, the two most difficult parts of the story to write: the climax and the ending. I’ve grouped them both together for purposes of the title of this post, but that’s only because ‘climaxing your story’ sounds more suggestive than it likely is. Unless your NaNoWriMo project is erotica, in which case, more power to you. Climax the hell out of your story.

For most of you1And even those of you writing erotica, I would assume., however, the climax and ending of your book are likely going to be different pieces. Those who strictly follow the five act dramatic structure will recognize that the climax precedes your ending (also known as the denouement), with the falling action in between then. That said, the chart you’ll see describing this structure could lead you to believe that the climax occurs in the middle of the story, with the falling action comprising a good portion of the book leading up to the ending.

In practice, however, the climax, falling action, and denouement can all occur over the final 3-5 chapters of a book. One of my favorite recent reads — An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green — begins its climax2Or at least what I could say is the climax of the book. approximately 91% of the way into the book, with the denouement not beginning until the book was 96% completed3I’m going off of the page numbers and percentages from my Kindle app, so this is a rough estimate.. I’ve read several books in recent years that follow this similar pattern, where the climax to the story doesn’t hit a peak until the story is over 80% done, only to then have a short falling action and a relatively short ending.

If you’re writing a story that is intended to have a sequel to it, this isn’t necessarily a bad route to go. You can afford to keep your ending a bit shorter if you’re planning for a sequel, because you can take advantage of cliffhanger or ambiguous style endings to build anticipation for your follow up book. With that said, if you’re looking to make your NaNoWriMo piece more of a standalone story, it might behoove you to extend the ending of your story by a little bit to tie up any loose ends to your story.

With that being said4><~~_, how do you differentiate the items that you should tie up in your climax versus what you should finish talking about in the denouement of your story? While the answer to this question might not be a cut-and-dried answer, I do have some thoughts where you might be able to draw the line.

Items to Tie Up in Your Climax

  • Your primary conflict: While this likely goes without saying, if there’s a problem your main protagonist(s) has been facing throughout the story, the climax is the place to wrap it up. This is likely slaying the big bad or overcoming some sort of adversity for the final time in the story, however, it could also include some of the following items.
  • Your protagonist’s primary lesson: If there’s something your main character is supposed to learn over the course of the book — be it the power of friendship, some moral lesson, that it’s okay to use an illegal kick because no one likes Cobra Kai5Except me. — now is the time for them to use that lesson to resolve that conflict.
  • Final deaths: If anyone else needs to die in your book, now is likely the best time to finish killing them off. There’s an outside chance you can get away with someone dying in the falling action, but they’d likely have to be someone that has been redeemed throughout the climax, now dying as a hero instead of as a villain. Think Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.

Items to Tie Up in Your Ending

  • How your main character has changed after the climax: Do they live happily ever after? Did the group of rag-tag heroes that came together to deliver swift justice decide that they’re going to stick together? Did all the pets finally get back home? This is a great time to exposit what happened after that dramatic climax.
  • Planting the seeds for a sequel: If you’re wanting to give your book a sequel, now is the time to leave some ambiguity in your ending. While you don’t need to introduce a new conflict here, making it feel like someone (likely your protagonist) has unfinished business gives you a springboard with which to start your next project off of.
  • The final feeling for your book: How do you want the reader to remember the last few pages of your book? While most stories end on a happy or hopeful note, that might not be what you’re going for. My 2015 NaNoWriMo project had a very bleak ending, however considering the climax that had preceded it, I could have written it much darker. Do you want your reader to end the book with a smile on their face? In tears of sorrow? In tears of joy? Create that lasting final scene here.

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

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NaNoWriMo Tips: I’m Not Going To Make It. Have I Failed?

Welcome to the twelfth6Can we all take a moment to appreciate how weird the English language is? I mean. How the fuck is twelfth a form of twelve? post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.

Today’s post will talk about the one topic I’ve largely avoided bringing up aside from highlighting my own failures and addressing how to avoid them. It’s getting close to the end of November. Including today, you have four days left to write your NaNoWriMo story. If you’re writing based on the average pace needed to finish your NaNoWriMo project (1,666 words a day), this means that you have 6,664 words to go.

That said, if you’re on pace, this post isn’t totally meant for you. For that matter, if you’re not going to finish your story in November, but you are going to hit the 50,000 word count goal within the 30 days, this post isn’t totally for you either. That’s not to say you can’t read the post and get something out of it. If nothing else, stick around and jump in the comments and encourage others. But the post I’ll have that’s more meant for you is coming on Friday7I recognize that’s not in sync with the typical Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday posting schedule I’ve kept for these, but what am I supposed to do? Thirty days hath September, April, June, and NaNoWriMo..

