Writer’s Block and Camp NaNoWriMo

Welcome Spring! I’m so excited that the weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer. I took a long vacation earlier in the month, which was great for my well-being but bad for my reading and writing goals.

I expected vacation to clear my head and spark inspiration, but that’s exactly the opposite of what’s happened. Since I got back from vacation, I’ve written a total of 500 words. That’s it! For some reason, my story feels stagnant. The weird thing is that I’m right about to really dive into some crazy action – I’m about at the halfway point, and I’m about to make a big reveal that motivates the actions for the rest of the story. So, why can’t I push through this hump and get to the good stuff?  My goal is to push myself to write something–anything–every day until the end of the month on this project.

Why only until the end of the month? Because next month is Camp NaNoWriMo! And during April, I’m switching projects. I need to back away from my current project for a little while and reassess where it’s going. I’m going back to a project that I started last April during Camp NaNoWriMo. Last April, I failed miserably and didn’t even hit 10,000 words. This year, my goal is 50,000 words. Over the past year, the story’s word count has crept toward 20,000, so if I sit down and commit, I think I should be able to finish it next month (or if not, get very, very close).

Are you signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo? Friend me! My user name is rbohlen, and I’m always looking for buddies to help with motivation.

Are you writing for yourself or for your audience?

A writer is faced with an interesting division as she crafts her story. Who are you writing this for? Are you writing for yourself, or are you writing for your audience? The answer is always some mixture of both, but it can be a struggle to keep your goals clear in your mind.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of The Walking Dead and other big television fandoms. The more fans get invested in a piece of entertainment, the more they feel like they should have a say in what happens. I listen to a podcast called The X-Files Files, where host Kumail Nanjiani and guest hosts break down episodes of The X-Files. Nanjiani has brought this point up within the context of X-Files and later shows that had big fan involvement, like Lost–at a certain point, do fans become too entitled? Can and should fans ever actually have a say in what happens in the show, simply because of the volume of their voices?

For example (and I think Nanjiani used this example as well), there is a lot of speculation that Daryl might die on this season’s finale of The Walking Dead. To say that fans would freak out is an understatement. (See here) But should that be enough to affect what the writers do? If killing Daryl (or Rick, Michonne, Carol, or anyone) furthers the plot and gets the story to its next point, should the writers and showrunners be beholden to the fans?

Though most novel writers, especially first-time and/or indie writers, don’t have the same large-scale, loud audience that these shows do, it’s still a consideration we need to make while writing. Should you kill that main character, even though you’ve created someone your reader will love? Should you wrap everything up neatly at the end because you’re worried that a reader won’t like the ambiguity?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, because I don’t think there really are firm answers. Sometimes, you need to write the story that you want to write and trust that your readers will follow you and understand. That being said, I try to keep in the back of my head what I, as a reader, would think of a new development in a story. There’s an old saying that you should write the story that you want to read, and there’s definitely some truth to that. But you’re not every reader. You’re just one reader. If you want to reach tens, hundreds, or thousands of people, keep in mind that (1) what you would enjoy as a reader is not what everyone else will enjoy, but (2) you can’t please everyone. Not everyone will love your protagonist, nor will everyone support your main characters’ romance, or the twist at the end that you thought was clever. The question is: will most readers support what I do with these characters?

How do you balance the scales between writing for yourself and for the audience as you’re crafting a story?

February recap: Or, in other words, where did that month go?

February has never been my favorite month. It’s always cold and dreary, and this year was no exception. It was a month of snow and sickness and not much else. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t accomplish much at all this month.

But these recaps are for accountability as much as anything else, so I need to own up to my underachievement.

Total words written: 9650. Yikes! That’s less than half of January. I’m not sure what happened here. I was feeling uninspired and, frankly, lazy. I’m at a good point in my project, and the action is starting to pick up. So, I don’t know exactly why I was so bad about updating my project. I’m going to try to write more in March, though I will be on vacation for 10 days where I’ll be away from a computer. Oh, well – I’ll just have to make it up on the other days!

Total books read: 5. Again, not great. Less than what I was hoping. Part of this is because I started two long books–Anna Karenina and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (which has got to be one of the longest books I’ve ever tried to read). I still spent a lot of time reading, but I just wasn’t able to finish as much.

Total Best Picture nominated movies watched: 6. This is really what I was doing with my time in February. I try to watch as many Oscar nominated movies as possible, and I did pretty well this year. My pick for Best Picture was Boyhood, which was an excellently crafted film.

Total episodes of House of Cards Season 3 watched: 5… and I’m on #6 as we speak!

I have high goals for March. I want to match my January word count. I want to match my January book count as well–I think this will be easier to do, because during my trip, I’ll have long flights and train rides on which to read.

I hope your February was more productive than mine! Any advice for how to beat the winter blues writer’s block?