NaNoWriMo: Noodles at the Wall (Getting Started When You Have Absolutely No Ideas at All) 

Noodles at the Wall: Getting Started When You Have Absolutely No Ideas at All 
by Elizabeth

‘Twas three days after NaNo, and in the library, 
some fast-tapping typists were feeling quite wary. 
“I’m supposed to have how many words?” they all sighed. 
“But I have no clue what to write, there’s no time!” 
Some writers had ideas but still felt a fright 
when faced with so many words day and night. 
Others suffered from dreaded writer's block, 
and wanted a nice nap to lessen the shock. 
“50,000’s too many!” “My ideas are too few!” 
Writers all around had no clue what to do. 
Then from the Aurora blog, a voice rang loud: 
“Don’t worry! Cheating is DEFINITELY allowed.” 
“I’ve here without characters, setting, or plot, 
but that’s not gonna stop me. Guess what I HAVE got?” 
And with that, the blog shared five quick writing tricks 
to help get a story moving lightning-quick! 

When it comes to NaNoWriMo, I never have a plan.  

I wish that I were one of the writers with pages of careful outlining, character charts, fascinating plot twists I’m longing to explore. Most years, I’m the writer who, three days after the month starts, looks at their calendar and squawks in dismay. I don’t know why I panic every year if this is what I DO every year, but it always feels like there are no more stories left in the well, like every creative brain cell vanished the instant November started. 

This year’s even worse than normal: I’m worn out, and every fiction I write seems less strange than what’s happening in the world outside my window. Maybe it’s like that for you too? If this is your first year dealing with the dreaded NaNo Starter’s Block, don’t worry: here are five tricks I’ve used to start stories in previous years, and I hope one of them works for you. 

The Best Thing That Could Possibly Happen 
Have you ever played TBT? No, not Throwback Thursday: The Best Thing game! It’s a cure for sad days and sadder stories: sit, breathe and think of the Best Thing that could possibly happen to turn this day around. Maybe someone delivers a cupcake to your doorstep. Maybe you win the lottery; maybe you find that lost phone number you’ve been hunting for all weekend. The key is that the story can’t just be one event. This isn’t “A Good Thing Happens,” this is the best thing. That means it’s going to ripple outward, changing more small things in its wake: maybe that phone number belongs to a long-lost friend or a cute barista, maybe the lottery is just what you need to put a down payment on a house.  

Transformation’s a key element of stories and a great starting point for something miraculous. There are several excellent stories that start with The Best Thing That Could Possibly Happen. Children desperate to avoid growing up meet a magical spirit who can take them to Neverland. A poor teenager finds a map to Treasure Island. If you’re feeling dark, you can also start a story with the WORST thing that could possibly happen: what if your uncle threw your dad off a cliff, then blamed you for it and banished you from the Pride Lands? Whichever road you choose, dramatic change will always act as a catalyst for a story. 

No Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead 
Think about the people in your life. They’re interesting, right? You wouldn’t be friends (or enemies!) with them if they weren’t. You can probably think right now of some of their quirks: how your best friend starts sentences three times when he’s nervous, the way your cousin gets excited when talking about efficient work practices, how that one colleague in the Zoom call always forgets to mute their mic. You probably know some secrets, too, or some wild stories: I’m fairly sure my closest friends could pick me out even if I shape-shifted into someone completely different, because they know my mannerisms that well.  

Well, these are your people, right? You know them, you love them. So combine them. Take two or three of the people you know, squish them together, and make them a new character. Add a few of these combos and you’ve populated a world. If you steal from your friends, steal responsibly, of course! Don’t cast them in a role they hate! Stephen King’s preferred method of writing is to throw two interesting people in a room together and see what they do: strong enough personalities can make even trips to the grocery store interesting. (And come on: if you’ve assembled a bed from IKEA, you KNOW how interesting “two people in a room” can get.)  

Instant Story, Just Add Dragons 
Okay, it doesn’t have to be dragons! Picture your favorite book. What if you changed the genre? Try to rephrase the book’s premise to incorporate a different genre. Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” is just a spooky ghost retelling of “The Jungle Book”. Who can forget “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” or Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Hamlet? You don’t have to go with classics, either: try taking an incident that happened to you in real life and teleporting it into the past. What would baking a cake look like in Victorian England?  

Hey, Cheaper Than Therapy 
You know that haunting feeling? The pervasive feeling of existential dread, the quiet grief of a decaying friendship, the gnawing hunger for a chocolate chip cookie? (Okay. Maybe not that last one.) Humans are complicated, and most of us have emotions bouncing around inside all day long, going unexamined. Why not turn them into a story? If you’ve already examined all of your life’s hardships, even better: it’ll be so much easier to retell them in fiction. Change the names, and who’s to say your life’s memoir isn’t total fiction?  

Noodles at the Wall 
None of these sound ideal? No problem. When you’re cooking pasta, you can tell it’s done one of two ways: you can taste the noodle, checking to see if it’s al dente, or you can throw a noodle at the wall and see if it sticks. One of these methods is more reliable than the other. The other is undoubtedly more fun. Pick a broad category – food, clothes, recreation, jobs – and set a timer for ten minutes. Freewrite everything you can think of about that topic. It doesn’t matter what you write, it doesn’t matter if it’s good. You’re not writing fiction right now, you’re brainstorming. Just keep your hands moving. 

When you’re done writing those words, read through what you’ve just written. One of the sentences should feel stickier than the others. Maybe it bothers you; maybe you want to say more about it, or maybe you believe it more than you’ve ever believed anything in your life. Great. That’s the first sentence of your first chapter. Copy it into a new document and keep going. 

Thanks for joining the Aurora Library for our writing tips! I hope they were helpful! 

And you heard a voice say, as you closed the website, 
“Happy writing to all! It’ll turn out alright!” 

Posted by [email protected] On 03 November, 2020 at 2:58 PM  1 Comment

Shawn (Guest) said On 04 November, 2020 at 5:49 AM
I've never heard of NaNoWriMo but this post has so much good advice and so many great lines it sparked my curiosity. Thanks for writing it.  
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