NaNoWriMo – Embrace the Icky Sticky!

Whether you’re a seasoned writer or a NoWriMo virgin, sooner or later you’ll probably reach a point I call The Lifeless River Bed of Despondency and Meh. This is where the initial adrenaline rush has driven your Storymobile across the rich and vivid fictional landscape only to find it splutter and grind to a halt. Why does this happen?

There are many reasons, for example:

  • Your characters may have reached a dead-end.
  • Your plot that started out so well is suddenly too big and cumbersome, or you’ve realised it has less substance than you thought.
  • There are so many sub plots they’re eating each other alive and your story & characters are suffering.
  • Perhaps you’ve reached the end ahead of time, or realise that the end is still so far in the distance it’s like a mirage you’ll never reach.

It’s at this point you’re likely to panic.

But that’s the worst thing to do.

Don’t sit there revving the engine, worrying about the little things like editing because it’ll lead you backwards. “Hmm, if I just tweak this bit here…and change that chapter…and maybe add another character in that awful scene…yeah, maybe I can avoid The Lifeless River Bed of Despondency and Meh.”

No! When you’re rushing through November’s NaNo event, editing is a bad way to revive your floundering Storymobile. There’s no going back, not until you cross that finish line and sup from the Hero’s Cup of NaNo 50K Goodness. After you can edit until your fingers fall off!

Going back is bad. Gotcha. But how do I haul my Storymobile out of the drudge?

That’s easy, dear blog reader, you embrace the Icky Sticky! This is where you create an unexpected event, scene, situation or plot shift that will kick-start your story and send it cavorting along at a brisk pace. You may find that when the story is finished (remember that 50K chequered flag) and you’re in editing mode, that bit of Icky Sticky can be changed or removed in favour of something more fitting with the story.

The Icky Sticky is so named because it’s like a big wet slap of unexpected goop that changes and challenges your train of thought. Put the Icky Sticky into the real world – a nasty glob of gum stuck to your shoe or clothes can help/hinder an otherwise uneventful mood/moment. Walk bare footed across a lovely beach and suddenly your toes sink into something kinda gross – dog poop, melted ice-cream, a squishy bit of sandwich, a jelly fish, you get the idea.

How do I transplant a real world Icky Sticky into a fictional setting?

It could be as simple as using a real world situation like gum on your characters shoe. Think of your train of thought when it happens to you. Whatever you were thinking about at the time vanishes because you’re forcedto deal with someone’s mess. “Eew, gross, what evil shit left their gum on the seat? Great, now I’ve got to find something to scrape it off with…awww Jesus, now it’s all over my fingers.”

So when your character is stuck in the middle of The Lifeless River Bed of Despondency and Meh, give them a bit of gum to deal with. If that sounds a bit bland, worry not, there’s plenty more Icky Sticky to embrace that doesn’t include gum, or dog poop.

Icky Sticky’s worth Embracing.

When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble give a whistle, this will help things turn out for the best.

# 1 Sexy Time.

Introducing a bit of sexy fun happy time can help your characters or story move in a different direction. This doesn’t have to be a full on rush of explicit porn-o-rama (unless you’re so inclined!) but by giving your characters something unexpected to do is a way to change the pace of the story. Characters get the horn too you know, and just as real life post sexy time glow can change your state of mind or emotional slant, think of how your characters would behave in the same situation.

  • Will they feel invigorated enough to tackle the next leg of their journey?
  • Would they feel shame/love/despair/guilt/joy/sadness/hatred? Would they behave differently?
  • What impact would their liaison have on the other characters?
  • Why did the sexy happy fun time take place?
  • How did it happen? What happens after?
  • Does anyone else know?

In the movie Mr & Mrs Smith, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s characters get it on after a bout of violence where they destroy half their home. In the aftermath they realise they have a problem – they love each other but can’t be together. If that sexy time hadn’t happened they would likely have continued fighting until one of them was dead. The Icky Sticky (sexy time) was used to change the flow of the plot: Sham marriage > enemies at war > sexy time > bonding > them against their assassins.

# 2 Big Explosion.

This doesn’t just mean a bomb going boom. It could be a sudden argument or fight that flared up out of nowhere. People react to intense or unfamiliar situations in strange ways. Maybe your characters are very different and when they run into the The Lifeless River Bed of Despondency and Meh they find they can no longer contain their anger. Or perhaps a moment of reflection prompts them to ask questions they wouldn’t have thought to ask before.

Taking the bomb theme literally can inject sudden adrenaline into the story:

  • How would they react if something exploded?
  • Would they choose to save/kill/abandon one another during such a chaotic event?
  • Will only one of them survive?
  • Would it bring back traumatic memories?
  • Would any injury alter the course of the story? Would it make it easier or harder?

