Sunday, November 15, 2009


I am participating in National Novel Writing Month. I'm vying to complete an entire novel in the month of November.

I am already set to fail at this, but it was really fun for the first few days when I was meeting my daily word goal.

A novel is at least 50,000 words. Right now I have… a lot fewer words than that. If you want to be a serious contender in NaNoWriMo, you have to be writing during every spare second that you have. Lately, my spare seconds have been few and my husband, God love him, doesn’t like it when I disappear for hours in the evening to write. Something about “spending time” together or some such silliness.

I finished the first chapter of my “novel” and sent it to my dad, which was very very brave of me, to critique. He certainly didn’t pretend it was the next Anne Tyler or anything but he did encourage me to continue.

I’ve gotten stuck.

Perhaps you’ve seen the Frank Capra film “You Can’t Take it With You.” If you haven’t, go and rent it right now.

Penny Sycamore, mother of James Stewarts’ paramour in the film, sits day after day in the middle of her living room writing her endless novel. She finds she has gone and written her protagonist into a monastery. Every character in the film who traipses through the living room (and there are quite a few who do so) is questioned as to whether or not they have ever been in a monastery. Penny never has, and doesn’t quite know how to get her protagonist out of the setting. Here are some lines from the movie:

Penny Sycamore: Were you ever in a monastery, Mr. Poppins?

Poppins: In a monastery?

Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff: What's the matter, Penny, stuck?

Penny Sycamore: Yes, I've sort of got myself in the monastery and I can't get out.

Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff: It'll come to you. Remember how you got out of that jail.

I have written my protagonist into a basement with a bunch of giggly teenage girls and I can’t seem to get her out. The novel isn’t even about giggly teenage girls and I don’t know how I wrote her into this mess.


I could scrap the whole scene and be out a couple of thousand words. I could just skip and go on to the next chapter and come back to it later. I could admit utter and total defeat already and move on to something else, which would be just like me. I have a rather short attention span. Or, I could go with it and see what these giggly teenage girls do next. I have a feeling they are up to no good.

She could be stuck in this basement forever.

To my writer friends… what do you do when you get “stuck?”


Joyce said...

i've been attempting NaNoWriMo since high school. i always fail. the point is not to aim for quality, but quantity. salvage what you can in december.

Anonymous said...

Think Wodehouse (Thank You, Jeeves), who wrote of "the sort of story where Chapter Ten ends with the hero trapped in the underground den and Chapter Eleven starts with him being the life and soul of the party at the Spanish Embassy." Basement full of giggly girls -- underground den -- same obvious solution.

MGBR said...

I go for a walk, of course.

Janet said...

I'm no writer, but you are, for't give up - I not give up! If all else fails...she can walk up the basement stairs and open the door....she'll be out! :)

Toaster said...

I bought this for Bob as a gift one year:

I don't think he's ever used it! But it is supposed to help writers who get stuck. I wouldn't know; since finishing my dissertation about 14 years ago, the longest thing I write these days is an Amazon review. :p

Anonymous said...

First and foremost, coffee, coffee, coffee. That always helps. Second, I plan my novels out on a triangular plot chart with the climax at the peak of the triangle. Every scene is placed accordingly. If I get stuck on one scene, I hop to another. Blending the scenes is much easier than staring blankly at a computer screen while avoiding the drool that is sure to pool on your lap. Good luck with your writing!

The Editor said...

One word: Smirnoff.

Holly said...

But I don't drink coffee or alcohol and my foot is, like, defective. Other than that...I like having a little writing community via internet. Great tips. Maybe I'll borrow that book from Bob! Love you all!