When the event starts, it's easy to get excited, to get motivated, but as you start spending more and more time alone--writing is a solitary activity--your energy level might begin to fall off. Unless, of course, you're on a roll. One nano'er I know is actually at the 80,000 word mark now (Go, @AmosTFairchild!) For the bulk of you, however, you're probably struggling in either the 5,000 or 15,000 word range and need a new boost to your inspirational juices.
One way, of course, is the Write-In, which I mentioned in my first Tuesday Tip on Nanowrimo. A Write-in is where a bunch of your fellow nano'ers gather together with you in a common location to write "alone together." It's an interactive writer's group where you can ask each other questions (which could be diasterous if you're on a roll and someone else has a long list of interruptions) and where you can get inspired by each other's work.
Since I've never actually experienced the mythical "Writer's Block," I'm not sure I can relate to being unable to churn out words, but I'll try. Click through the jump-break for a few tips on how to approach writing slumps.
Support System - Life Line or Death Sentence
Your support system (family, friends, coworkers) may or may not be helping you. History describes writers as "struggling" or being "tortured" because the world does not like our selfish ways. We can pour our energy into our work -- or into other people. It's a choice. It's rare anyone can do both. If your family is supportive, you are blessed. There's a reason authors with supportive spouses, children, parents, etc. will dedicate their books to these people and thank them for their patience. Anyone who cohabitates your writing environment needs to understand and accept that when you're writing, you're not really there. Interrupting you to ask "a quick question" can stop your productivity for hours, not minutes and if you don't have hours left to spend, it can be incredibly frustrating to be interrupted. You can become angry, resentful or just plain fixated on the interruption, itself and wondering how you're going to get back into the writing momentum. It's especially hard when you beat yourself up, emotionally, for resenting the interruption.
Instead of sitting down at the keyboard with anger, resentment or guilt, try sitting down with your support system to ask them for their support. Point out that they are in a unique position of power to help you. Point out that if you're writing, you aren't really "in" the real world and that by drawing you back into it, they're only going to get half of your attention (because at least half of your mind will fight the return to the real world, knowing you're "supposed to" be writing). Point out that if they'll wait until you finish your allotted time at the keyboard, you can give them your full attention and be energized by a successful session writing.
Odd as it sounds, this is (in my opinion) the best reason for using a kitchen timer to actually time your writing session. That is, the visual aid tells your potential interrupter how much time they actually have to wait before you will once again become available to them. If you use one, be sure to reset it any and every time you get interrupted. Be sure the person who interrupts you sees you resetting it. I'm not going to say someone in your support system would consciously try to sabotage you, but they might inadvertently do so. Visual aids -- like a ticking clock -- usually help you and your support group to stay focused on the goal: for you, getting words written; for them, getting your attention afterwards.
I happen to live alone and one might think, after my going on about the negative side of a support system that lives with you that it would be a blessing. It's not necessarily. There are times when I have writing to do that coincide with other things I "need" to do. You know, laundry, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, running a life. If I don't do it, there's no one else around to get it done. When I want or need to write by a certain time, I had to learn to just set those other "needs" out of my mind. Sometimes, things just aren't going to get done and that's the way it goes. Life will not end. When I have time, I'll do them. Eventually, if I'm using my writing time productively, I do have time. The real trick was to learn to just stop thinking about the To Do List when I had writing to do. Let the writing be the only thing on your To Do list and you'll get it done. The world won't end if the laundry sits in the machine for an hour. The fiction world might fall to pieces if I spend that hour scurrying around doing housework instead of putting the fictional pieces back together while I'm "in the zone."
