NaNoWriMo Phases and how to Combat Them

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This week we welcome a guest post to help us navigate the perils of NanoWrimo. We have all the faith in the world you can win and so does our guest. Please help us welcome Rene Mullen.


We’re just past the midway point with NaNoWriMo. Whether you’re a seasoned WriMo or a newcomer to the craziness, you’ve probably noticed the odd ebb and flow of the month.

As a former Municipal Liaison and five time NaNoWriMo participant (and winner), I’m here to tell you it’s normal. From the NaNo Mania prepping and excitement to the initial rush that you know you’re writing GOLD to the first writer’s block. These phases are normal.

Let’s take a look at some of the phases you should expect and some tips for finishing what you started and writing your 50k in 30 days now that we’re on Day 17.

The Procrastination Phase

You know who you are. You’re reading this post right now because it’s Day 17, and you’re looking for ANY excuse to not be writing right now. I’m willing to bet a million dollars if you look around your house you’ll find it’s the cleanest it’s ever been. EVER! You’re procrastinating so hard you’ve decided cleaning is better than writing another word right now.

Two recommendations:

First, get the procrastination out of your system. We all need what I like to call a Reboot. That time where you get away from the laptop or notebook and do something else. Anything else. Something that rejuvenates you, brings you back from that bad mood.

Second, turn off your distractions. It’s time you recognize how often you’ve checked Facebook or Twitter in the last 25 minutes. Close your social media.Turn off your phone notifications. Turn off the TV. Stop the YouTube. The Internet will still be here in December. Trust me. If it isn’t, I’ll buy you all cake.

If you really need a kick in the pants, there are programs that force you like Write or Die.

1. The Writer’s Block Phase

You’ve all been there. Especially in NaNo. At the start, you write like the wind. Then comes the STOP. The story hits a roadblock. You’ve run out of ideas. Or you just can’t get past this one sentence because it just doesn’t sound right yet. Well, it’s high time you learn one very valuable writing/NaNo lesson:

Writer’s Block does not exist!

There. I’ve said it.

Writer’s Block is an excuse to allow you to stop writing.

People talk of the Muse and waiting for her to tell you what to write. NaNo, if you haven’t figured it out yet, pushes you past the Muse. You NEED to average 1667 words a day or else. Muses don’t like that.

NaNo is about throwing away your excuses. No more “there’s no time to write” or “I just never got around to writing that novel” or “the pizza I had for lunch wasn’t pizza-y enough.” The Muse is the next excuse that has to go.

Tell yourself, “I’m going to write right now. If my Muse wishes to join me, she’s welcome to come along. Otherwise she can catch up when she feels like it.” Trust me, breaking these chains can be amazingly liberating! It’s on par with the “Give yourself the OK to suck!” motto that you hear often during NaNoWriMo.

If you can’t seem to quiet your Internal Editor or can’t live without your Muse, go to a Write-In. They’re everywhere. Your local Municipal Liaison has set some up. There’s probably dozens of unofficial Write-Ins happening right now. Go! Find your local region on the NaNo site. There’s usually a calendar of events and forums with makeshift Write-Ins. Make friends with other NaNo warriors. They’re like mini pep rallies when you need it most.

2. The Steam is Gone Phase

This is a tough one to deal with. Marathons are not for the faint of heart. Take note, you didn’t agree to an easy challenge.

Just remember: this is YOUR dream.

To cope with your lost motivation or energy I highly recommend finding friends who are doing NaNo. Piggyback off each other’s excitement. Go to a Write-In. Even if you don’t expect to get any writing done, just go to that Write-In! The energy in the room is electric! And contagious!

3. The Plot Point Dead End Phase

You’ve probably experienced this one already. This is one of the more painful blocks you come across in NaNo. You get to the point in your story when you realize your heroine can’t kill the dragon on her own and she’s all alone. Or that you’ve got the whole story figured out if you could just get your heroine out of that locked room. You’ve written yourself into a corner you can’t write your way out of. You need and Ex Machina but you know that’s silly and can’t bring yourself to do it.

Move on!

Skip the plot hole entirely. You have the rest of the story figured out? Good! Go with that!

Much like editing, you can fix your plot hole in December.

I had this every issue last year. My two main characters had no reason to NOT know what the other was doing, but that ignorance was vital to my plot (Isn’t that the case with all YA?). I walked around the apartment wondering what to do. Eventually, I just shrugged, put a few hard returns in my draft, and kept on going like it magically fixed itself. I wrote that missing scene in February when I got to that part of the editing process.

4. Word Count Worry Phase

Have you fallen behind? Is it a few words? Is it a few words multiplied by a LOT of words? Like days behind? And looky there! You still have Thanksgiving and family and sleep to worry about!

Two things to take into consideration at this point.

First, go to a Write-In and do some writing sprints. You can’t call it quits just because the world’s fastest typer is already at 50k and you’ve got 10k on the 17th! Quitters don’t win.

Get some coffee. Get some Jolt cola (if they still make it). Get candy, ice cream, rent a cheerleading squad! Who cares. Just do whatever it is you need to in order to get back in the game.

For me, I tend to need a day off where I go on an all day hike. I go alone. I go to the middle of nowhere. No phone. No music or podcasts. Just me and the nature bits and a pen and pad…just in case. This rejuvenates me and gets me ready for another stretch of typing madness.

Second, let’s be honest, very few who sign up make it to 50k.  

Don’t use this as an excuse. It’s just the truth. Does that mean you have to be one of those? Nope. But don’t beat yourself up either. You chose this goal of 50k in 30 days because you wanted to finally write that book and stop talking about writing that book. You’re only cheating yourself if you come up with excuses. At the same time, you’re doing this for you.

Let’s just say you finish the next two weeks with a “lousy 30,000 words.”

Um…30,000 words! From nothing to a novella!  You just wrote 1,000 words A DAY!

5. The I Suck Phase

Daily word count totals are slipping. Writer’s block is in full force (and total baloney). Time isn’t on your side. Work/school/family/SLEEP are all creeping in and keeping you from your goal. You look to your stash and find all your Halloween candy is gone. And you still have the holiday weekend to keep you from the keyboard! And worse yet, you’re starting to “realize” that what you’ve written to this point is garbage. Absolute garbage.  What are you doing here pretending you can write!?

Sound familiar?

If it doesn’t, you’re a heartless robot who eats radishes for desserts!

My recommendation: find a Write-In.

Seeing a trend here?

Write-Ins are not just a way to chitchat and not be productive. They are support groups filled with others in your same situation. They are energy boosters, self esteem boosters, word count boosters! You think you’re the only one to believe you suck as a writer? Think again!

Write-Ins are filled with people in your very position right now. There are veterans of the WriMo who can give you tips that worked for them. There are NaNo war stories of computers dying or crashing mid-manuscript without saving anything, the unexpected flu that knocked the WriMo out for a whole week, houses burning down, the new babies crying at 2 AM, the “I write during my 15 minute breaks at my 80 hour a week job.” The stories are endless. And inspiring!

I’m as introverted as they come. We all are. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be writers, we’d be actors. I still find myself at Write Ins and engaging other NaNo warriors when I get down. Or when I’m in the mood to procrastinate.

About the Author

Rene Mullen is a copy editor in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is a writer of dark fiction in all its incantations. His short stories and poetry has been published in 94 Creations, Bear the Pall anthology, and Black Mirror Magazine. He is a former NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison and a constant supporter of all things written.

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