Today we’ve got a goldmine of ideas for those brave NaNoWriMo souls who feel a bit sluggish heading into the final third of your novel. Please welcome Savannah Cordova from one of our favorite sites: Reedsy!
For NaNoWriMo vets, the pattern is all too familiar: you start the month off strong, full of great ideas, excited about the story you’re going to write. Maybe you even exceed your word count goals in those first few days, giving yourself a comfortable buffer.
But then that momentum starts to slip away. With your buffer in mind, you only write 500 words one day, or you skip a day entirely. Before you know it, you’re struggling just to stay on track. Your plot is stalling and your characters have started to feel dull. You’re feeling frustrated, exhausted, and generally uninspired.
You’ve hit the “30k slump” — now what are you going to do about it?
The answer is: keep moving forward. Here are five solid tips for getting past the slump and powering through to the end of your awesome novel.
- Free yourself from your outline
Many writers work from outlines during NaNoWriMo — they can definitely make the process smoother and less stressful. However, your outline can also turn into a real burden when you realize some element of it doesn’t work. You feel torn between the safety of the outline and the need to go in a different direction, and this internal conflict may factor into your slump.
The reality is, even if you plan out your whole novel before so much as writing the first sentence, that plan can still go awry. Writing isn’t a science (as all us English majors know), and writing a novel requires a bit of wiggle room.
You might want to introduce a new character, or incorporate a plot twist that you’ve only just conceived. Do whatever you need to do to make your novel work — original outline be damned.
Of course, experimenting in the middle of a novel is always a risk, especially when the whole process is so time-constrained. But remember: it’s always better to take a risk than to stop writing completely.
- Use dialogue to keep things moving
One of the best ways to inject some spark into your writing is to use dialogue. Throw a couple of your characters together and get them talking! This might be a critical moment where one of them confronts another or reveals something meaningful — or it might be a discussion about the merits of various potato chips.
Even if it’s largely irrelevant to the main plot line, dialogue can really loosen up your creative muscles and lead to more substantial scenes. Also, most importantly, the dialogue itself is still words on the page — getting you ever closer to that elusive 50k.
- Carve out a whole day just for writing
When you start to feel the 30k slump, the best thing you can do for your novel is not to avoid it, but to embrace it. And that means clearing a whole day to spend some quality time with your characters.
Take a day off work, or simply spend a Saturday indoors. Ten straight hours of working on your novel may sound like a drag, but a few hours into it you’ll feel that inspiration rushing to the surface again, and you’ll be so energized you’ll actually want to write.
A full day of writing is especially helpful if you do writing sprints, as Meg talks about in this post. Say you work from 10 am to 8 pm, and do one 500-word sprint every hour. That’s 5,000 words right there! They might not be the most eloquent passages in the world, but the fact remains that you’ll be 10% closer to finishing your novel after just one day, and that’s gotta feel pretty good.
- Look other places for inspiration
You are your own worst enemy during NaNoWriMo. When you start feeling uninspired, you might think it’s all over for your novel. But there are plenty of great resources out there to help you get back on track!
For example, writing prompts are a fantastic way to reboot your creative system. Obviously you’re not going to start an entirely new novel, but prompts can inspire a scene or help you solve a problem you’ve been grappling with, like how to get a character from Point A to Point B. Basically, if you’re already stuck, you have nothing to lose from looking through a few prompts.
If mental inspiration isn’t the problem, try changing up your settings — both physical and virtual. If you’re not getting any writing done at your desk, go work in a coffee shop, library, or even just a different room in your house. You might also want to switch up your digital toolbelt! Try using a distraction-free word processor like FocusWriter or ZenWriter, and take advantage of any other resources at your disposal.
- Remind yourself why you’re doing this
No matter how drained you might feel at the 30k mark, remember why you started writing in the first place: to churn out those 50,000 words and finish your novel. Yes, it’s incredibly hard, but it’s supposed to be hard. You knew that going in, so don’t give up now!
If you’ve gotten this far, you can absolutely power through to the end. 30,000 words is no chopped liver; you’re already more than halfway done! Remind yourself of what’s waiting for you at the finish line — a beautiful, full, completed novel — then pound that coffee and go, go, go.
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers.
In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories (and occasionally terrible novels). You can read more of her professional work on the Reedsy blog, or personal writing on Medium.
Are you attempting NaNoWriMo or writing outside of this challenge? What strategies have helped you power through? Share your thoughts it in the comments!
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Anne Greening says
I’ve just completed this year’s NaNoWriMo,. Yes, OK, so have thousands of other writers: so why am I boasting? Well . . . I have been scribbling for years, but only lately have I tried my hand at fiction. The longest story I had so far written, was no longer that 1000 words. A few months ago, I heard for the first time about NaNoWiMo. It sounded like an interesting challenge, and I had sometimes thought that I might like to try and write a novel. So I signed-up. I finished my 52904-word first novel in 23 days – with 7 days to spare. It’s a romance, and because I had recently read a couple in this genre, I knew that sexy bits were a requirement. So here I am, at only 85 years old, having written my first novel, complete with the essential sex scenes! And, yes, I do feel entitled to boast.
Envoi: I enjoyed the experience so much and learned such a lot about the trade of writing, that I’ve just started planning my next book.
Julie Hiner says
Great article!! Really inspiring. Good, solid, practical tips! Thanks Savannah for sharing your ideas. Thanks Angela for sharing this article. I have seen it floating around on social media in Nano circles…so It’s getting to those who need it 🙂
Thanks so much Julie! It’s great that so many people have found it helpful. Best of luck with your own writing/NaNo journey! 🍀
Oh man I’m there right now–the slump. Usually I’m already winning about this time, so I don’t know what happened this year. 🙁 These are really great tips! Thank you! One thing I like to do is timed word sprints… I set a timer for thirty minutes and see how many words I can write during that time.
Good luck to everyone else doing NaNoWriMo!!!
Hi Talia! Glad you enjoyed the article, and hope you stuck with it. Only a couple days left now — you can do it!! 🎉
Thanks Angela! Really enjoyed writing this post 🙂 Best of luck to all the NaNoWriMo participants out there!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Great ideas here, Savannah! Definitely the 30 K mark is a bit of a pinch point. Writers can lose confidence in the story because it may have gone off on a tangent they didn’t expect, or the characters are developing in a way “in the moment” that doesn’t allign with preconceived ideas of where the story would go. I know one thing that helped me when my story took a strange turn was to quickly go back and make a note in an earlier area where that change would have to be finessed. Then I could continue to “write forward” and come back to those areas later.
The big thing is to keep going. Every word is a victory. 🙂 For all of you doing NaNoWriMo this year: you’ve got this!