This post is meant for those of you who are coming to the end of the month and are feeling disappointed, despondent, upset, overwhelmed, heartbroken, or frankly, just fucking pissed that you aren’t going to finish your NaNoWriMo novel on time. And although I mentioned a couple of posts back that this series’ post about writers’ block was the hardest one for me to write, this post likely had the most edits to it. That’s because it’s really hard to say the right thing to someone when they don’t reach a goal they really wanted to hit.

When I failed my 2012 NaNoWriMo project goal, it didn’t hit me that hard. At least, it didn’t initially. The idea floated around in my mind for weeks afterwards. While I didn’t finish writing the story in November of 2012, I did work on it regularly throughout December of 2012, as well as January through March of 2013. But then, as you’ll recall from the last post, I gave up on the story because I hated it.

November 2013 rolled around and I didn’t have any free time to do NaNoWriMo. I had just gotten a promotion at my job — one that meant I went from working 40-45 hours a week at an hourly pay to working 60-80 hours a week on salary — and my free time had vanished almost instantly. It’s also one of only two years since 2011 where I didn’t have any involvement in NaNoWriMo at all8Be it as a participant, as a passive reader of someone’s project, or as someone who gave advice to others in some way.. And it didn’t really bother me because I was so busy.

That said, November 2014 was a different story. I did have free time again, so in mid-September or so, I started making a game plan for the story I was going to write. I spent a Saturday afternoon sitting in a Panera near my apartment outlining and writing out a basic plot synopsis, all while coming up with these dramatic, vibrant characters. By the time I left, while I didn’t have a story fully modeled out, I had a great start towards it.

That’s what I’d love to tell you happened. In reality, I opened a Google Doc, wrote down two sentences or so of an idea, plus a short character description for a main character9Though I scrapped the story arc sentences I’d written, I do still have the two paragraph description I wrote for this character saved in my notes. I’ll use her at some point in the future. I think?, then played around on Sporcle for an hour or so until I went home and played video games for the rest of the day. I tried this again a handful of times more before the start of November, only to have the same end result.

I didn’t want to try writing a novel again. I mean, I did. But at the same time, in my mind at that point, I had failed with my 2012 NaNoWriMo project not once, but twice. My initial failure meant I hadn’t met my goal within the NaNoWriMo time limit. Then I had failed again because I had not only given up on my story with a few thousand words to go, I had also come to hate the story itself.

I say all of that to say that I was just looking at things the wrong way, though I didn’t recognize that at the time. Though the fact that I hadn’t finished my novel in 30 days was true, I had managed to turn out a 60,000+ word story with a complex backstory and a fairly significant amount of world building built in. The world building in particular should have been something I was incredibly proud of — even if my characters and the story itself did frustrate me — because it was a tough task that I had never attempted before when writing a story. But I was too caught up in being frustrated with failing two years prior that it kept me from even starting NaNoWriMo in 2014.

So what advice can I give to all of you from my own experiences? While my story isn’t a perfect one-to-one match, I think there’s still some key takeaways that can be made.

1. It’s Okay to Be Mad…For a Little While

If you’re mad or frustrated that you didn’t finish your story during NaNoWriMo, that’s fine. If you have frustration over not meeting your goal, that can be a great motivator towards working to meet the goal eventually, even if it’s not within that deadline. I know I’ve used my own frustrations with failing at projects to do them better the next time I attempt them (or for my next project, depending on the context of the project).

With that said, don’t dwell on your frustration for too long. If you do that, you run the risk of the spiral that I fell into myself in 2014 that I described above. At a certain point, you have to take why you’re frustrated, recognize where that frustration comes from, and make a plan to not have that failure in future attempts, be it with this story or with future shots at NaNoWriMo.

2. Focus on Your Successes

Even if you didn’t get 50,000 words written in November, how many words did you write? 25,000? 30,000? More? That’s a lot of writing! It’s a huge accomplishment to finish NaNoWriMo for sure. But it’s also a big accomplishment to dedicate part (or all) of a month to writing a story.

NaNoWriMo is supposed to be somewhat of a sprint. Authors often spend months or years writing their books. You just attempted to write a book in a single month. And while there will likely be more time you’ll invest into your story if you want to finish it or if you want to do something with it, the progress you made during NaNoWriMo is a great thing. Be proud of yourself.

