Breaking psychological barriers at X thousand words?

A consistent thing I have noticed with my long-form writing projects: I stall out when the word count meter reads 14,XXX. (Or sooner, like, my 2018 NaNo is under 13K. I did win NaNo once, but I cheated.)

The story I’m working on now, I’m really excited about it, I’m really enjoying it, I’m really looking forward to my readers’ despairing screams. When I started writing it, I thought it was going to have a four-digit word count; all but a couple things I’ve written in the past year-ish–when I wasn’t trying to stick to “100 words” or “3 sentences”–do. (Which in itself is a delightful change; previously I had trouble consistently getting up to one thousand words while still finishing the story!) 4K probably, I said. 8K if it really gets away from me.

Ha, ha, ha. That said, this is only the second piece in the past year-ish that’s gone over 10K, and the other one is done at 11K and up on AO3. Since I just hit the narrative midpoint, and given how many more words the second fourth of the plot is than the first fourth, I’m expecting the finished story to clock in at about 35K.

But my current word count is 14.6K.

Which means I have to get past the 15K mark that has killed dozens of my novel-length projects before.

…how do?

Give yourself a daily goal. It doesn’t have to be the 1,700 words we do for Nano, it could be 1000, just make sure you get those words in everyday. If you fall behind, then add those words to the next day’s goal. Avoid entertainment until you get your words in.

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the problem that solves is not the problem I have, though. adding a thousand words to certain as the sun today and a thousand words to butterfly dreams tomorrow and a thousand words to whichever other moderately active WIP on Friday is probably entirely doable, but it isn’t going to get where the firelight fades past 15K!

The word count goal is to a specific project.

Even more important advice: work one project to the completion of a phase, such as the first draft, before moving on to another project. If you really have something for another project you have to get down right now, do your words for your primary project first.

…yeah, that’s one of the pieces of writing advice that has never worked for me ever, unless the project I’m completing is one I started in that same sitting. :crying_cat_face:

I think a more pertinent question would be figuring out exactly why you’re losing interest in projects. The middle tends to be the hardest part, though, getting past that excitement of starting a new project and to that excitement/relief of finishing a project.

I think I had that problem at one point, most of my projects petered out at 10k-20k words. Except I’d actually finished a few novel-length projects in the middle of that, and what happened to them and how? Well, part of it was that I kept shoving new ideas into the story I was actually working on, instead of rolling out a shiny new project for them. That only worked to a point, since, after all, not every idea is going to fit with every project and still make a lick of sense.

So what actually did it?

… it was nanowrimo.

This is probably unhelpful for figuring out how to finish a novel for nanowrimo. Heh. But, at one point, it got to the point where I was starting to be excited about middles too, not just starts and ends. The middle isn’t just plodding filler, it’s where most of the action takes place. That’s where the story really gets into gear. The idea that got you excited enough to start writing something shouldn’t be burning out at the beginning, before it’s even gotten a chance to get started. Ride that excitement all the way through. Every scene, every incident, every plot turn, every obstacle the characters must overcome.


This may seem too simple, but it just might work: stop tracking your word count. If your brain doesn’t realize you’ve broken the psychological barrier, it won’t freeze up about it. It’ll work for NaNo: put a place marker, page break, or special symbol of some type where you stop for the day, then go back on November 30th (or when the story’s finished) and use the edit wordcount by day feature.

I do have a question for you: are you a planner? I have a friend who is very much a planner. She can’t write any other way due to the way her brain’s wired. She often stops in the middle because her brain’s figured out where things are going. Does that apply to you?


That makes sense for projects fizzling out under 15K into a 50K+ plot. Especially when not clear on what all the middle is. (Which is to say, most of my abandoned novel graveyard.) This particular project, though? I just passed the midpoint. I’m excited about the third fourth as much as the final fourth. (My characters, not so much!) So something else is probably going on.

Sooorta kinda not really?

The line I thought would be at the narrative midpoint of this project is probably now going to be at the end of chapter five (of eight), the realization I thought that line would cue (thus requiring the PoV character to reevaluate the whole first half of the story) was back around the 12K mark, and I have lists of varying-size points chapters five and six need to hit but no clue in what order I need to hit those points, except that some are definitely ch 5 and others definitely ch 6. I didn’t actually outline anything at all for this until I was past 7K, I think, and if I’m going to reuse those eight bullet points as chapter summaries, then the ones for ch 4 and 5 are badly in need of revision.

