Today is the 17th day of National Novel Writing Month. If you’ve entered this year’s challenge to write the first draft of a 50,000 word novel in 3o days, this is the place where you might predictably enter the doldrums. The wind has died and you’re wallowing on a vast, empty sea. Here’s the geographic point where many writers lose their way. Their muse, like the wind, has deserted them. They start to think their story isn’t very good. Really, what’s the point? Might as well abandon ship.
All writers have novels they haven’t finished. It’s easy to start a novel, much harder to see it through to completion. The doldrums, writer’s block, the, I-got-nothin’-more-to-say, have trapped many novelists – sometimes for hours, days, weeks, or years. It’s where most manuscripts wind up, adrift in oblivion. I’ve got a few floating out there, myself.
NaNoWriMo is the auxiliary engine that drives you out of the doldrums, to a latitude where once again the Muse blows. Just knowing that thousands of writers all over the world are writing their stories this month might be enough to start that engine. Send a Mayday to your support group (you do have a support group, don’t you?) Sometimes a little encouragement from a fellow sailor is all you need. Here are some other ways to fuel your auxiliary engine.
1. Don’t be afraid to write garbage. Later, you can pick through the trash heap and find some gems. The main thing is to keep writing. Anything. Trust me, it will lead to something. It might actually lead to a different story altogether and you’ll find yourself heading in a different direction, toward a new landfall. Go with it. If you run hard aground, write these related sentences, and answer them: What I really want to write is __________. What I’m really trying to say is ___________. I’m writing this story because ___________. And yes, include this in your word count! It’s part of discovering the theme of your novel, and recapturing the drive that made you want to write it in the first place.
2. Try exploring a subplot or supporting character more fully. This can enrich your story, or maybe lead you in new directions. Describe your characters fully and write out their biographies in order to discover their motivations. Even though you’ll need to cut some of this in the rewrite, the layers of complexity will remain, supporting your story like the deep blue sea beneath your boat.
3. If you haven’t already done so, skip ahead and write the ending. The last page. Write multiple endings. This gives you something to write toward.
4. Use your right brain. Get a piece of paper and chart your story. Be creative! There are no rules to drawing this map, but a visual of your story as a whole might help generate wind.
5. Just do it! Follow through with your committment and finish the damn thing! Hammer out your 50,000 words by the end of the month. If nothing else, you have met your deadline, which is a huge part of being a writer. Trust the process and allow the words to tumble out of your brain, down your arms, out your fingers and onto the screen or the page. If your inner editor tells you, you suck, you need to gag her and lock her in the hold until your reach landfall with your cargo of 50k. Then, after celebrating a successful voyage in a waterfront pub, you can drag your critic ashore and let her begin her work. Next time, leave her ashore until you return.
There’s an enormous ocean out there, waiting to be explored. Fair winds, writers!