3. Make a Plan For How You’ll Finish Your Story

If you do want to finish your story out, even after NaNoWriMo ends, great! I’ll be talking more about this specific point in Thursday’s post, though I do want to address for a moment in the context of not finishing your story during NaNoWriMo.

While the concept of getting your ideas on paper within the deadline of NaNoWriMo isn’t valid anymore with the end of NaNoWriMo nearing, the premise that you should get your main story on paper is still valid. Tell your story, start to finish before going back and editing it. Make sure you end your story, regardless of if you’re truly ending the story or setting up for a sequel or series. Then, chart out the steps you’ll take in the plot of your story to get you from where you are right now to that ending. Taking a little bit of time to make this structure (if you haven’t already) can help you to make sure you reach your new goal of finishing, even if it is in a different timeline than you initially planned.

4. Find Someone to Help Hold You Accountable For Your New Goal

One of the hardest thing to do when it comes to writing10Or anything, really. That said, we’re focusing on writing for now. is to stick to goals you make without having some level of accountability towards reaching those goals. In an ideal situation, you’ll have someone close to you who will be willing to help you stick to those goals. If you have that, your solution is simple. Just tell your close person your goal, keep them updated, and stick with it.

That said, if you don’t have someone close to you who cares about your writing goals, this can be a little trickier of a predicament. As much of a cesspool as Twitter can be for various reasons, one of the beautiful things about Twitter is that there are ton of great writers’ groups out there (shout out to Ch21Con) that use Twitter to great effect. As I mentioned prior, resources like /r/nanowrimo on Reddit are great for this as well. You could even try asking in the comments here. If there’s a commentor that has an interest in your story, perhaps they’ll be your accountability person. I might even do it for some folks…though I admittedly can’t take everyone who reads this site. That would just be silly.

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

Support my writing on Patreon by pledging at this link.

NaNoWriMo Tips: I Hate My Story

Welcome to the eleventh post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.

Have you ever been playing through a video game, particularly a long game that relies a lot on the choices you make throughout the game? Let’s say for example that game is Civilization VI, not that I have any experience with playing that for hours on end or anything11Australia is best civ. I will fight you, mate.. In Civilization VI, your games can drag on for hours, if not days, particularly when playing a single player match against multiple other computer civilizations. I had one such game a while back where I was 300-350 turns into my game’s 500 turn limit. I was winning, though not by as much as I would have liked, putting myself in a great, but not guaranteed, position to win the game. At that point, I came to a realization. I was done with this game. So I closed out of Civ without saving and went to do something else.

I felt this way about a novel once too. Remember that ill-fated 2012 NaNoWriMo attempt I talked about in the last post? I did end up working on that story some in December of 2012 before really getting going on it in earnest in early 2013. By the middle of March, that story was nearly 65,000 words long. I had two or three more chapters to write, including the final fight scene where the protagonist who had been repeatedly betrayed by those closest to him would get revenge on the ex-best friend who had been turned against him. I had created this elaborate dystopian backstory set in post-apocalyptic Finland and Estonia, complete with copious amounts of research into the foods of Scandinavia and the Baltic regions12Because the food that certain characters ate at certain times was used for foreshadowing and symbolism. Because reasons..

Yet, despite being likely less than 10,000 words from finishing, I gave up on the story. I was done. I hated this story.
Why I hated this story isn’t nearly as important as the fact that I hated this story (though I will get to the why). It was a first for me. Not finishing a story was one thing. My very first attempt at a novel was one I didn’t finish. I quit six chapters in once I realized that the idea I had picked was not very good and that I had only chosen it to impress my then-girlfriend13Who was far too excited to read my stories. And this is coming from the person writing them.. I had hated poetry and songs I’d written because, truth be told, I wasn’t good at it. This was, however, the first time I hated a full-fledged story.

It’s a really crappy feeling to get deep into writing a story only to realize the story isn’t what you’d hoped it would be. You begin to feel like all of the time you’ve put into the story has gone to waste. This feeling hits especially hard if this happens during NaNoWriMo. If you’re working on your story and begin to hate it outside of a NaNoWriMo project, yeah, it sucks, but you also have time to work on it, rewrite it, or whatever you need to do to get it to the point you want it at14Presumably. Ignore that previous point entirely if you nearing a publishing or editing deadline.. But in NaNoWriMo, not only do you hate your story, you now have to finish a story you dislike with a looming deadline. This prompts the question — how exactly do you handle hating your story during NaNoWriMo?