And think about an argument bomb:

  • How long has the argument been brewing?
  • Who sets it off? The bad guy? The cook? The checkout girl with a flippant comment?
  • Can they resolve their differences? How? Why?
  • What other revelations come about once the snakes are out of the basket?
  • Does the argument bomb effect other characters?

Where does it happen? Broken elevator – claustrophobic. Middle of a restaurant – public, shameful. In a car – dangerous driving, car chase. Isolated spot such as a desert – argument must be resolved despite the dire need to concentrate on survival. Think of all the places where you’ve had an argument, they don’t always happen in the comfort of your living room.

# 3 New Character.

Adding a new character, even for one scene, can help change the direction of a story. The Icky Sticky here is how that new character impacts on the current situation and how it drives the story in a new direction or pours fuel over the flames to get the story fired up.

  • What does the new guy say to your main characters?
  • Why is the new guy there? Does he have a motive?
  • Does the new guy know them?
  • How does the new guy show up? In a gun fight? In a row-boat offering rescue? Is he/she a spy? Is he/she famous?
  • Where are they when the new guy arrives?
  • Does the new guy go with them? Does he split them up?

# 4 Death.

What would happen if one of your characters suddenly died? Personally I love it when an author kills off a character I’ve been rooting for. It makes me sit up and think: “Hey, what the frack? But I thought they were the hero, what’s going to happen next?” Sometimes you can see it coming so it’s no surprise, and maybe you can tweak the story later to show this if you want, otherwise a sudden death can help you rethink the motives of your surviving characters.

  • How does the death impact on the survivors?
  • Do they mourn or celebrate the loss?
  • Is the bad guy involved? How?
  • Why did they need to die?
  • How did they die? Was it natural causes, murder, accidental, misadventure through weird freaky sexy time?
  • Were there any witnesses?
  • Do the surviving characters cover it up? Why?
  • Is it a fake death? Does that character come back later in the story?
  • Is there more than one death – a bunch of your characters, a town, a city, an apocalypse?

The old saying of “write what you know” isn’t all that helpful since I’m pretty sure George Lucas didn’t spend a summer hanging out with Luke and Chewie. However, there is some truth in it as you can draw on your experiences like death, and use the memory of feelings, emotions, mental states etc to aid how your character might cope in this event.

# 5 Discovery.

In the Goonies movie the sudden discovery of a treasure map sends the group of boys on an adventure to find One-Eyed Willy’s treasure. It would have been a dull movie if that hadn’t happened! The Icky Sticky here is the discovery of something unexpected. Whether that changes the direction of the story or not, it allows you to create a set of events to drag your characters out of The Lifeless River Bed of Despondency and Meh.

  • What is discovered? A treasure map? Alien life? A conspiracy? A cure for cancer? An old shoe? An heirloom?
  • Are they looking for that “thing”?
  • What do they do with it?
  • Do they fall out over it? Kill one another? Fight a legal battle? Sell it on eBay?
  • Does one of them steal it when the other is asleep?
  • Can it help them? Can it hurt them?
  • Where is it? A cave? A shoe box? In a pie? Under the floorboards? Under the sea? In a secret message?
  • Who gains from it? Who loses out?
  • Is it special? Is it bland and nothing more than a slight distraction?

Icky Sticky scene changers.

So, after all that is the river bed still a problem? Okay dear writer, wipe the worry from your face and get your writing tackle around some of these scene/plot/story changers:

# 1. In the silence they stared at the gun. Cassie knew Joe would make a grab for it before she did. Could she bring herself to use it on him? Would he after all they’d been through together? She hesitated. Joe pushed her aside, lunged for the weapon and pulled the trigger. It clicked. Cassie ran for the door.

# 2. When the building in front of their car erupted in a violent ball of flame, Marcus and Wendy were considering their next move. Should they turn themselves in or make a run for the border?

# 3. Why was he staring at her like that? What if he touches her finger again? The first time might have been an accident, but twice in less than a minute? He’s cute, in a brutish kind of way, and the way he smiles… No. It’s wrong. They had to figure this thing out before someone gets hurt. There it is again. This time the touch sent shivers up her arms. Were they really going to do this?

# 4. He’d looked in that shoe box a hundred times and never taken any notice of the map tucked against the side.

# 5. Greg glared at his beautiful wife with his fists clenched beneath the table. Why did she have to bring that up again? Weren’t they over that shit by now? Why did that idiot waiter ask so many questions? Fine. If she wants to go there, let’s go there. Right here. In the restaurant.

