Rowing Thru the NaNo Swamp


If you are participating in National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, then as of yesterday you should have broken the 20K mark. That is, provided you’ve met or exceeded your word goals ever day. I had to skip Veterans’ Day on Saturday but by last night I stopped with 25,838 words. I’m ahead of the program thanks to working hard early on to be sure I had a buffer. And I learned there is a very good reason for doing so and it has nothing to do with being able to skip a day (because I don’t usually skip). The reason is because by mid month you have entered into what author Jim Butcher calls. . . . 


You can read Jim Butcher’s take on the Swampy Middle but let me paraphrase. It is the moment in the book when you’ve charged along and suddenly you’ve met your goals and you are in the middle, rambling along, maybe worry-free and suddenly it dawns on you that you really are working in circles, that you lost the goal somewhere and now, You. Are. Lost. The page is blank. The ideas are floating away and you are afraid to admit to anyone that YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHAT TO DO.

It’s okay. I’ve been there. I took a big swim in the Swamp once and I lost my entire month because I couldn’t save myself. Since that time I’ve given myself an outline with several out clauses. That’s right, I built in escape holes so I could go play (if I got lost or bored) and still be able to get back to the main story. Clever, right?

Jim Butcher says you get yourself out of being lost by planning for a HUGE event in the middle of the book! That’s right, do something big and give yourself time to plan for it and then when the swampy middle arrives you have a way to get through it by blowing it up with something wild or wowie or amazing. And then you get back on track and you’ve never really left the main story.

He’s so clever. I bow to the master.

I do something like that but not as great or dramatic. I get my characters to stop and tell a story. I get them to recount something that happened before or after the book, as if to explain something to one of the other characters. It works well because it allows me to explore a new idea, keep working with the characters I already have in play and I challenge my muse to find the way back with the same characters.

Works every time. I also plan for this by leaving myself a side outline of possible tales to recount. These are the fun or funny things that I may not use in the book but will keep my heart delighted (and you never know, you might use these stories for freebies later – I intend to do just that!).


So now it’s time to push forward with that oar in your boat of uncertainty and guide yourself through that swampy bog middle of your story. It may take you another 15K or so (which is about right) and you’ll be sitting around Nov 20, but that gives you plenty of time to finish the last 15K with the best climax and ending you’ve ever done. 

Meanwhile, get some snacks, your music, your candle or your favorite blanket. Reconnect with your inner self and then wade confidently into the darkness. You are about to enter the dank, the most terrifyingly best, creepiest, coolest, part of your NaNo. And the next week will be very challenging.

From here on out, never fear the Great Swampy Middle, the Foggy Bog. Look forward to it. It will always come and you can prepare and even be excited at the challenge. After that, NaNo is always a breeze. People will wonder how you managed. Just tell them, you have a secret path through the bayou.

You can do it. I can’t wait to hear your stories. Just don’t look back. You don’t want to know what’s chasing you.

I’ll be back before Thanksgiving and we’ll talk about gratitude. Until then, keep writing. Stay focused and get some sleep.

OH! And remember, DURING NaNo – THERE IS NO DELETE BUTTON! (we need words!)

I remain, Yours Between the Lines,

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