How to Beat 3 Big NaNoWriMo Roadblocks

How to Beat 3 Big NaNoWriMo Roadblocks

Editor’s Note: Each year, nearly 500,000 writers all over the world dedicate themselves to completing NaNoWriMo, a month-long sprint to write 50,000 words. This year, author and first-time participant Lou Paduano will document his experience This is the second installment of his journey. Catch the first post here.

There are many challenges that crop up when sprinting through a manuscript.

When working at your own pace, there is a certain ease at solving these challenges or problems as they arise. You can take an afternoon and pace your way around the floor to find the perfect answer.

When trying to complete a full manuscript during a single month? Pacing is a luxury few can afford. Unless you walk when you type. (Then I commend you on your abilities.)

Three of the challenges faced during these opening weeks of NaNoWriMo:

1. Stalled progress or, you guessed it: writer’s block

Writer’s block will certainly be at the top of many lists. Famed comic book scribe, Mark Waid spoke about the subject in an interview with Craig Engler and his answer was pitch perfect:

I’m a firm believer that what we call “writer’s block” is almost always your subconscious realizing you’ve screwed up somewhere and is trying to keep you from marching further in the wrong direction.

It still involves motion, which means writing. Maybe a second stab at a chapter that didn’t work or a different entry point to weed out the disconnect from where you thought things should go.

Monica Leonelle offers some great advice on beating writer’s block and how to avoid it as much as possible.

2. The need for perfection.

This may be a first draft but if I’m guessing correctly, you still don’t want yours to suck.

(Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here.)

You want that perfect sentence, the incredibly poignant metaphor that will transcend time and space well beyond your lifetime. Or maybe you just don’t want to have to edit EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE for the next six months.


NaNoWriMo is about writing, not publishing. Getting the ideas on the page is first and foremost. Having them make sense is completely secondary. Remembering that edict is the key to moving forward.

Gigi Griffis was spot on in talking about productivity and perfection when she said: “Forgive yourself for the messy writing process.”

3. Focusing on the big picture instead of the day.

Sometimes we become too calendar focused; too goal oriented. This can be to the detriment of the day ahead. Keeping an eye on the final word count, looking at the week ahead comes at the expense of the single hour available to you to get some work done…and can drive your productivity to a grinding halt.

It is always nice to plan ahead, to see the turn of the road in the distance or, hell, the checkered flag at the far end of November 30. (Never far enough away.)

We need to be aware of things down the line without letting them cloud the moment before us.

How to overcome the inevitable NaNoWriMo challenges

I use a very simple concept to get myself back on track and stay there during the course of a draft:

Small goals.

Not rocket science, right? But it can be incredibly difficult to maintain with deadlines looming and the pressure of a daily word count bearing down on you. Part of this comes with preparation but the majority is sticking to a plan for the day and then coming up with one for tomorrow.

Here are two ways you can set  small goals during NaNoWriMo:

1. Discover what type of goal motivates you most

Word count goals are pretty straightforward and many writers use these to track their progress. With 50,000 words needed to complete the standard NaNoWriMo challenge, the daily goal should be around 1,667 words.

In my case, with The Medusa Coin coming in at probably close to 85,000 words, my word count goal would have to be 2,833 words per day during the month of November. Not as simple as I would hope.

The alternative is chapter goals. My manuscript outline calls for 67 chapters. If that number holds out, I need to complete 2.23 chapters per day in order to finish my draft before the deadline. I like that number much better than the word count goal.

2. Make your small goals work for you

This is the single most important part of overcoming any writing challenge: Know your limitations when creating goals. Don’t try to overreach (something all of us will continue to do until the end of time anyway, but the reminder is nice) even if you feel like you COULD do more. And, whatever you do, keep your eyes on your own paper to avoid that pesky comparison trap.

Focus on the small goal of the day, each day, and you’ll hit that deadline with (at least a little more) ease.

