Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: getting unstuck from NaNoWriMo


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Today we are going to talk about a GLORIOUS time of year—NANOWRIMO—which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is meant to support creativity and encourage those who say they want to be authors to give it a go and write a novel (50,000 words) in a month. Notice the challenge is 50,000 words. No one said they had to be good words. Or publishable words. Or polished words. Or edited words.

This is actually why I believe Nanowrimo is very useful for all levels of writers. It trains out perfectionism. No half-finished novel ever made the NY Times best-seller list, but some crappy slightly-less-than-glorious novels have. The biggest threats to your finished novel (and mine) are Mr. It Must Be Perfect and his evil sister Editina.

Preparing for Nanowrimo

Have Fun and Fuel Up

Anyway, whoever chose November as National Novel Writing Month was seriously brilliant, because Halloween is like Mardi Gras for writers. If you are smart, use trick-or-treating to your advantage. After combing the neighborhoods for bags of gooey corn syrup and chocolate morsels of literary energy, be a diligent parent.

Search your kid’s candy for stuff like “illicit drugs”, “poison” and “razor blades” and “get rid of it” which of course is code for “hide it in your office.” You will need that fuel for Week Two of Nano. Tape the pixie sticks under your desk in case this goes into Week Four.

You see anything that looks like THIS? It’s drugs. Confiscate it!

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Because seriously, who’s giving their Adderall away for FREE to complete and total strangers? *rolls eyes*

No…really. I need an address.

Where were we?

Technically, taking half our kids’ candy under false pretenses is gas-lighting them, but reading and literature is vital for a civilized society. The world needs more writers and normal people make crappy writers. It’s science. So how are we going to create more literary geniuses if we don’t damage our kids just a little bit?

You’re welcome.

True, years later our kids might wonder why we continued to live in a neighborhood full of psychopaths who tried to murder them every time they trick-or-treated. And they may put two-and-two together that their lives were only “in danger” the years Mommy or Daddy did Nano. But, by then, we will be a filthy rich NYTBSA and we can buy them all the candy they want to take to therapy.

OR we can team up on our grandkids because the plan was successful and our kids grew up to become writers!

I am a freaking genius.

And if you don’t have kids? Well…yeah, sucks to be you. You’ll have to pay for your own sugar rush.

Some More Practical Tips (Other than Crockpots & Yoga Pants)

Often why writers fail to finish Nanowrimo is they don’t do the right prep work or enough prep work. They believe that they will make it through 50,000 words on creativity alone and that’s like thinking a Share-Size bag of Skittles is plenty of fuel for a double marathon.

Uh huh.

BS and glitter is good for about a day. Maybe three. After that? $#!t gets real and if we haven’t done some preparation it’s going to make finishing a lot tougher, if not impossible.

I highly recommend doing Nano. Nanowrimo gives a taste of the professional pace. It also gives a sample of the professional life of a writer (especially the weeping and drinking heavily part right around November 30th).

Most of the time we (pros) do not feel inspired. If we felt inspired all the time and were a limitless-cerebral-slushee-machine-of-cherry-flavored-rainbow-imagination-genius, no one would have ever needed to invent this thing called a deadline.

And then call it something super terrifying like DEADline.

Nano Makes it REAL

Nanowrimo gets us over our romanticized notions of “writing” and lets us fall in love with the real deal. A “WIP” (Work in Progress) does not send you dozens of roses, run you bubble baths or give you long massages.

Your WIP has no idea what a hamper is, eats the last slice of pizza and leaves the box in the fridge, farts under the covers and yells DUTCH OVEN! and shoves your head under the covers. You stick with it and love it through disease plot holes sickness adverb infestations, and infidelity revision until death—deadline—do you part.

THAT is reality. THAT is being a real writer 😉 .

You can do it!

What makes it easier is we learn how to rely on skills instead of just creativity because creativity will wear out pretty quickly.

Yes, many of you were star students in school. I was too. I made As on all my papers. But, unless you had a teacher that who you turn in a paper 50,000 words long? Trust me, this is a whole new world and some preparation is going to go a LONG way toward helping you finish.

Also, I want for you to do more than finish. I want to help you create something that can actually be shaped into something worthy of publishing.

If we are going to half-kill ourselves, why not?

To help you do this, I’ve linked to one of my most popular series:

Anatomy of a Best-Selling Novel

This series is a crash course in all you need to write a novel. I go over plotting on the micro and macro scale. We discuss three-act structure, etc. etc. No, it will not make your writing “formulaic.” Formulaic writing comes from execution. This series is valuable whether you are a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in between.

