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  • Denise Santomauro

How to overcome the infamous NaNoWriMo sagging middle

It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! People around the world are bent over their computers or notebooks scribbling words like mad, surviving on coffee and brownies, and maybe even whiskey. For many, this month is an opportunity to dive deep into a story they’ve been cooking up all year, and they start writing already having an outline, major plot points, and their ending figured out. The month of November serves to give them that dedicated time and supportive community to take those ideas and turn them into a manuscript.

For those who are flying through their story, keeping up with your daily word count, and generally feeling good about what they’re working on, congratulations! You can do it! Sending you all the words.

For others who jumped into NaNoWriMo with a whisper of an idea and not much else, the middle of this month may feel daunting. Maybe you’re behind on the word count. Or you’ve been able to keep up with the daily word count, but you’re halfway through and have no idea what the story is about. Or maybe you feel the middle sagging and are unsure how to get to the climax of the story. If you’re anything like me, you might have already considered giving up not just on NaNo, but also on this story.

If you fall into the second camp, first, forgive yourself. Be kind to yourself. Look at the world around you and ask yourself honestly if completing a novel during this timeframe is realistic for you. It took me three attempts at doing NaNo before I realized I was trying to write a novel during one of the busiest work times in my year and also one of my favorite seasons when I want to attend parties and do fall things and be around people. As much as I want to participate, I know I’ll end up frustrated and feeling down on myself for not finishing within the month timeframe.

Once you’ve dug into your life a bit, take a look at the story again. Are you still passionate about it? Do you still feel connected to it? The point of NaNoWriMo is to get people writing with a supportive community cheering them on. Yes, there’s a set word count and a timeline so people actually complete a first draft, but the real point is to get you writing. So ask yourself: do you want to continue with this story whether you complete it this month or not? And if so, how can you breath life back into the process and the story?

When writers get stuck, it can be helpful to change things up and play with some writing prompts. Writing exercises like the ones below can help illuminate aspects of the story and the characters, which can open up new pathways in the plot and emotional arc. Apply these prompts to your main character or side characters and see what comes up.


1. Write a scene or free write starting with the following phrases:

· And that’s when I knew nothing would ever be the same.

· Dinner at my house was . . .

· I wonder what would have happened if . . .

2. Free write from your main character’s perspective on one or all of the following words:

· Cutting

· Crushed

· Trusted

· Burst

· Glimmered

3. Put on music your character would listen to and free write with it in the background.

4. Write about a time when your protagonist felt left out or excluded or isolated.

5. Think about a lie your character believes about his/her/themselves. Write out the situation that got them believing that lie in scene form.

Whatever you do to get over the hump, keep going. Even if you don’t get to 50,000 words by the end of November, you’ve put words on the page. You started the thing. Celebrate the work you’ve already done and then dive back in.

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