Getting Writer’s Block in the Middle of NaNoWriMo

Does not bode well, right?

National Novel Writing Month, from the first time I did it in 2008, has always been a time when words pour forth from me. I’ve never once had an issue making those 50,000 words.

Past projects have had word counts of 70,000, 81,000, 83,000, 73,000, 93,000, 65,000, and 60,000. There was one of 50,100 but not because it was hard to finish but because that’s when the story ended. These are rough drafts, after all.

Each year, I’ve finished well before November 30. That first NaNoWriMo in 2008 was when I was still employed full time, and at the end of October, I got word I had two trips scheduled for me. For eleven days in November 2008, I was out of town with only my government laptop with me, so no personal writing. Given the nature of the travel, no real free time for writing either.

So, I’ve never really worried about hitting that 50,000-word mark.

2019 Wasn’t Bad but It Wasn’t Great Either

This year started with my sister, who was recovering from a leg broken in a fall on the ice the previous November, passing out in the middle of the night and falling in her home. That meant two different hospitals and rounds of testing that couldn’t find a cause, except maybe a large hiatal hernia pressing on the veins and arteries surrounding her heart.

Then came the great debate between neurology and the surgeon. Neurology declared in all of their vast records there was, perhaps, one or two instances of a hiatal hernia causing fainting. The heart, they emphasized was a muscle, the stomach a bag of fluid. The stomach couldn’t possibly put enough pressure on the heart to cause fainting. Cardiology tended to agree.

The surgeon said, “You’ve eliminated everything else. Let’s operate on the hernia and see.” So, he did in February, and she has had no further issues with fainting. In fact, her leg finished healing, she had some physical therapy to re-build her strength, and got a job.

I, however, had a recurrence of a heart rhythm problem I’d had surgery for two years ago and with a twist. The heart wasn’t just out of rhythm; it was doing a fluttering thing that shot my heart rate up into the 150s, and it wouldn’t slow down unless I got beau coups IV meds. It was happening at least once a month, and I’d had to go to the ER three times. Another surgery was scheduled.

And I caught a cold that abated enough to have the surgery, but while recovering at home the cold came back. The nature of this second surgery was such that I was on extremely limited activity. Basically, bedrest. No stress. No work, i.e., no writing, for at least a month; better if it were six weeks. This was all of September and into October. I figured, come November, I’d be ready for some heavy-duty writing, given the plot bunnies that hopped around during my recovery.

I explain all this not as an excuse but to suggest I might not have been as ready for NaNoWriMo as I thought.

And November Arrived

I was all set. I’d planned what I was going to write about, made notes, done some preliminary research, essential for historical fiction. In NaNoWriMo, you need only write 1,667 words per day to hit 50,000 by November 30. In past years, I’d always exceeded that. I’d even had 9,000- or 10,000-word days.

This year, I averaged 2,700 words a day. Nothing to slouch at, but certainly not up to my usual production. And right around mid month, with around 17,000 words to go, I lost sight of where the story was headed. I thought I had that firm in mind. And it didn’t really peter out. It was rather I couldn’t grasp what I’d firmly had in mind only a few days before. The words were there, but they wouldn’t come forth.

That was unusual enough to put me in a bit of a tailspin. I’d jokingly referred to my “surgery brain” and that I’d noticed I didn’t snap back after this second surgery as I had the first. I was, well, sluggish; hence, “surgery brain.”

I posted about this “writers block” in a NaNoWriMo group, to which I got a comment about the fact I was “way ahead” and had no compassion for those who were behind. Far from it. I was ahead but I couldn’t see past that point. I couldn’t see how I would come up those 17,000 words to reach 50,000, and a group I normally turn to for encouragement couldn’t provide any because I was “way ahead.”

I’d had a typical writer’s problem. I ran out of steam and ideas at the same time. What had been clear was murky. But, somehow, advice wasn’t forthcoming. Well, I’m a fiercely independent person, but everyone needs a boost from peers every now and then. If that wasn’t available, it was up to me.

Netflix and Chill

Well, the Netflix part.

I decided to take a day off. This past Sunday was the day season three of The Crown dropped. I binged the whole ten episode season in a day. Great acting but, more importantly, great writing.

Each episode had pithy dialogue with subtle points and others not so subtle, and each scene advanced the episode’s story to its conclusion. Some of the dialogue left me breathless; other snippets brought a tear to my eye. I was enthralled by the writing around events I certainly had a good memory of.

And my story snapped into focus. The mist shrouding the path to the end of my project cleared, and I went into my writing office and wrote nearly 3,000 words.

I was back on track, and yesterday, I crossed 50,000 words. I have a few clean-up scenes to write, but I should be done in a few days and ready to validate the word count on the NaNoWriMo website.

And that’s something between you and me. For now.

I live for your constructive comments.

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