I call myself a plotter 😀 .

There is NO way I am ever going to outline, so I am not quite a plotter. I love the freedom of being a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants). But, pure pantsing is grossly ineffective (my opinion). It is a really good way to stall and it will be a nightmare to revise.

Even if you feel you are a pantser, I recommend checking out the series. Give some plotting a try. The reason. Creativity is ignited with boundaries. We love to believe that boundaries stifle our creativity, but I strongly disagree and I will prove it.

Visit Alcatraz. People incarcerated in supermax prisons are SERIOUSLY creative.

Okay, a better example…FINE.

If I said right now, “Write me a 1000 word short story.” Most of you would either blank or would stall.

BUT, if I said, “Write me a 1000 word short story about a freak show.” POOF! Ideas would abound. With just a little bit of boundaries your imagination sparks to life.

We can still write freely, but a handful of guideposts can keep us on track and can help maintain momentum.

The Series in Order:

Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story-Structure Part One

Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story-Structure Part Two

Introducing the Opposition-Structure Part Three

Is Your Story Idea STRONG Enough? Part Four

Your Story in a Sentence-Part Five

Is Your Story Primal? Part Six

Choosing a Genre-Part Seven

How to Manage Scenes in a Novel-Part Eight

Which is the Best POV for YOUR Story? Part Nine

Of course I recommend reading all of these, but if you do have to choose one, Part Four is a good one. A major reason many people do not complete Nano is they select far too weak of a story idea. The idea might work for a short story, but it simply is not robust enough for something as long as a novel. Thus it fizzles.

If you pick two to read? Go for Part Three as well. The single largest problem most new writers have is they DO NOT properly understand the antagonist. No antagonist? No story. Waxing rhapsodic for 50,000 words is not a novel. Navel-gazing is not a novel. Bouncing back and forth in time is not a novel. Novels are about one thing and one thing only—trouble. Without an antagonist your story will collapse in on itself.

Well, there you have it. Enjoy the rest of your October. Live it up kiddies while you can. You can sign up for Nanowrimo HERE.

I am still undecided if I’m going to do it. I usually do. I will be fast-drafting a NF I have due to my publisher, but I don’t know if I want to do a fiction at the same time, though I’ve done it before. AND, I have bombed Nano (multiple times), so I’m not perfect. When I blew it it’s because I failed to prepare. Fail to plan plan to fail. When I did prepare, however, I finished in 12 days. So it DOES make a difference.

So, you going to Nano? Were you going to pass but now the peer pressure is getting to you? Have you ever completed Nano? What helped you finish? What was your best time? Or did you sneak in at 11:59 P.M. November 30? Do you think plotters have an advantage in Nano? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or a plotser?

Planning on confiscating “drugs” from your kids trick-or-treat bags?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Renlund
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Renlund

One of the reasons I LOVE NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which is November) is it gives new writers a glimpse of a professional pace. It teaches discipline, writing no matter what, how we feel or whether or not we’re inspired. Writing is a profession, not a playpen. I remember when I was new thinking that 500 words a day was such a BIG DEAL. 

Now? I generally have 1200 words written before breakfast. My daily average can range from 1000-6000 words, depending on what I’m doing, how many projects I have going, etc.

I also love NaNoWriMo because it employs one of my favorite techniques, Fast Draft. Wear out the inner editor and the subconscious can come up with some pretty amazing stuff. This technique isn’t for everyone, but I do recommend trying a little of everything when we’re in the beginning stages of our career. Eventually, if we stick with it, we’ll find out what works. I LOVE Fast Draft because I’m, at heart, an editor.

I can nitpick until the prose screams and taps out.

Perfect prose is wonderful (though imaginary—-someone will always hate it). But, the world doesn’t reward perfection; it rewards finishers. So if you took the NaNo challenge (or even did a Fast Draft on your own) odds are you might find yourself stuck. It happens to us all.

WANA, Kristen Lamb, We Are Not Alone, WANA International, how to be successful writer
Image via Marie Loughin WANA Commons

I finally finished my mystery-thriller. I fast-drafted it and finished it in a month—70,000 words. I wrote it right after I fast-drafted my NF and newest best-selling book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. NF is left-brain. Left-brain was tired and needed time to marinate over what I’d written. Right-brain was bored and coloring on the walls and eating Play-Doh. So, while left-brain was resting and contemplating its belly-button, I put right-brain to work.