To answer that, I think it’s important to identify exactly why you hate your story now. After all, you liked your story idea well enough at one point in time that you wanted to write a whole novel based off of it. For my 2012 story, I got to the climax of the novel and hated it for three primary reasons.

  1. My main character seemed less likeable than I would have hoped by the climax. It wasn’t as though he was supposed to be a character who worked lived in gray areas either. He was a very Mary Sue-like character that lacked a lot of depth. If anything, the ex-best friend who became the villain of the story was more believable than him.
  2. There was a weird subplot to the story that I had written in based on these child prodigies that had been hidden by an underground network to keep them safe from the dystopian government running most of the world. By the end of the story, they functioned more of a deus ex machina than the actual saviors to the story that they were meant to be. I also named some of the children based off of minor Greek and Babylonian deities despite having limited knowledge of the former and negligible knowledge of the latter, making my analogies forced and inaccurate.
  3. Speaking of that ex-best friend in the story, she stupidly overpowered, both story line wise and in terms of her abilities in comparison to the main character. Her losing to the main character in any capacity seemed unrealistic.

Looking back, my story likely needed a massive rewrite more than it needed to be scrapped. That said, I was so caught up in how disappointed I was with myself that the story had turned out the way that it had that I just gave up. The story still sits unfinished to this day15If I ever attempt to revive any of the previous novels I’ve attempted for NaNoWriMo and turn them into a book, this specific story would likely be my second priority, behind my 2015 project. There’s a character in my 2015 project who I love so much that I need to find a way to work her into my current story. This is problematic in that I killed her off near the end of that 2015 NaNoWriMo story, but that’s not important right now.

So, how do you avoid this same fate for your story, even if you hate it? I have a few suggestions.

First off, if you get to the point where you feel like you hate your story, take a little time (be that a few minutes, an hour, or even a day) and step away from your story. Giving yourself a little space between times writing on your story can help grant you some clarity with how to continue on (or even fix) your story. If you have the ability to sleep on the idea, do so. I came to my initial realization that I hated my 2012 story around three in the morning on a Friday night. Nothing good ever happens when you’re tired and the clock is past midnight.

Second, this is a situation where having people around you, be they NaNoWriMo peers, friends, family, or just someone aware of the project you’re undertaking can be helpful. Even if they don’t totally understand the specifics of your story, talking through the story and why your’e struggling with it can help you better vocalize the struggle you have. I don’t recommend rubber ducking in this case, as having someone there to talk back to you can help to avoid going into spirals of frustration with your work. As someone who deals with these (frequently) myself, I promise it’s helpful.

As another potential way to help yourself turn your hate for your story around, take a moment to take stock of the things you loved about your story idea when you originally came up with it. I mentioned how I should have done this with my 2012 story earlier in this post. That said, I definitely feel like it’s an exercise that could be beneficial to more than just me. If I were writing my notes for why I loved my 2012 story enough to want to turn it into a novel, it’d look something like this (at least from what I can remember from six years ago).

  • The idea of writing a story that was an homage to the dystopian literature I loved reading as a kid (1984, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Giver, Feed, The Lorax16I would argue The Lorax is dystopian literature, even though I’ve had several people disagree with me on this point. Wikipedia agrees though.) was exciting.
  • I spent the better part of two days hand drawing a map depicting the new political layout of this futuristic world. I can’t understate how much I love maps.
  • I loved the idea of doing a twist ending. There was a planned hard right turn after the climax of the story. I still love this specific twist and may well use it in the future (even in a non-dystopian book).

I know I had a longer list at one point in time, however that list has since faded from my mind. The larger, and more important, point is that I can still remember some of why I wanted to write that story, even six years later. There’s going to be reasons that stick with you about why you wanted to write your story, even well after NaNoWriMo has ended. I think that those reasons by themselves are enough reason to stick to finishing your story this month.

And you know what? If you end up completely rewriting the story in December or at some point down the line, that’s fine. Do that. Tear the story apart and redesign it from the ground up. But finish the story first. It’s easier to edit a finished book than to try to rewrite something you hate as you’re writing it (at least in my experience).

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

Support my writing on Patreon by pledging at this link.

NaNoWriMo Tips: What to do About Holidays

Welcome to the tenth (!) post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.

