NaNoWriMo's Sticky, Gooey Middle
Editor’s Note: We are encouraging Deputy Editor Aimee Jodoin’s literary ambitions while using her as a guinea pig. We ordered her to write for her food and participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, but do it on her own time outside the office just like everybody else. We are just mean like that. Aimee is writing weekly updates. Read week one and week two.
Just like you can split your novel into three acts, you can do the same with NaNoWriMo. The first week of November was overflowing with enthusiasm and promise. In the second and third weeks, however, you may be losing energy, your cheerleaders may have lost interest, and your story might not feel all that appealing to you anymore. And it doesn’t help that you’re writing arguably the toughest section of the novel. The fourth week of November (I hope) will consist of joy despite exhaustion as the light at the end of the 50,000 words comes into view. But now, we are two-thirds of the way through both the month and the novel (if you’re planning on ending the book at the 50K mark). Here are some tips to help you get through the nougaty center of NaNo—and of your manuscript.
Switch It Up
For NaNo: Some writers try to sneak in their writing at random times, which differ from day to day, while others (like me) are creatures of habit. At this point in the game, you might be in the flow, but chances are your methods could use a little shaking up. Maybe your reward system isn’t working anymore (I used Reese’s cups for every 500 words I wrote), or maybe your writing space isn’t giving you the oomph it used to. Whether you choose to write in a different place every day or stick to the same strict schedule, it might be time to try something new. If you’re the spontaneous type, try writing in the same place at the same time as yesterday and see what that does for you. If you’re the habitual type, go write in a coffee shop, on a train, outside (if Jack Frost isn’t biting you), in the morning, late at night, upside down, drunk. You never know where inspiration will come from.
For your manuscript: Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, the middle of the story can be tough to slog through. I generally like to plan things, but for NaNo, I decided to go with the flow and see where the story would take me, within the loose outline I had mapped out in my head. The middle is where the characters go through the ups and downs of reaching for their goal—and maybe even finding a new one. The beginning is catching and enthusiastic, the ending wraps things up with a bang, but in the middle, anything can happen. If you’re getting stuck, try popping into the head of another character to see what their side of the story is. Throw something unexpected at them to see how they react. It’s a draft, so you can change it later if it doesn’t work, but the twists might take your story somewhere better than your original plan.
Talk It Out
For NaNo: Two-thirds of the way through the month, the people you asked to keep you accountable may be just as tired as you are. You can still ask them for encouragement and bounce ideas off of them, but finding an additional pal certainly won’t hurt. A new perspective can renew your spark.
For your manuscript: Just as you want more than small talk sometimes and to get to know people well, your characters need some deep conversation to reveal their personality and to develop relationships that give your story power. If you’re at a slow part in the novel, stick two characters who don’t know each other well into a room together and have them toss some dialogue back and forth, be it about the weather, the aliens that have taken them hostage, or their perspective on the meaning of life. Not only will you rack up a decent amount of words to add to your word count, but you’ll also gain some insight into what makes your characters tick.
Take a Break
For NaNo: Sometimes trying to work your way through only wears you down. The work you’ll have to do to catch up tomorrow might be intimidating, but don’t let that stop you from taking one day off. You deserve it. If you feel like you can’t go on, quit for the day, even if you’ve only written 200 words. But don’t quit for the month. Start again tomorrow. Go slow. Don’t wear yourself out.
For your manuscript: The beauty of NaNo is that you have a draft at the end that is malleable and changeable. You can do something totally off track, as long as your word count continues growing. Start a new chapter, or write a story within a story, with totally new characters or a crazy new setting. While you might end up deleting whole pages at the end of the month so your story will flow correctly, the parts of your novel you wrote after the different bit will thank you. Because otherwise they would have never existed at all.
For NaNo: Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. It’s the only way you’ll get through.
For your manuscript: ’Nuff said.
Aimee Jodoin is deputy editor at Foreword Reviews. You can follow her on Twitter @aimeebeajo.