It’s now November 13th and this week has been my fork in the road. If you’ve ever tried NaNoWriMo before, you’ll know what I’m referring to. If you haven’t, then I’m about to give you a crash course in the NaNoWriMo Blues. I’d argue that anyone undertaking a project as gruelling as writing 50,000 words in 30 days is bound to hit a roadblock somewhere along the way. It just so happens that mine’s come along sooner than I’d expected.
In this post I’m going to be looking at the NaNoWriMo blues and how to push your way through them. In my experience, they’re not always something you can avoid. So it’s important to know how to go through the tunnel of blueness and emerge in one piece out of the other side.
If you’re in the middle of your first ever NaNoWriMo you might find some of my other posts on getting started helpful. But if, like me, you’re currently stuck at your own fork in the road then read on for some (hopefully) helpful tips.
What are the NaNoWriMo Blues?
Speaking loosely, the NaNoWriMo Blues are the name I lovingly attribute to writer’s block. To say it’s writer’s block though is a bit reductive. Often, this feeling hits when you least expect it. Usually, once you’re a good 10,000 words or so in and you think you’ve actually cracked it! That’s the painful irony about the NaNoWriMo Blues. You might be on the biggest creative roll you’ve ever been on and then bam – disaster strikes.
For me, this happened earlier this week. I’d got myself into a bit of a pattern with my writing habit so I was going great guns. First, I set my writing hour to roughly between 2-3 pm, and then I shifted gear so that I’d write first thing in the morning between say, 9 am and 11 am. Then on Tuesday, I had a doctor’s appointment at around 11.20 am, and that threw me out of my routine massively. And no matter what I tried, I could not get back into the flow of writing once I got home.
It’s now Friday and I’ve barely written another word since.
So it’s writer’s block?
Not quite. The NaNoWriMo blues have a nasty tendency not only to stop you from creating anything further but also for making you look back at what you’ve already done and start pulling it apart. This is a cardinal NaNo no-no. Editing and re-reading are strictly post-November activities. Once you open up that can of worms, it’s really easy to convince yourself that the thing you’re writing is horrendous.
Before you know it, you’ve got yourself a heady cocktail of writer’s block, crippling self-doubt and a conviction that your work is abysmal and should never again see the light of day. The NaNoWriMo Blues then start to set in, in earnest. If you’re relating to what I’m saying right now, then you’ll know you’ve come to the fork in the road with me.
But where do we go from here?
How to find a way through the NaNoWriMo Blues
I’ll be honest with you, this bit is going to be hard work. I have personally struggled with pushing through this week like you wouldn’t believe. However, there’s one simple truth to all this that will see you safely past this bump in the road.
You just have to grit your teeth and write through it.
I could say that you can find support online, in writing groups, forums or on social media, but really that’s just delaying the inevitable. If you want to navigate the fork in the road at this point then you have to dig deep. This is the point at which most people feel like giving up. It’s hard. Really, really hard. However, if you just keep pushing through, even if it’s only for 100 words a day, you’ll start to feel that feeling of progression once more.
Stay off social media
Honestly, it’s difficult when the last thing you feel like doing is writing. But I find that the more time I sink into scrolling and commenting, the worse I inevitably feel about having done no further writing. If you can send an 140-character tweet, you can write a line of your novel. Even if you hate it and think you’re the worst writer on the planet right now, just do one line.
Social media is a double-edged sword at the best of times. It’s something that can connect us but can also bring comparison to the forefront of your mind. I’ve found it hard to see how well others are progressing through their word counts when mine has stagnated for the last four days. So, I’ve been making a conscious effort to avoid it and just write something.
Hence this blog post. It isn’t my novel, but it’s something. I’m writing. I am practising the skill I’ve been telling myself I’m so insanely dreadful at. My book is still there, lurking away in a Google Doc on another tab, but for now, this is what will help me navigate my own fork in the road.
Be nicer to yourself
It sounds trite, but it is important. I am my own harshest critic and will chastise myself for not achieving my word count or for writing dull sentences. But hey, I just used the word ‘chastise’ and I feel pretty good about that. I have to remind myself do have a decent vocabulary and I have to try and be nicer to myself about what I am capable of.
As writers, it’s in our nature to pick apart sentence structure and constantly think of how we can make our work better. Sometimes though, that high-intensity nitpicking comes at a cost. Try to be kinder to yourself and just write what feels natural to you at the time. You can always go back and improve things in the editing process. Just make sure that happens after NaNoWriMo is over!
Get some sleep
This one is always difficult for me, but sleep matters more than ever during a bout of the NaNoWriMo Blues. When you’re exhausted, you’re also mentally exhausted. It can be hard during the challenge of NaNoWriMo because of the innate pressure you have to achieve 1600 words a day. However, that challenge is intensified when you throw late nights and minimal hours of rest into the mix.
I saw a tweet the other day that said something like ‘we’ve allowed burnout to exist because we’ve made rest a reward rather than a right’. That’s really stuck with me because it’s so true. I treat resting time as if I’m being lazy or somehow cheating myself of precious hours of productivity. It’s only dawned on me recently how toxic this mindset actually is. So, I’m taking steps to try and amend this and provide my brain and body with the rest they really need to be actually efficient when I need them to work.
Remember that this is just a bump in the road
Ultimately, this may be the point at which you decide you won’t achieve the 50,000 words by the 1st of December. You know what though, that’s ok. Just do what you need to do to get through this particular roadblock and if you play catch-up for the rest of the month then so be it. You’re only going to suffer if you put too much pressure on yourself. If you’ve ‘only’ done 10,000 words, then guess what – you’ve written 10,000 words! That’s amazing! That’s a short story or a basis for a short fiction series, or a foundation for something larger.
Don’t be too hard on yourself about the NaNoWriMo Blues. They come to everyone at different times on this creative writing journey. If now’s the time you feel like stopping, then that’s ok. Just make sure you use the rest of the month to do something creative with the work you have completed. If you’re carrying on with your NaNo work, great! Just remember the points above, grit your teeth and do a little at a time until you start to feel the progress come flooding back.
You can do this, fork in the road or not.
Have you struggled with the NaNoWriMo Blues?
I’d love to hear from you if you’re in the same boat as me right now. If you’ve ever suffered from a bout of writer’s block or have fallen off the horse mid-November then let me know. It does help to share advice and thoughts on how you can get back into a writing routine following a bit of a blip. Feel free to leave your comments in the box below or as always, you can find me over on Twitter.
If you’ve found this post helpful then please do give it a share, and you might also like to check out some of my creative writing resources too. Let me know how you get on with your own NaNoWriMo work!