Icky Sticky can be as random as you like!

You may have been floundering with a scene like Cassie and Joe. Not sure where to go next, or how to get to a place you have mapped in your noggin. Maybe Cassie had opened a birthday present from a distant relative. Maybe they’d just moved into a new house and found the gun in the loft. It’s about using the Icky Sticky as a B in the move from A to C.

NaNoWriMo is about getting the good stuff out of your brain, get it down, on paper, on the screen, written, done. If you need to throw the Icky Sticky about to get there, so what? You can edit it to your heart’s content later on.

Life is full of random moments so why shouldn’t your fictional landscape be the same? Just remember that when (or if ) you run into the The Lifeless River Bed of Despondency and Meh, don’t panic. Whip up a batch of Icky Sticky, pull back, and hurl that stuff into the story and see what sticks!

Do you have any tips on how to embrace the Icky Sticky?

Write for you. Write with passion. Love it. Live it.


116 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo – Embrace the Icky Sticky!

    1. Baby steps there PiP, that’s the trick. Naturally you need to have a story in mind but tackle it one step at a time – one scene, one chapter, even one line or paragraph. Build one on top of another and you’ll be fine.

  1. This’ll be my first year participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ve taken a break from working on my thriller novel “Snake”, but I’m looking forward to resuming it come Nov. 1. And let me tell you, I’ve actually already used some of the suggestions above: I thought parts of the plot weren’t exciting enough, so I rewrote the outline and ended up getting the story to go from good to great. I’m looking forward to what happens next.

    1. Sometimes taking a step back is all you need to see what needs more work. The icky sticky can be a stop gap measure to get you out of a slump, but it can also breath fresh life into your story and your enthusiasm for it. Best of luck with NaNo this year!

  2. This will be my first year doing NaNo, and I’m excited and scared at the same time. I will have to probably read this again at some point. Thanks!

    1. Oh yes, excited and scared at the same time! Two top emotional states to have when writing. If I don’t feel those at any point when I’m writing I’d be worried!

  3. I am a NaNoWriMo virgin. I’m nervous about having to use my imagination (normally I write sub-par book reviews). Thanks for this post – I know it will definitely come in handy!

    1. Like with JackieP (above comment) it’s fine to be nervous. Don’t let that turn into a big hurdle or wall you can’t get beyond though. Nerves are exciting, they let you know something good (hopefully!) is going to happen. I love how there are so many are NaNo virgins! It’s exciting to imagine all those fresh new stories coming together!

  4. Reblogged this on Cyd Madsen and commented:
    I LOVE what this guy says about NaNo. This is great ammo for the event and could be the ammo I load my pistols with to jump in the game.

    1. Gosh! Thanks! I don’t get reblogged very often, er, maybe once or twice I think! NaNo is an awesome time for so many reasons, not only the challenge but for that sense of achievement in getting your story out, finished or not, it’s a start on something you may have been thinking about for a long time. Wish you luck with the big event!

      1. Thanks for the luck, Dave. I’ll need it. I loved the visual you added to your content and couldn’t resist reblogging πŸ™‚ Good luck to you, too. Or better yet, maybe we can say howdy to each other on the NaNo site.

  5. I had to reblog this. Great tips and lots of fun to read. I don’t know, I just might take another run at it this year.

  6. I am so tempted my NaNoWriMo, even more so after reading this – I generally prefer short stories, though, so maybe there should be a NaNoShoStMo for people like me!
    excellent tips – not just for NaNoWriMo but for story-writing as a whole.

    1. What a cool idea! NaNoShoStMo! I reckon you should suggest it to the NaNo Gods and see what happens. I’m a huge fan of short stories, though I haven’t written any for a while now as I’ve been working on my big project, The Range. My short fiction section are all short stories, although some grew beyond that, I guess novella is a more suitable term.

      I think short stories require a different set of disciplines that longer works, the writer needs to choose their words with care, and whilst waffle and junk can be used to pad a bigger story (to some degree, maybe) it isn’t as acceptable in a short piece.

  7. Congratulations on becoming Freshly Pressed and about time is all I can say…..well done, you thoroughly deserve it…let’s hope you now get the readership you deserve.

  8. Reblogged this on takingsnaps and commented:
    This guy is absolutely brilliant, I love his writing and find myself giggling to myself when reading his posts….if you’re into writing check this out and if you’re not just pop over and read some of his posts….if you don’t get a chuckle then you need some help!!!

