NaNoWriMo: Seven Semi-Productive Ways to Procrastinate (With Bonus Motivational Posters!)

Posted by Blair Thornburgh

The clock is ticking, writers (or calendar, I guess, but calendars don’t really tick). Twenty days down, ten days to go. Your word count might be robust, or it might be flagging. You yourself might be feeling crushed, or sick, or panicked that Thanksgiving is next week and making six pecan pies is still a thing you have to do even when you are feverishly trying to churn out prose.

My advice? Go rogue. Take a break. Goof off. But make it count—here’s how.

Make Playlists
I think it was Shakespeare who said “mixtapes are the windows to the soul,” and he was totally right. Obsessively categorizing songs for characters, scenes, themes, or epic showdowns are like mini-exercises in aural insight, and it’s fun. Plus, if you can train yourself to start typing as soon as you press play, you can get that whole Pavlovian-response thing going (just don’t drool on your keyboard).

Make a Book Cover
Sure, maybe the book in question still lacks the credible dénouement and the glittering repartee you’ll craft for Draft 2, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fire up some visuals and dream a little dream of the face your work may one day present to the world. Check out the 30 Covers, 30 Days gallery for inspiration, then fire up Photoshop, Pixlr, or a good old pen-and-paper setup and get designin’.

Write What Doesn’t Come Next
Your characters have just run up against a wall—literal or metaphorical—and you’re stuck. Try making a list of all the things that don’t, can’t, or wouldn’t happen next: sometimes, reverse-psychology style, jotting down the negatives will jigger out a few positive ideas for moving forward.

Do a Little Research
You might not think that you need to research stuff, especially if you’re working on something contemporary or fantastical enough to give you either a solid command of the who-what-wheres or carte blanche to make up convenient magical explanations for every plot twist. But still! When it comes to the world of your novel, leave no factual stone unturned. Even if I were writing a novel about an editorial assistant named Clair Thorberg at an awesome publishing house in Philadelphia, there would probably be something I’d have to look up. Burrow yourself a nice Wikipedia hole and collect fun facts like pogs (or, I don’t know, emoji or Snapchats or whatever kids are into these days).

Empty Your Characters’ Pockets
Quick—what does your protagonist have on his or her person right now? A stick of gum and a handful of pennies? A library card and a switchblade? Six credit cards and a stolen passport? Thinking this through is a nifty way to explore who your characters are offstage. I especially like to consider how much (or how little) money characters have with them: coinage speaks louder than words, because capitalism!

Study Your Craft
Read some books on writing, editing, or revising. Haunt the NaNoWriMo forums for commiseration and brainstorming. Listen to a podcast (I like The Narrative Breakdown) or explore the archetypical depths of Story Structure. Throw everything you can into the stew of your subconscious and let it percolate (to mix some culinary metaphors).

Give Your Characters Middle Names
I saved the funnest for last! Obviously, you know what your characters are called, and you probably know their family names, but the middle name is a personal and strange thing. It can harmonize mellifluously with the rest of their name (think fancily-hyphenated country club types) or it can stick out like the proverbial sore thumb (think Sterling Mallory Archer, for starters). Try out a few, and see where it takes you—you just might grant your characters some seriously plumbable depths.

And if all that isn't enough to give you a break, here are some words of wisdom to see you through the end of the month. Print 'em, pin 'em, tweet 'em, reblog 'em, whatever—just remember, you're almost there!

Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh

BLAIR THORNBURGH is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in medieval studies and delivered a pretty good commencement speech. She lives in Philadelphia.