NaNoWriMo: The Dreaded Writing Bog 
NaNoWriMo

The Dreaded Writing Bog: How to Overcome Writer's Block
by Justine

Can you believe you’re already over halfway through with NaNoWriMo?! I know it snuck up on me. At this point, logic would dictate that you should have written over 25,000 words by now. If you’re like me, you may not be anywhere close, and that’s okay. Sometimes, it seems the further you get into your story, the harder it can be to conjure words. Your character is at Point A, you want them to get to Point C, but Point B eludes you. You are stuck in the dreaded writing bog known as writer’s block. It is the bane of all writers and bound to strike at the least convenient time, like when you’re 10,000 words into a 50,000 word novel with time running out (a completely arbitrary and randomly chosen number—not from personal experience, oh no). The good news is, this is National Novel Writing Month. It’s not National Best Novel Writing Month or even National Good Novel Writing Month. Your only goal this month is to write a novel! It doesn’t have to be your best work, it doesn’t have to be good, and you don’t have to share it with anybody. That’s the beauty of it! Once you get past that and accept that your only goal is to churn out words until the cows come home, you will have a much easier time overcoming writer’s block. Just in case you’re still feeling freaked out and unsure, though, I have some tips for you as a fellow treader of the bog.  

When In Doubt, Deus Ex Machina
Roughly translated from the Latin for “god from the machine,” this plot device is an author’s best friend. Deus ex machina comes in handy when you’ve got a problem in your story that your characters just can’t overcome. Maybe she just unwittingly stepped into quicksand, is sinking rapidly, but you already established eight pages ago that her compatriots are days away and she’s in the middle of nowhere with nothing to grab onto to save herself. “Uh oh. Now what?” you may ask. Well, with deus ex machina, nothing is impossible! Maybe a friendly and freakishly strong eagle happens to fly overhead and drop a vine so she can pull herself out. Perhaps her friends’ trip is cut down by a magical shortcut they found miraculously and they save her in the nick of time. You could suddenly just decide the quicksand drags her down not to her death, but into another dimension, and the story could take a wild turn! It can be as ridiculous as you want it to be. Don’t get wrapped up in the details and just have fun getting your characters out of whatever impossible bind you’ve wrapped them in.  

Accept Imperfection
This is going to be a tough one for you perfectionists out there (trust me, I’m one of them!), but one thing to keep in mind is this is only a first draft. You may develop writer’s block because you’re so overwhelmed by all the grammar, spelling, and syntax errors staring back at you. The squiggly red and green lines under your words and the inelegant prose might hurt to think about, but try not to get discouraged! Again, the beauty of NaNoWriMo is the fact that no one has to see your work if you don’t want them to. It isn’t for a grade and you are your own harshest critic. If you find that you’re bumming yourself out over all the imperfections in your writing, it might help to stop looking at it. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out. Think about it like the rearview mirror in your car. If you keep looking behind you, you can’t focus on what’s ahead. You could get in an accident if you obsess over what’s back there. Instead, focus on looking forward out the windshield. Occasional glances back to make sure the story is progressing the way you want to is fine, but don’t keep your eyes there. Right now your goal is quantity, not quality, so if it hurts to look at all those errors just don’t look at them and simply write! Writing badly is better than giving up and not writing at all. Accept the imperfection, love it, and laugh about it later.  

Seek the Root
Do you know why you’re suffering from writer’s block? It might be an obvious problem like your neighbor blasting loud music during your writing time, or it could be something harder to pin down, like being intimidated by other writers’ success or the fear of writing poorly. Whatever the problem is, getting to the root of it could be helpful in your pursuit of the motivation to continue writing. Sometimes it’s something you can fix and sometimes it isn’t. You may not be able to convince your neighbor to turn down the music, but you could choose to write another time of day or use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones while writing. It can be hard to write when you feel like other writers would do so more skillfully, or if you feel like your writing isn’t up to anyone’s standards, but reminding yourself that it isn’t a competition and that literary recognition isn’t the bottom line can help you feel a little bit better. Remember: writing anything is a huge accomplishment! Find the root of the problem, uproot it, tell it to shoo, and let the words flow freely.

Stop Writing
Call me crazy, but it really works. Sometimes you’re so stuck that nothing seems to help. Maybe you already deus ex machina’d the heck out of your story, you accepted your imperfect writing, you sought the root of your block, and you’re still at a loss for words. When you’ve reached this point, taking a step back might be just what you need. Go take a shower, get some fresh air, grab a snack, or even take a nap. The motivation to write is an elusive beast and one best tamed by occasionally ignoring it, as counterproductive as it may sound. As they say, a watched pot never boils. Walk away for a little while and come back fresh and ready to write. If you’re anything like me, some of your best thinking might occur when you’re away from the computer or typewriter; they even make waterproof notepads for the shower now so you never lose your revelatory shower thoughts! Even if you have to stop writing for a day or two, it’s better than giving up altogether. Your story will be patiently waiting for your return!  

These are just a few tips for overcoming writer’s block, but I hope they’ve given you a little bit of solace if you’re starting to feel the pressure. There are so many things that can land you in the bog, but like in the deus ex machina example, I aim to be your freakishly strong eagle friend and help you find a way out of it. Whatever you write will be wonderful no matter what you put on the page, so please don’t give up! In the words of Sylvia Plath: “Every day, writing. No matter how bad. Something will come.” Keep writing, my friends. I’ll see you at the finish line. 

Posted by svanholb@auroragov.org On 17 November, 2020 at 8:52 AM  

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