  9. Ooh this post just reminded me how soon November is now… I did NaNoWriMo a few years back, but haven’t attempted it since starting uni. However after reading this I feel like it could be the year to try again!! Thanks for the great tips! πŸ™‚

    1. I think for some the desire is there, but due to time constraints they aren’t able to get as involved as they’d like. Sometimes it’s not easy to see anything other than: “OMG 50K words…man, that seems like a lot.” But then you don’t have to do that much. Make a start. Churn out some ideas and see where it goes. Maybe you don’t hit the finish line with the big five-oh, but maybe you have something that you can work on later, when time isn’t against you.

  10. Awesome post, this year I will be attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time :O the questions you ask yourself during sticky icky moments will be very helpful, I’m sure.


    1. Thanks Catherine! This icky sticky moments crop up for all writers, I’m certain of that. It’s how you embrace them that matters. Be inventive! Good luck with NaNo!

  11. Good tips! When I’m stuck I also think to myself, “what’s the worst thing that could happen next?” and see where that takes my story when I’m facing a road block.

    1. Thanks Laura! Wasn’t it the Dr Pepper adverts that asked: “What’s the worst that can happen?” Well, you don’t know till you learn to love the icky sticky!

  12. I am going to try and finish this year. I will be on medical leave for nearly the entire month of november. Hopefully, this will give me the time to finish during the month of nov.

        1. That reminds me, I must log in and check my details on NaNo. Keep forgetting to read the email and whatnot! Have faith, you’ll finish if you keep a cool head and determination, failing that wine, choccies, pizza, loud music…oh and lots of smiling at the screen! Works for me!

  13. This was hilarious and very useful. I’m a first year NaNo and have writers’ block even before beginning the novel, if that’s at all possible. Thanks for the tips and hope you do reach The Zone!

    1. Hehe, oh The Zone. What a marvellous place it is. Writer’s block is just a word, well, two, but it’s a fancy version of the icky sticky. Isn’t it much better to say: “I embraced the icky sticky and pulled myself out of that dry river bed!” than: “Blergh, writer’s block again…big long drawn out sigh for me.”

      Good luck to you! Love the icky sticky!

    1. Scared is guuuurd! 1,666 words really isn’t that much. Think of how many words you speak in 1 day, or even write if you’re job/passion/hobby requires it. It’s about channelling your imagination into a stream of wordy goodness on the page. Better to try and get something out of it, no matter how small, than not try just in case you fail.

      Besides it’s not really about winning or losing, it’s about doing something about that story that keeps itching away in your head. Whether that’s 100,000, 50,000 or 2,000 – hey, at least you’ve done something about it!

      1. thanks, Dave, I’m going to give it a try and see what I get out of it. Have to start the second book in the three book series I have in mind in order to comply with the rules. That should be interesting as I am only about half way through the first book. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  14. Reblogged this on DeDeRants and commented:
    I have to re-blog this, for this will be helpful for not only me, but others who follow me and write, as well as are planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year.

  15. Good ideas. This summer during Camp NaNo I experienced problems but I just kept going even though I didn’t like what was being written too well (oh well, that IS what editing and revising is for!) Will definitely think about these ideas if I get stuck this year πŸ™‚

  16. Great to see a NaNo-related post on Freshly Pressed!
    I usually go the “new character” route. Never had to add the proverbial ninjas, but I did throw in a fake samurai and a random giant. (The giant worked better.)

    1. Nice. I like it. Random giant. I can see how that icky stick would work quite effectively. I like the “new character” angle too, and if that still leads to a dry river bed, the “kill character” icky works a treat too!

  17. I am also a writer and have participated in nanowrimo for the past 5 years. I say participate because I can only remember crossing the 50,000 word finish line once (my novel a perfect example of quantity over quality). I really enjoyed your post and will be following your blog this upcoming month as motivation and inspiration is often in short supply!

    1. Wow, big congrats for taking part for 5 years! That’s dedication to your craft right there! Crossing the finish line is a great feeling but even if you don’t I think the fact that you made a start is worthy of choccy cake reward!

  18. I did NaNoWriMo in 2010, and I’ve just begun editing that novel… You’ve got me pumped for another month of literary abandon, but now I’ve got no story… Since I never technically finished the 2010 draft, I feel weird about writing a sequel LOL Last year, my daughter (age 6) wrote short stories, just a few sentences at a time, to work on her fine motor skills and build the muscles in her hands. She has autism and this was a great exercise for her… I did end the 2010 story (or at least I wrote where I wanted it to end up)… Maybe I could give a sequel a whirl… Not like anyone reads the tripe I write anyway πŸ˜‰

    1. You never know! NaNo is a teacher of “do it now – worry later” mentality. I wonder how many people who take part think they’ve written junk, only to find later on they’ve got the bones of something wonderful. With dedication to editing you can sift away the junk from the glittering goodness!