And this, being halfway through the story, is the farthest I’ve ever gotten through a story outline when I outlined the whole story in any level of detail in advance. I’ve been thinking the problem was not having any sort of plan, since the abandoned novel graveyard is mostly with not much plotting at all (worldbuilding is different obv), but if I’m hitting a wall at the same word count with a plan as without, then maybe with vs without plan isn’t the problem?

…that would probably have worked better if I’d started it before hitting 12K, maybe, or just never started counting words on this at all? Or on the next project? But on this one, I already know I’m at 14.6K!

I’m going back to that document right now, though. Wish me luck?

Good luck!

One thing you might try is what’s called plantsing or exploring. It’s halfway between planning and pantsing. I’m a diehard plantser: I start with a one to two page synopsis, then see how it goes. About halfway through (give or take), the characters take over the plot and the synopsis gets thrown out the window. But yes, knowing where to go does help, even if I end up taking a different route to get there. I think of it as having a map: I know where I am and where I need to wind up, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take the scenic route or get lost somewhere along the way.

My first few NaNo experiences, I hit a wall at about the half-way point. It’s not that I lost interest. I really wanted to finish! And that wall is the worst. I always expect it, and am pleasantly surprised when I can hit my 50K (and keep going) without hitting it.

I have found that rewards help. I’ll treat myself to dinner, or I’ll get to play a new video games (Fun fact: Pokemon games typically release in November…they have been my Half-way treat several times!), or I’ll buy myself “the good chocolate”. Whatever it is you need.

Some other general tips:

  • Change your writing location. Try a library or a cafe for instance.
  • Jump ahead a scene or two (if you’re a linear writer like me; sometimes that can be enough to shake something loose)
    *Take a break! Let yourself work on something else for a day or two.
    *Read over what you’ve written so far. Sometimes just a chapter or two, sometimes the whole thing.
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I find I often hit a wall somewhere after the halfway point and before the climax. Everything gets harder, even when I know exactly what I want to happen.

But I keep writing. Just because it’s hard and the words don’t want to come doesn’t change my word count goal for today. I don’t stop until a draft is done* and I don’t switch projects. That’s how I finish.

*I will occasionally abandon a draft after hitting my word count for the month if there is something fundamentally wrong with it and I need some distance before continuing. I hit that point with my spring project and now I’m re-plotting it in a way that’s working MUCH better.

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I added a couple sentences here and there in the earlier parts of the story, and just now I added in the ballpark of three hundred words to chapter five? I’m not entirely sure that’s where chapter five begins, and I’m kind of afraid to check how many words I added or how long the draft is now, and I’m 85% confident I have to cut both parentheticals later because they’re slowing the action. But the draft might be past 15K now?

current word count: 15147



I’ve only won twice, but both times I ran into issues around 35-40k. I can churn out fairly high word count quickly if I have a clear outline and scene cards, especially at the beginning. But around 40k the feeling of being almost done lulled me into a false sense of security, then it was Thanksgiving, and then I was scrambling by the end. So this time I want to be wary of that downward spiral potential, and if I can hit 50k by a few days before Thanksgiving I’d be thrilled.

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If it helps, remember that this year Thanksgiving is on the last possible day it could be in November–so the odds can’t be better for hitting 50k before Thanksgiving!

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Yes! That is definitely a plus. I am the main cook (only because I am literally the only American other than my kids who will be in attendance, and the only person accustomed to cooking with an oven since where I live everyone cooks with stovetops and steamers only), my oven is the size of a large microwave, and it will be nice to have that extra time as far as writing is concerned so that I (if not my oven) don’t blow a gasket. :sweat_smile:

…I am contemplating the Thanksgivings my mother hosts and trying to envision doing all that cooking work myself while trying to write anything from Tuesday to Friday at all.

it is a terrifying thought.

(um, mod type person? is there a Thanksgiving thread these three posts could merge into? I do not know what I am supposed to be doing here)

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