Never Stop Yourself
This is one of the most-common ways writers fall into the whole mindset often called "Writer's Block." It's not really a block, it's a lack of mental focus. If you feel the urge to write, do it. Don't stop yourself and decide something else--anything else--is more important. Again, this is completely dependent on how supportive your support system is and/or how able you are to just set life aside for an hour to serve the needs of your writing. Unless you're at work or otherwise committed to responsibilities you are literally unable to avoid (the kids have to get picked up from school; that's not something you can put off for an hour *grin*) then you need to cater to the whims of your mood. If you ever feel the urge to write something, do it. Don't suppress the urge and figure you'll get some time later and write down whatever it was you just thought up. Do it now! While the juices are flowing, while you're "in the zone."
Deliberately and consciously knocking yourself out of the zone, holding back the flow, is actually you sabotaging yourself. You are actually constructing the writer's block yourself so never talk yourself out of writing, never "put it off 'til later" when you rationalize your environment will be "better." It's never better than it is right now, right at the moment when you feel inspired to write. By feeding into the feeling of eagerness--instead of deliberately squelching it--you end up growing the energy and will experience it more and more often.
Being able to balance real life with your writing life is a balancing act, definitely, but it is the key to keeping the words flowing. If you cannot self-discipline or prioritorize your To Do list, things will spin out of control quickly, but if you can stay focused, you'll end up allowing yourself total focus on the writing when it's "Writing Time" and find yourself able to meet your responsibilities the rest of the time (rather than sitting to watch TV or doing email or getting on Facebook or any number of other things people do that waste time otherwise intended for actually "getting things done"). It's hard and you might just have to give up "fun" activities. If you don't find writing, in and of itself, to be one of those "fun" activities, I'm not sure I can help you. It's possible you should not try to be a writer.
If that's not true for you, you're probably not really a writer. You probably figure you're doing something wrong and that's why it's not fun. Trust me, if it's in your "design" to be a writer, it'll the most fun you can have alone because really, you're not alone when you write if you're a writer; writers live with their characters and worlds and stories in their heads and hearts and souls. We don't create them; we live with them!
How to Get Flowing Again
The #1 thing people want to know is if they get stopped up, how can they get going again, what can be done to get the creative juices unstopped and the words flowing again? Well, assuming you're really a writer and have the need at your very core--and assuming you've address the whole support system issue noted above--one of the things you can do to get back into your world and "reintegrate" with your characters is to "interview" your characters.
Dissect them, their history, their motivations, their deepest darkest secrets. These aren't necessarily details that will end up in your story, but there'll be details you discover this way that might inspire you to spawn a new 3000-word scene today, just when you thought you'd have no word count! If you ask yourself why something's happening and keep digging into the people in your story, you'll find things you didn't really remember creating. That's because you probably didn't create them--or not yet. Your "interview" process is the creation process.
What kinds of questions do you ask in these interviews? Really, it depends a lot on your story, genre and characters but there are general questions you can ask. Some writers use this kind of process in order to find ideas in the first place. I don't. I start with the characters and they bring their own stories with them, but I do get to know my characters this way (usually after I've written 30,000 to 50,000 words of random scenes (plot points) and need to connect them with that pesky thing called a plotline). I hate connecting the dots, but interviewing the characters tells me how to do it.
I ask them how they got here, why'd they choose this instead of that, what is it that happened in their past that motivated this choice or gave them that attitude. I basically dissect a scene and work backwards to figure out how it--and the people in it--ended up that way. There are a lot of writing advice books and web sites that have lists of questions for interviewing your characters or profiling your scene or all kinds of other expression that all mean the same thing: do an analysis of what tiny little bit you've got and you'll get more. Why does this work? Because it forces your thoughts back into the world/story without demanding you contribute to it. This process basically tricks your mind back into "the zone" without struggling.
But if you want to be a struggling author, starving artiste or tortured soul, be my guest. I'd rather crank out the words and get to read the next story! Yes, I read my work as I write it and my characters tell me the bestest stories ever! That's why it's so much fun.
The next blog will be Freebie Friday. If you're an Indie Author, you can submit your book here if you'd like to be featured and get some new readers. This week's feature will be the last one I'll run until December because I'll be shutting down the blog for the long, holiday weekend (next week is Thanksgiving in the USA).