Week two results

Focused on my day-to-day chapter goals, here’s what I was able to accomplish in week two of my first NaNoWriMo challenge:

November 8

  • Word Count – 5,258
  • Notes – Missed my chapter goal for the day, but couldn’t complain about the word count. Starting to hit some pretty involved chapters in the manuscript now. I have a feeling this will happen more often than not.

November 9

  • Word Count – 2,282
  • Notes – Stayed up all night watching election results. The upside? Nailed my chapter goal before the sun came up. Bonus? I get to participate in nap time!

November 10

  • Word Count – 4,173
  • Notes – BABYSITTER DAY! Today felt like a slog. I didn’t have a plan of attack and ended up taking on some random chapters that needed addressing. By the end of the day, things were flowing a little better but I have a feeling I will be revisiting much of today when I hit the editing phase.

November 11

  • Word Count – 5,446
  • Notes – I’ve been building to this, a crucial three chapter section of the manuscript. It involved one of the main set pieces in the novel, so a lot of description and world building. I only managed the first two chapters and they exceeded my estimated word count by 1,700. Need to plan better next time, I think.

November 12

  • Word Count – 1,685
  • Notes – That’s it? But it’s the weekend, Lou. Get with the program! I know. I’m my biggest critic. But there is a reason behind the decreased productivity. My editorfinished the line edit on my second book, Tales from Portents. I built a few days into my schedule to review the edits before sending it back to be proofread so this was expected.

November 13

  • Word Count – 1,770
  • Notes – Another lone chapter day. Two-fold reason this time. I had to finish up the review of the line edit for Tales from Portents and then I totally earned my mid-month REWARD: An afternoon off with the wife for some good food and Doctor Strange!

November 14

  • Word Count – 4,358
  • Notes – BABYSITTER DAY! I had one goal today. Cross the 50,000 mark on the novel and hit the NaNoWriMo goal. Nailed it. I have 35,000 words and 25 chapters left to go!

Getting into a rhythm with your NaNoWriMo project? Struggling to hit those small goals? Let me know in the comments below.

Filed Under: Craft


  • Wendy says:

    You forgot the –how to put it?–“rhythm upsetters.” I have certain monthly problems that have me spending the better part of two or three days abed. And then there’s things like Thanksgiving, which demand a completely different schedule than the usual grind. Something gets me out of my rhythm, and it seems to take me days to get back in to it. Despite my intention to finish typing this 9-notebook novel I’m editing (so it’s actually a second draft, which spares me from deciding where the story’s going, right?), I still had 3-4 consecutive days where it didn’t go anywhere. (My original goal was finish the book, then 50,000 words of it, then the notebook I’m on–and here it’s the 30th and I’ve only done about 11,000 words and still haven’t finished notebook #4, which I think I started in early October.)

    • Lou Paduano says:

      I’m sorry to hear things haven’t worked out quite the way you were hoping, Wendy, but I’m glad that you’re sticking with it. “Rhythm upsetters” are absolutely a roadblock when writing and another reason I try to plan ahead as much as possible. A couple days off due to illness or other obligation are easily handled with a few longer days before or after.

      And those dreaded holidays are another obstacle with no way to avoid. Talking with family and friends ahead of time helps take the burden off you and give you some extra writing time.

      Best of luck on the second draft!

  • Nice post. You hit the two most important points of NaNoWriMo write here with

    2. Need for perfection
    3. Focusing on the big picture instead of the day.

    To succeed at NaNoWriMo a writer has to drop the habit of editing as they write and also focus on that daily word count and nothing but.

    • Lou Paduano says:

      Absolutely, Jason! Make some notes along the way if it will help you remember the trouble spots but keep your eye on the prize. Plenty of time to edit down the road.


  • Charmaine Ng says:

    Thanks for these tips. You hit the nail on the head when it comes to perfection. I’m so guilty of that!

    – Charmaine

    • Lou Paduano says:

      Thank you. Perfection is one I always come back to as well, especially during this NaNoWriMo blitz. I have so many little notes saved for when I finally edit my draft rather than stop and go back through chapter by chapter to fix issues along the way.

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