Happy Thursday. If you’re anywhere outside of the United States or its associated territories, today is just Thursday for you. Well, unless you live in Costa Rica, where it’s Teacher’s Day. Or in Cambodia, where today is the first day of the Water Festival Ceremony. Or in Lebanon, where it’s Independence Day. Look, this analogy is falling apart and I don’t know how to save it, so we’re just going to move on.

If you’re in the United States, today is Thanksgiving Day. There’s an outside chance you’re reading this at some point early in the morning when you’ve set aside time for NaNoWriMo related activities. There’s a chance you’re doing the same thing, just in the evening. That said, the most likely reason you’re here is because it’s sometime in the afternoon where you are. Thanksgiving lunch/dinner17It has always bothered me that my family refers to it as Thanksgiving dinner even though ours routinely starts between 1 and 2 pm. Dinner for who? The British? is over and though you love football and your family, you have no desire to discuss politics with your racist uncle while the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys are on TV in the background18Just me?.

In the event you did schedule yourself some time today and/or tomorrow to write on your NaNoWriMo project, amazing. You’re immediately doing better than I was in terms of day-to-day consistency in any of my NaNoWriMo project years. If you didn’t schedule yourself time — or if you’re like me and initially thought Thanksgiving was on the 29th, only for your writing calendar to later be messed up — I have some good and bad news for you.

The bad news is that unless you’re well ahead in your story, there’s a chance that some (if not all) of your weekend is shot. I know a lot of people travel during Thanksgiving weekend. While for some folks this means close trips just on Thanksgiving day, for others your voyage might have started on Wednesday, with the end coming as late as Saturday or Sunday. And though you could be writing as your making a long drive or flight back from wherever you spent your Thanksgiving19Shout out to Valparaiso, Indiana and Canyon Lake, Arizona, not just for being two of the unlikeliest places I’ve spent a Thanskgiving, but also because the former is fun to say and because the latter is beautiful., you’ll only have this luxury if you’re not the one operating the mode of transportation needed to get you home.

The good news though is that in spite of everything I just talked about in the paragraph above, the calendar is doing you some favors this year. November 22 is the earliest that Thanksgiving can fall in the year, so you have eight whole days to get your story finished after today. Even if you miss out on 1,666 words today, you have a full weekend at your disposal, as well as nearly an entire other week to keep writing.

While you might have been able to sneak away to read this post, it might not be as manageable to duck out and write 500-1000 words on the fly. That’s completely understandable. But I bet you’re reading this on your phone or a tablet20As the only people who bring laptops to Thanksgiving are people who use them to play Civilization because for the last time, Uncle Jethro, I don’t want to talk about immigration with you.. It wouldn’t be too conspicuous if you just spent some time listening to the holiday conversation and seeing if there was a sentence or two — maybe even a scene — that you could lift from real life and work into your book in some way. Just make a note of it in your phone. Then, once you do have some time to get writing done, you’ll have to spend a little less time thinking about what to write next.

I’ll keep this post short as it is a holiday. Take some time and relax. You’ll need it for the final stretch. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a piece of pecan pie calling my name.

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

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NaNoWriMo Tips: Handling Writer’s Block

Welcome to the ninth post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.

Before I get in to the main points I want to talk about in today’s post, I want to share a bit of the background to how I put this series together. In late August/early September of this year, a couple of folks who I know that do fiction writing reached out to me asking if I was doing NaNoWriMo this year. My answer to them was, for various reasons, no. With that said, I did want to do something for the project, particularly since I haven’t personally participated in NaNoWriMo since 2015. So I decided to write this post series. I came up with my initial ideas for three posts in this series that same night. The first three post ideas were:

  • Help! My family thinks I’m crazy because of NaNoWriMo21This later became NaNoWriMo Has Turned Me Into a Hermit.
  • I’m not going to make it. Have I failed?
  • Handling writer’s block

Once I came up with my full list of topics and shuffled the order around a couple of times, I finally landed on the list of topics and order that you see at the top of this post. Since I determined that order I have, for the most part, been writing these posts in order chronologically. It made sense to me to do it that way. After all, the topics built off of one another through the progression of a writer’s journey through NaNoWriMo. You’ll notice that I did say that I’ve been doing the chronological writing mostly, not completely. You can blame this on the fact that I had writer’s block on exactly what I wanted to say for one of the posts. Guess which one it was.

It was the writer’s block post22Considering the topic we’re discussing today, it only makes logical sense..