      And yes, a sequel is a good idea for NaNo. You already know the story, characters, plot etc, so in theory a follow on wouldn’t feel like you’d be starting blind. It’s great to hear your daughter found the event helpful too! Be like Nike and Just Do It!

      1. Well, I signed up last night… Now let’s hope I’m brave enough to start writing… There are so many things I could write about, but I’m a “worry first, worry some more, and then worry cuz it didn’t get done” kind of thinker. Maybe If I edit the last novel and focus on the writing of this new one, I could get both done and not be as driven to fix every little thing in the new one… I don’t think the plot line from the first would carry over well, but since I left my serial killer pregnant at the end, we could venture into the waters of how someone maintains the life of a serial killer while preparing for motherhood lol

              1. Half past never, most likely. It’s not even finished yet and while my husband thinks the first four chapters are good, I have to finish the story to see if it will really be worth entering the world of self-publishing.

              2. That probably came out wrong… I just don’t think I’ll ever publish. I’m too intimidated to let others read my writing. (The irony of being a blogger, I imagine.) I’m terrified of what my friends would think of me if they read how I kill people in my spare time. πŸ˜€

    1. Hehe, you know that option sometimes rears its head when I’m stuck. Icky sticky moments can only be enjoyed if you fully embrace them and let the words breath from your finger tips.

  19. Love this and am going to bookmark your sight! I have a case of the “sorting through critiques from my writing group” semi-paralysis. I started a lifestyle blog so I would have an outlet to write (and other things) and to get some validation while I actively pursue my long-term goals.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Long term goals are always good, for me writing is a sort of therapy. You can’t beat a solid, well rounded critique, that highlights both good and bad areas, but even then it’s you as the writer who makes the call whether to take on that advice, judging if it is unbiased or not.

  20. Great post, Dave! As Stephen King says, writing is like shoveling s–t from a sitting position. The Old Man and the Sea was originally more than 800 pages long. Gotta write lots of dirt and then dig for the jewels. Keep the fingers moving! Thanks for your inspiring words! Diana Bletter, The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle

    1. Indeed, you sometimes have to shovel a serious amount of kack to reach down and find those hidden gems. Even then they need to be cut and polished. It’s all about keeping those fingers moving, and finding new sights to see in Imaginationland!

  21. Superb post – informative and catchy.
    Advice to fellow writers? Well, I don’t recommend over-saturating your mind by trying too hard to get everything down early on. Thinking carefully about each idea and working it through before committing to it saves a lot of hassle later and keeps the quality high.
    Keep the plot sharp, use as few well-written characters as you can get away with and, as you say, surprising the reader occasionally with something unexpected but plausible, makes a lot of sense.

    1. Well said! Whilst NaNo is about having that 1 month to get your ideas out, it doesn’t mean you have to rush it. Taking your time to think about what you want to say can save your sanity in the long run.

    2. Thanks for your comment Amaya. Planning what you want to say can indeed save your energy and head scratching later on. I admit that I tend to write from an emotional state of mind, wrapped up in the moment a bit too much then realise later I’ve gone off on an unexpected tangent. I’ve improved on my impulsiveness when it comes to writing, and pause to collect my thoughts when I sense I’m about to rush into something I hadn’t planned. Although having said that, the fun of writing is enjoying the unexpected!

      1. Hi Dave,
        Definitely. Unexpected is to be embraced! Tangents can be good, too – I guess it’s the power to judge a piece of work as a critic would that sets the better writers apart. Here’s hoping!

  22. Eating seems to be among the Icky Stickies that my favorite authors use. Not sure where the plot should go next? Throw in a meal with all its savory descriptors, along with some light dialog in between chews (or during chews if that’s more in line with your character’s nature).

    1. That’s a good one! Characters, as in real life, tend to throw up all sorts of unexpected slithers of conversation and behaviour when they’re having a bite to eat.

  23. This is really brilliant – and great inspiration to get to work and find out something new about some (at this point they feel like it) stale characters πŸ™‚

  24. Thanks for this, in my attempts at novels I usually wander off to something new after 100 pages because I encounter that “Lifeless River Bed of Despondency and Meh”

  25. I shared this on FB as I have a whole NaNoWriMo contingent! I absolutely can’t wait to begin… can you tell I’m a WriMo virgin? Buddy me there if you like… same name as here. And BEST of luck πŸ™‚

  26. I’m a NoWriMo virgin and excited, but a little terrified at the same time! I will, without a doubt, be coming back here when I’m running low on…everything! Thanks for posting! πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply to Blaike Rose Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s