Writer’s Block: Lost in NaNo Land

Writer’s block is “the pitiable instance of long incubation producing no chick.” ~~George Eliot

Before NaNoWriMo started, I took lots of time to think about my novel idea, do character sketches and backgrounds and goals and motives, read about scene structure and plotting, research the setting and background, and write a loose plot line. I was ready!

It was fun for nearly two weeks.

Writer’s Block Re-visited

About Day 12 of National Novel Writing Month, I hit a snag. Something didn’t feel right. I pushed ahead, determined to over-ride resistance and do my allotted daily words. It worked. Each following day, though, it felt worse. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I used every anti-procrastination trick I knew, including Procrastination Tip: Jump In! Although I was able to put down the daily quota of words, I knew I hadn’t fixed what was wrong.

By Day 15 I couldn’t write. Nothing. Calling myself names, eating chocolate, going for walks, moaning to a writer friend–nothing budged the block. I couldn’t get past the insistent feeling that something was wrong.

Finding Help

On my book shelf was a book I’d never read, and so I picked up On Writer’s Block: A New Approach to Creativity by Victoria Nelson. I didn’t feel a lot of hope until I read this in the first few pages: “Writers, when they are not writing, tend to think of themselves in a number of ways, all bad. They are–so they think–lazy, undisciplined shirkers, failures, cowardly frauds…However, properly interpreted, a block is the best thing that can happen to a writer. Resistance is a vital regulator of the creative process because it obliges us to suspend our plans and reconsider.”

Hmmm…maybe instead of pushing myself to keep writing, I should stop calling myself names and “suspend my plan and reconsider.” So that’s what I did. I stopped trying to make my daily quota of new words, backed up so I could see a longer view, and studied the book idea again. I didn’t see the problem right away. In fact, it didn’t dawn on me until I was washing dishes that night.

Mid-way through the book I had changed themes.

How’d That Happen?

This book idea had been on my back burner for a couple of years, and when I first thought of it, my theme was one thing. Last year when I re-worked the book idea, I saw a much better theme that would tie together the plot and two sub-plots. Because I had salvaged some of the first outline, I started out that way, but midway through the novel, my new theme showed up, causing a 90-degree turn in the plot which took the story off in another direction. If I kept going with my outline, I could now see that the story would never hang together. I had started out making one point, but the new ending was going to show something else entirely.

That was the “something wrong” I had sensed. That was the reason I was blocked in NaNo Land. And pushing through the roadblock my writer’s mind had thrown up wasn’t the answer. I needed to stop writing, go back to my outline, and think some more. I needed to “suspend my plans and reconsider.” That’s what I’ve been doing the last few days. I think I see how the problem can be fixed, but I really need to stop, go back, and fix some early chapters to see if it will all hang together by the end.

What To Do?

I hate to do that, because barring some miracle that cancels Thanksgiving and gives November 40 days this year, I won’t make it successfully to the “winner’s circle” in NaNo Land. But that’s okay. Last year I pushed through and kept going and made it to the finish line, but I still have a manuscript that I haven’t been able to revise. I don’t want another story like that.

Next week I will get going again, but if I don’t make it to the 50,000 word mark November 30, I will let myself off the hook. When I’m done, I would much rather have a book I like and can revise–even if my National Novel Writing Month finishes at Christmas!

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