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On NaNoWriMo, Writer's Block, and the Benefits of Getting Distracted

Updated on September 6, 2015

Make Writer's Block Work for You

Every writer, even ones like myself who mostly write nonfiction, gets a case of writer’s block now and then. It happens. It’s kind of like the common cold. Nobody really knows how to cure it, and we all have our own ideas about what works and what doesn’t. My idea? If you’re stuck writing about one thing, try writing about something else entirely.

The Benefits of Procrastination

Last year I took part in Script Frenzy [update: alas, Script Frenzy is no longer a thing], a group writing project brought to us by the same folks who created National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November. Script Frenzy is similar, only you’re trying to write a screenplay or stage play of at least 100 pages during the month of April. I didn’t finish my script by the deadline, but I did have a ton of fun working on it, and when I was stuck, I had even more fun browsing the Script Frenzy forum and helping my fellow writers sort through their various problems. In fact, some of the stuff I wrote “just for fun” turned out to be more rewarding than the truly awful script I ended up with. When you’re stuck, try getting together with other writers, either online or in the real world, and talk about the issues you’re dealing with in each of your projects. Take turns riffing on how to solve each other’s dilemmas. At the very least, you’ll have a good time. You may get help breaking through your writer’s block. Best of all, you may be inspired with a brand-new idea that is so much more compelling that the junk you were working on.

50 Ways to Love Your Lever

One of the things I’d do when procrastinating--er, that is, looking for inspiration--was to browse the Script Frenzy forum for writers looking for an original way to make something happen, and treat it as a challenge. For example, how many different ways can you delay the hero from making an important rendezvous? Flat tires and lame horses are overdone. What about something completely unexpected? You don’t even need a writers’ support group to do this sort of productive procrastination. Simply challenge yourself to come up with as many ways to make a given plot point happen in a set amount of time. Have fun with it. Here’s one that I did during the Script Frenzy.

24 Ways to Interrupt a Romantic Couple

1 Roommate comes home (possibly drunk, possibly upset over boy/girl trouble, possibly both)

2 Librarian shushes them (note: only works when in a library)

3 Teacher shushes them (note: only works in a classroom)

4 Panhandler hits them up for loose change (note: does not work in classroom, borderline possible in library)

5 Drunken St. Patrick's Day revelers (note: surprisingly, doesn't work in Ireland)

6 Drunken Robbie Burns Day revelers (note: only works in Scotland)

7 Football hooligans (note: works best in the UK, does not work in the US)

8 Curling hooligans (note: works only in sinister, alternate dimension Canada)

9 Professional non-football (including American Football) sports hooligans (note: works throughout US, whether home team in question wins or loses)

10 College non-football sports hooligans (see above)

11 "Save the clock tower! Save the clock tower!" (note: most effective when time travel is somehow part of the story)

12 "Sir! Sir! I've isolated the reverse power flux coupling!" (note: non-robots are prohibited by federal statute from uttering this line)

13 Lightning strike (note: only once per location)

14 Stampede! (note: the animal stampeding can be varied according to setting, eg, herd of steers in a Western, or a herd of mastadons in a caveman romance)

15 Telephone rings (note: only works after March 10th, 1876)

16 Running of the Bulls* (note: only works in Pamplona, Spain)

17 Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

18 Boat/train/gyrocopter/zeppelin whistle announces imminent departure.

19 Meteor strike!

20 Germans march into Paris. (note: this only works in Paris, but can be used at virtually any past, present, or future setting)

21 Pirates (software or otherwise)

22 Food Fight! (note: works best at a college with a misfit fraternity, or at summer camp)

23 Mugging, possibly with pepper-spray accident

24 French march into Berlin. (note: only works if Napoleon is present, and even then, it's probably a dream sequence.)

*Does not count as a stampede.

Writers Write, but not Always What They’re Meant to be Writing

When I wrote the above list, I was just goofing around, killing time until I figured out where my story was going to take me. I held onto it because I thought it was funny, and hey, you never know when something might come in handy, right? Sure, I was supposed to be working on something else, but instead I did this, and now I’m using it. If anyone gets a chuckle out of it, it was worth my time. I’m not the only one who indulges in this sort of thing. Even Neil Gaiman (whom I’d love to be when I grow up) once thanked his editor for being patient while he sneakily wrote a novel instead of whatever it is that I’m paraphrasing from (I can’t seem to lay my hands on the exact quote). Not that I’m putting myself on the same level as the likes of Neil Gaiman, you understand, but if even he sometimes gets sidetracked, I imagine it’s also okay for you and me.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

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    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 6 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      I just tend to write and write and write, whatever comes to mind, and then eventually a topic comes up through my writing that I am able to carry forward. I liked the 'save the clock tower' - we just watch the 'Back to the Future' series of movies so it was very apt. You've earned a vote-up and useful from me for this terrific hub.