It’s mid october and I’m frustrated because I want to be prepping for nanowrimo but am still editing last month’s book project. When you fall behind, it’s easy to let depression slip in and feel like nothing is worth it, so you might as well quit.
Maintaining confidence and enthusiasm for your writing projects is a daily struggle and it’s common – but it’s also a normal and expected part of the process. Instead of simply trying to keep a positive mindset with blind optimism, these seven tips will help give you a deeper understanding of the writing process and what to do when you get stuck with writer’s block; for nanowrimo and beyond.
1. this is normal
People act like doubts and fears are something to get over, to avoid. They think they are signs that we aren’t cut out to be a writer. The truth is, they never go away, and you will always feel them. But they don’t have to control you.
It’s mostly the new authors who struggle with insecurity, because at some point authors have to learn through experience that writing is not always fun and easy. People who have written short stories and always felt excited about writing, get stuck when a whole book is hard and they don’t know how to do it and there’s a gap between what they hope they can do and what they’re able to do.
Plus writing a book takes a great deal of problem solving and high level thinking; it’s mentally draining; it’s a different kind of work (I edit 3x as much as I write and it’s not fun). If you only write for fun, to get that kick of incredulous inspiration, you’ll burn out when it stops being fun, which it always does at some point.
2. the soggy middle
Besides the mindset and motivation, an easy fix for writer’s block is just knowing what comes next in your story; or how to fix the long boring stretches that aren’t good enough yet. I spent years (10 years+phd) studying literature and am pretty happy with the plot structure outline and 24 chapter templates I made. The main difference between them and others, is that they have a much more detailed middle section, which is where a lot of people get stuck.
3. editing woes
Editing a book is half the process, and for many authors it’s completely disorienting (you already wrote it with the skills you have; how can you recognize your own weaknesses and find real issues?)
Luckily, writers make the same mistakes, so you can learn to avoid common writing mistakes and already be well ahead of the game; though I’d start by using the plot templates to fill in weak areas and make sure things are snappy.
The other really big, main thing to know about writing, is information management: you need to remove reveals, backstory and infodumps, and raise questions and resisting the answers as long as possible. That’s a huge thing.
And then you need more conflict in every scene. General principles, but this is where most of the work is done (editing is not just proofreading or finding typos; it’s taking the core story and actually making it readable and engaging – conflict and suspense are the reason people keep reading).
4. writing habits and rituals
I have adhd and am not good at actually doing *any* of this. I don’t use an alarm clock and every day is different. I force myself into the work until I’m obsessed (which is rare) and then stick with it until I’m exhausted. If you have adhd like me, I don’t think you should feel bad about forcing yourself to do things neurotypicals do easily; but most people probably struggle with doing the work when you don’t want to do it, and discipline will help a lot but if you have rituals and habits, you reduce the discipline needed.
But I do know some things: the kind of music that makes me focused; the kind of food that makes me tired; that I enjoy writing in coffee shops and write faster with a bluetooth keyboard and an iphone for the smaller screen size; that a 20minute timer helps and that if I do 3~5 sprints a day, I can write a book in a month.
5. find the emotion
When my story gets out of hand and I’m losing the thread, I look for the emotion – the scenes I can feel. The big fight scenes or romantic conversations or light funny stuff. The potential for emotion is there but it doesn’t always come across the page. Going in, I’ll try to match the mood of the scene, and get myself in the right headspace for it, and feel it. Feeling the scenes will probably make you want to write the scenes, or improve them.
These are usually about the 9 major turning points.
Each good plot event or twist should be shown in a way that it is shown with the character who is most emotionally impacted; and their reaction should be marked. It’s easy to shift into melodrama though, with all the characters sobbing or screaming or shocked the whole time.
Emotion should be subtle; the plot should be emotional because readers feel it, see it, know it: you’ve shown them what happens and they understand why it matters so much to characters because you’ve set it up earlier. Not because they throw a huge tantrum; then you’re only seeing their instant reaction and it doesn’t have any depth.
6. realistic expectations
This one is a two-edge sword; it’s incredibly motivating to dream of success, fame and riches. It’s what gets most people through their first book. It works.
But when you finish the book, it probably isn’t great, and then editing is work, nobody wants to read it, you don’t know if it sucks… which means the more you progress, the less you can summon this earlier confidence.
I wish I could still believe all that stuff… and after 5 years of writing I’m at the point where I’m starting to again (that I can make a living with my writing at least).
But it comes at a cost; the bigger your dreams, the more brutal your wakeup call as you plummet back to reality; you’ll always be fighting reality to hold onto your beliefs.
Instead: just focus on the work. Intend to write more crappy books. Intend to suck, and stick with it long enough to get better. It’s going to happen anyway, embrace it so you don’t have to lie to yourself.
7. practice in public
We get a dopamine boost when we share successes. Nanowrimo has a way of posting updates on their site to meet the 50K wordcount goal, but it isn’t public I think. It’s terrifying to share early drafts, and you probably shouldn’t.
However, publishing your work as you go can scratch the itch, so you don’t have to stay quietly motivated by yourself all month. I’d recommend posting them on a blog or something; you probably won’t get any traffic anyway, but the idea that it’s out there and someone *could* read it, is both galvanizing and motivating; scary for sure – but the stress of being public will make you more eager to go back and revise, update or finish it; and give you daily satisfaction and a sense of completion.
You could also publish straight to vella or wattpad but make sure you use Grammarly at least first to find typos.
Book Covers and Art: I didn’t mention this in my video, but I love taking breaks from writing and working on book covers or scene art – this is become a lot easier with AI tools like midjourney; creating scenes and settings can help with description and motivation, and having a decent cover ready to share makes it feel more like a “real book” you’re working on.
More writing resources:
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.