After finally engaging in a bit of a breakthrough over the last few days, the writing on the Novel-In-Progress has become easier, and as of this morning I broke 76,000 words. (I'm planning for a first draft between 180K and 190K words.) Very cool. Part of the problem, I'm convinced, has been that I've simply allowed too many days to go by without getting anything of substance written -- less than 200 words, for example. That's simply not enough to keep the ball going and the characters fresh. Continuity of effort is essential; otherwise, you simply lose sight of what the hell it is you're doing.
Anyhoo, another weird problem came up. I have a main character -- a fairly major character -- who has been spending much of the book thus far behaving in a way that doesn't entirely make sense. I mean, it's not totally illogical, but there really are better ways for him to go about things, and I finally reached the point where that fact had to be confronted. Now, since I don't work with outlines, my original temptation was to simply backtrack and fix this character's actions so they make more sense, but I kept rejecting that on the basis that it would just be too much stupid work. I will backtrack if I have to, but I tend to be very militant in how I judge "if I have to". Even if I'm writing a short story, I resist backtracking as much as I can; in a novel, a backtrack would represent the loss of several months of work. So I kept this character acting in ways that aren't quite up-to-snuff, and over the last week I've written no fewer than four versions of a scene where he tries to explain himself.
Yesterday, though, I finally realized what I had been missing: I had been working too hard on making his explanations make sense, as if his actions really did have to make sense. Yesterday, though, a simple thought popped into my cranium: "What if he's actually full of shit, and what if everyone around him knows it?" Which is, of course, the right answer, because it gives the character in question a much-needed third dimension, it adds conflict and tension, and best of all, it sets the stage for events which I already knew were to come. Now he's not just a cog in my plot-wheel; this person's actions will be partly responsible for a major disaster that's in the offing a few chapters from now.
Lesson learned: If your characters are screwing things up, that is not a sign that you, the writer, are screwing things up.