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Prepping for NaNoWriMo: Your Muse Has Left You… What Now?

The appeal of an event like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, to any newcomers) is undeniable. Write that novel you’ve been wanting to write in just 30 days? What could go wrong?

Well, what if you’re ready to do it, but you’re not sure what you want to write about? I’ve been there. Maybe you know you want to write a love story or a horror novel, but you don’t know who your characters are, or what the main plot is. You’re not the only one! When I’m stuck, I try a few things to knock me into the right frame of mind to start plotting. Here are a few of them:

1.) Watch your favorite movie.

Or, preferably, more than one, and in a genre that you think you might want to write. As you watch, make note of what resonates with you. Analyze your favorite character and decide what draws you to them, write down your favorite pieces of dialogue, pinpoint what it is about the plot that you find intriguing, and then use those things to build a story that sounds exciting to you!

2.) Create a compost heap.

This is a tip straight from the genius of Neil Gaiman. As you move toward writing your novel, keep a page (in a journal or just a slip of paper; mine is on my bedroom wall) where you write down anything that jumps out at you in your everyday life. My personal compost heap has song lyrics, snippets of dialogue, names that I thought sounded nice, colors that make my brain happy, etc. When it comes time to write your story, incorporate the emotion of these things in some way, use them in your plot somewhere, build scenes around them.

3.) Write a story based on your favorite song.

When I was in high school, I wrote a novella based on the album My December by Kelly Clarkson. It was a crazy idea that someone planted in my head, and it actually turned out pretty great. Most albums tell a story, but the interpretation is all yours, and if you’re like me, music can speak to you and inspire you in a way you weren’t expecting. If you have a song or an album that generates real emotion in you, use it.

4.) Steal a character.

Once upon a time, I had a favorite fictional hero, and I hated the way his story ended. I thought he deserved a happy ending, but the author disagreed, so I took him. I cut him out of his original story, changed his name, pasted him into a story idea that I thought suited him, and then wrote that story for NaNoWriMo 2012. This is the same basic concept of something like fanfiction, but putting the character into a completely new setting and new story instead.

5.) Rewrite your favorite story.

It’s been done before, and it never gets old: Write a retelling. Take an old story that you love and sit down with it and decide how you would have done it differently. Maybe you want to take the magic out of an old fairy tale, or make the hero the villain, or give them all cell phones. Cool. Sounds good. You’re set to go!

6.) Write from experience.

This is the hardest but probably the most helpful tip I can give you: Choose a personal experience of your own and write about it for someone else who might be going through that experience. All of my novels are born from trauma in my own life—abusive relationships, shattered friendships, unrequited love, dysfunctional families—and the writing of it can be both cathartic and inspiring.

Ideas are everywhere. You wouldn’t have started this journey if you didn’t have a story to tell, but sometimes it takes some digging to figure out what it is. I sincerely hope you do. Happy NaNo-ing!

Author spotlight

Vicky Skinner

Born and raised in Texas, I don't act like much of a Texan. I like cold weather and hate country …

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