I’ve had long bouts with writer’s block before on various projects. I’ve been blogging for nearly fifteen years now across various blogs. Some years, I’ve done a ton of work and written lots of great (or not so great, in retrospect) content. That said, between April 2013 and October 2014, I wrote five blog posts. Total23Considering I’m at 63 posts in 2018 counting this one, this could be a depressing figure. It gets much worse if I point out that I wrote over 100 posts in 2012 and nearly 450 posts as part of the #postaday project in 2011..

The mind of a writer is a strange thing. Sometimes, the words just come out and they won’t stop. My longest post (by far) this year is this 4,200+ word ode to one of my oldest friends (and one time Patreon Q&A host), Mike. I wrote that post over the course of two evenings, but pretty much all of it came out stream-of-consciousness style. I didn’t have to think about what I was writing — it just came out and became words to tell my story. Meanwhile, there’s some of the more average posts (length wise) that I’ve written that have taken me days or weeks to finish because I can’t get out the words I want to say.

When I tried to participate in NaNoWriMo in 2012, I wrote the first 6,000 or so words to my novel within the first 48 hours of the project going live. I updated the NaNoWriMo site on day 1, but forgot to before I went to bed on day 2. I knew that I had a busy weekend on the 3rd and 4th and wouldn’t be able to write, so putting myself at 6,000 words at the start of day 5 would have put me just behind the goal pace to that point in the month.

Day 5 was a Monday night. I came home from work exhausted. I looked at my story, didn’t know what I was going to write next, decided I could handle it better later in the week, and chose to play video games instead. Day 6 was election night, so I accomplished nothing then either. By the time day 7 rolled around, I reviewed my story and came to the realization that I had no idea where to go with my story next. I had written three chapters of my story — two of which were primarily world building chapters — and had hit a wall.

At that point in time, I relied heavily on a couple of people that I considered to be writing muses to help spur ideas in my mind if I had no idea what I wanted to do next. It was a pretty reliable strategy and had been greatly successful for me. If you have writing buddies for your NaNoWriMo project, I strongly encourage you to bounce some ideas off of them if you hit a bout of writer’s block. It’s a very reliable strategy that helped me immensely in my 2011 project.

That strategy didn’t work out for me quite as well in 2012. One of my muses had taken a new job with significantly more responsibility, meaning she didn’t have the time to read much of anything in her now-vanished free time. I had a falling out with the other person just before NaNoWriMo, meaning I was now down the two people I used as primary sources of inspiration for my writing. This became a problem because I had an over-reliance on their help. I had reached a point in my writing, particularly my fiction writing, where their ideas and input had such a massive impact on my creative direction that I felt like I couldn’t write well.

Looking back, this was clearly wrong. Their ideas and direction were exceptionally helpful, don’t get me wrong. That said, there were other things I learned to do to beat writer’s block over time that might have helped me finish my 2012 project on time. I’ve talked in previous entries in this series about how helpful forums like NaNoWriMo’s writers forum and /r/nanowrimo are. And yes, I’ll reiterate that they absolutely are amazing resources. That said, they’re not the only places you can get ideas to help get you out of your writing rut.

Let’s say for a moment that you’re writing a fantasy novel for your NaNoWriMo project. You’ve decided — as many fantasy novelists do — to fill your book with courtly pageantry, castle intrigue, and lots of magic. That said, your story is in more of an urban fantasy setting because you want it to be grittier and darker. While that mood for your book may be great for your direction, you could always consider doing some research into more traditional fantasy books to look for direction as to how to write interactions between characters. Alternatively, you could use those same examples for exactly how not to tell your story.

I’m also a huge advocate for rubber duck debugging your stories. For those not familiar with the concept, computer programmers often have to figure out why their code is not working. It’s a tedious, line-by-line process that can take a ton of time. On top of that, since the programmer reading the code is usually the one who wrote it, they can be prone to missing their own simple mistakes. By reading their code out loud to something that can’t talk back to them or interrupt — in this case a rubber duck — it allows them to hear what the actual code sounds like out loud without having someone provide commentary on that code. It works surprisingly well.

While I’m not say you should read your story word-for-word out loud to a rubber duck (as you’re potentially nearing 35,000 words at this point), I would recommend giving a plot synopsis of what has happened in your story thus far to your rubber duck. You might find that doing so gives you some inspiration as to what to do in your story next, as hearing your story told in a linear fashion can help to spur ideas as to what to tell the duck your next plot point is. In the event you don’t have a rubber duck handy, any inanimate object with eyes will do. Why does it have to have eyes? It doesn’t, but it does make the conversation more amusing.

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

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