This gave me time to subconsciously ponder the NF while plowing through the fiction. Change is great. Get out of the house and out of your head and many times roadblocks will melt away. Read other books, watch movies, read some NF to feed and refresh your subconscious. In time? You’ll see what magic it can create ;).

Then I had to travel all spring and summer and finish and publish ROM, so I set the fiction down. Then we had WANACon and then my world went KABLOOEY personally, but all of that was fine, because I was still working on the fiction, rolling it over in my mind. I’d written four different endings and they were “good” but not “good enough.” Something was missing.

Maybe you finished the 50,000 words. Odds are, you hit somewhere between 20,000-35-000 and were stuck like a Ford Fiesta in icy mud. This is one of the reasons I recommend at least getting the log-line and basic plot points before beginning any fast-draft. If we don’t, we might find it hard to locate our literary butt with a literary flashlight.

But, I’ve been stuck and here are some tips.

Take a Break

Too many people dive into revisions right away. Take at least two days. Two weeks is better. Two months? Might take that long. Write your blog posts for the next week or month. Let the fiction simmer for a while and often problems will become clearer. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. Get away. Start plotting/fast-drafting the next novel. The human mind is an amazing thing. It will still be working on the other book, so expect some weird dreams.

Take a Different Path

Find a place where your character/story hit a wall? Nothing is happening? Back up. Can the protagonist make a different decision? As writers, we must guard against sanity. Sanity is our enemy. Great fiction comes from dumb, bad, miscalculated choices. If our protagonist is so evolved that he/she always has the right answers? Never makes emotional decisions guided more by baggage than logic? SNOOZE FEST.


You might even find yourself resistant to a certain direction. Why? Because it’s the correct path. It’s the uncomfortable path.

Discomfort=Dramatic Tension

Readers crave resolution. All humans do. We don’t like unresolved problems. This is how we get readers to turn pages faster and put our next book on their wish-list (if we have a series).

In my novel that I finally finished yesterday, the protagonist’s greatest strength is also her greatest weakness. She sees the best in people and tends to ignore her gut when red flags go up. She has to grow. Why I didn’t like those four other endings was they all had an HEA (Happily Ever After). But, that didn’t work with this book as much as I tried. There was only ONE ending that would satisfy. It’s dark, heart-wrenching…but (hopefully) satisfying. It was the ONE ending I didn’t want to write, but it was the only ending that tied up all loose threads in the mystery and demonstrated true character arc.

Take a Different POV/Recast

I’ve won multiple awards for short fiction, but have struggled when it comes to writing a full-length novel (though I can plot and edit them all day for others). Why? Because I LIKE strong female characters. Ah, but the trick is how to make a woman strong, and not be viewed as a b!*&%. Originally, I wrote virtually the same story as the one I just finished, but in close third. Everyone LOVED my supporting characters…and hated my protagonist.

No matter how many times I rewrote it? People did not like my protagonist  (which is a problem). What did I do? I changed POV. I switched out deep third for first-person and this infused more of my humor I naturally use in blogging. Also, instead of a female war vet, I chose a disgraced salesperson who’d been blackballed by her fiancé who’d stolen billions of dollars and left her as the FBI’s prime suspect.

She’s strong because she came from the trailer park and grew up in a family straight from The Jerry Springer Show…not because she was a soldier. She ran away to go to college, knowing it was her escape from The Cactus Flower Trailer Park…only to have to go home because she’s out of money and options. She has to face the demons of her past and new demons she never knew existed.

Suddenly? Beta readers were in love. Final version of The Devil’s Dance (working title) is 97,000 words (which is square in the ballpark for a mystery-thriller’s word count). Will cut some away, but overall? I am VERY happy with the story.

I can apparently write likable/believable male military characters, but the female? Yeah….

I had to redefine what a STRONG female was. Did she have to be a former MP when a Waffle House waitress who works the drunks at 2:00 a.m. might be more relatable and interesting?

Cool thing is, I now have an option. I can go back and rewrite the same book in close third and then see if just changing perspective removed the coldness readers were feeling in the first go-round. If not? Then maybe first-person is my thing. Try switching POVs and see if that doesn’t fix the problem.

Have you been stuck? Are you stuck? Any tips? Advice? War stories?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

I hope you will check out my newest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World onAmazon or even Barnes and Noble.

Also, here is a list of WANA International classes and Christmas specials.


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