NaNo Tip no. 6: Emergency Unstucking Techniques

One of the most frequent complaints I’m hearing from those down the NaNoWriMo word mines is that they keep getting stuck.

As it happens I have already written a post on how to get unstuck. It is rather lengthy, however, so here’s a quick and dirty version of what you should do when you get stuck:

  • Dance. That’s right, get up from the computer, turn whatever music you like up loud, and shake it! Dance! Dance! Dance! Do it till you’re sweating. Then dance some more.
  • Run around the block. For some of us dancing is just not our thing. But we can run. Or shoots some hoops. Or some other physical activity away from the computer.
  • Read newspapers. This is where Karen Healey gets many of her ideas. Whenever she gets stuck she goes to her fave newspapers and starts reading. Obscure and weird articles are best.
  • Send someone in with a gun. Raymond Chandler’s favourite I’m-stuck solution. He was also fond of knocking his characters unconscious. Many writers like to blow stuff up. Cassandra Clare likes to have characters who fancy each other discover that THEY’RE ACTUALLY BROTHER AND SISTER. The point being: throw complications at your characters. Make ’em suffer! See how they react.

To sum up: to get unstuck you need to either take a break and do something that uses your whole body, or you need to throw something new at your characters. Or both.

I’m sure my gentle readers will have been more suggestions to unstuckify you.

Good luck!


  1. Pamela on #

    I like the part about dancing. I havent tried that one yet.. so im going to try tonight.. they are going to a holiday party ball type of thing in my novel so it seems appropriate!

  2. Julie Polk on #

    There is apparently a NaNo tradition of a Traveling Shovel of Death that makes the rounds of many NaNo novels.

    I read the thread thinking, β€œThat sounds like one of those crazy NaNo things that make people say NaNo is crazy. Why would I want to be crazy like that?” And then I realized that not only is my story partly about a century old murder mystery, one of my characters is a GARDENER. I hereby add the Shovel to the Chandler solution pile.

  3. PixelFish on #

    I shower. And drive. Both seem good at letting my brain switch gears and jiggle something loose.

  4. Kay Cassidy on #

    I’m with PixieFish. A nice hot shower really helps me figure out a scene that’s not working. I think it’s a combination of the water (Pisces here) and the lack on Internet distraction.

  5. Marko Kloos on #

    Change your process. If you usually write on the computer, switch to longhand for a few pages, or drag out the old typewriter. If you work at home, go out to a coffee shop. If you always work in the same coffee shop, go to a different one.

    Shaking up the process usually helps me to prime the pump.

  6. Lyssa on #

    Thank you for posting these tips! They have been incredibly helpful. πŸ™‚

    Reading poetry always helps me get unstuck, especially poems by Andrew Marvell or William Shakespeare. Poetry is just such a beautiful art form, it never ceases to inspire me.
    I like to make my characters suffer as well, it can really help you find out exactly who your characters are when you make them go through hard times that force them to make decisions.
    But i think the best way to get unstuck is to just keep writing whatever comes into your head. You can always change it later. It is just a rough draft, after all. I think that when we ask too much of ourselves, we will always get stuck. Sometimes it’s okay to suck. :]

  7. Julie Polk on #

    Quick follow up: the shovel serves the same purpose as the gun, clearly. I think the bigger point is that thinking about using it felt really awkward and forced (I guess I thought the murder had to happen organically or it was cheating, somehow?) until it took all of four seconds to crack something open. Possibly literally.

  8. Sam on #

    Usually when I get stuck it’s because I’ve just finished writing A, and I want the plot to get to C, but I have no idea how to write B.

    Sometimes I just FORCE myself to keep writing even though it’s horrible, in the same way I force myself to eat cans of healthy-but-foul-smelling tuna. What I write doesn’t have to be good. Like Lyssa said, it’s okay to suck!

    When that doesn’t work, I just skip writing B and go straight to C.

    Totally agree with Pixelfish that the shower is a top place for thinking. I have no idea why, but that’s where I’ve come up with some of my favourite ideas.

  9. gabfra on #

    most definitly my favorite tip so far.

  10. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    I’ve just been infected by the shovel. Which is weird, because I’m not even doing NaNo. And before the shovel showed up, my book totally didn’t have a murder in it. That shovel is a menace!


  11. Steffie on #

    Plot Ninjas left by past!me and my friends help. To help me, my friend wrote random Plot Ninjas and hid them. I also placed a few random prompts throughout my room. When I’m stuck I search around looking for a Plot Ninja. Not only does it get my body moving, but I can to pretend I’m a ninja as I look for the notes!

  12. Becca on #

    I think the showering idea is totally underrated (at least by me, at least this month) and I think I should get myself to a shower right away. Thanks for that. (And my family thanks you, too!)

    Actually, Sam’s comment made me realize that I may have an Unsticking technique of my own – I don’t care if I write linearly. I do a scene or two or three, and then tomorrow I can connect the dots. I think they call that Organic. But really, it’s more like schizophrenic. Call it what you will. Whatever works.

  13. Nathalie on #

    Ms., you so rock and your blog is awesome! Once again you were a life saver with your post. Thank you very much! πŸ™‚

  14. Katie-wa on #

    Looks like it’s totally irrelevant for me to mention the renowned and infamous TSoD. So I won’t reiterate.

    When I’m stuck, I take a look at my conflict and plot. Do my characters have adequate and realistic drive? What are they moving towards? How can I make the story more meaningful? What am I missing? What is the best piece to tell right now? Does the reader understand, or do I need more character building or information revealed at this point?

    Usually, getting stuck is due to lack of conflict or being unsure of how to best tell the story. But that’s okay, because you can ALWAYS fix it later! You can! So just scrounge up some intensive conflict, and it’s all good. ^_^ Like Justine said, “Make ’em suffer!”

  15. Emmie on #

    Great tip! In my case not really the first part, but the “make ’em suffer” part. I think i read the same thing on Tamora Pierce’s site, but forgot it ’til now.

    I love the reference to City of Bones. Made me lol – literally! A perfect example.

  16. Brianna McBride on #

    Haha, adore the mention of the Mortal Instruments above! Gotta love it. I actually got to this website from her writing resources page. XD Anyway, I totally agree with Sam above – I write piece A, want to write piece C, but don’t know how to write piece B. I’m actually in the middle of my first time with that at the moment, and didn’t even realize that was my problem until I read his comment. Thank’s Sam!

  17. Anna on #

    Thank you so much for this! I was SO stuck on one part of my novel and was able to write a new scene after dancing and running about! It sounds like a crazy method, but it really helped. c:

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