One of the toughest things about writing fiction is getting stuck. We get stuck SO OFTEN as authors…. One of the keys to success is simply finding ways to overcome the doubt about our stories and our abilities that getting stuck thrusts upon us.
Me, I’ve been kind of stuck fiction-wise all year, so I’m no stranger to this topic.
Part of my personal situation was that I had real-life interfere and had to give attention to other things. But part of it was that I also gave into the definition of madness: doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.
Finally, I decided to organize myself differently. I made a plan to break down my work-in-progress, scene by scene, in chart format in Microsoft Excel (I explain that organizational model here). And that has given me the motivation and the ability to make progress in my editing.
So, here are 3 different ways we writers get stuck, with some thoughts on how to get over the barrier.
However we do our prewriting–outlines, research, charts, character sheets, all of the above–sometimes it’s tough to feel that we’ve prepared enough. The planning can be fun for some people, and it feels safe. It’s not frustrating the way writing can be. And so we fall into the comfort of planning and telling ourselves we’ll write “once we’re done getting the story together.”
My only advice here: jump in. Just start writing. In a grad school time-management seminar, I had a presenter talk about research papers for our classes (because hey, writing is writing. It’s relevant here.)
What did she tell us? You’ll always have to do research. And you’ll want to outline, which is fine. Do that stuff. But start writing before you feel you’re ready to write. Write before you feel you’ve got everything lined up.
That was one of the BEST PIECES OF WRITING ADVICE I personally ever received. I needed it because of my perfectionist tendencies.
I found that once I had done some research and had a basic idea of what I wanted to say, that was enough to start writing. I could fill in gaps in my plan as they arose while writing.
When all is said and done, writing is about getting words on the page. Some of us need or like more prewriting than others; I do understand that. But at some point, we all have to start putting words down.
Remember: those words aren’t carved in stone. They can be changed. You can even throw them away and start over. In the end, for me, it’s more valuable and more helpful to just start writing and toss twenty pages later on than to plan, plan, and plan some more.
2. WRITER’S BLOCK
I’ve written a lot about this, and even have a category attributed to it that you might want to check out if you’re having issues with writer’s block.
My personal suggestions for working through it?
- You might try free-writing and see what shakes out.
- If you know where you want your story to go but aren’t sure how to get from point A to point B, jump forward to point B. Sometimes jumping ahead like that and rushing onward will spark a brainwave later involving the missing pieces.
- One of my big rules is “follow the characters.” So focus on character. Get to know your characters better. What you discover about them might help you understand how they respond to a particular situation that has you stumped.
- Consider changing some aspect of a character’s background, description, or overall identity. For some writers, this is like treason to suggest, I understand that. I, myself, have never made big changes to a major character whom I’ve already established as his or her own person. But if you’re not averse to it, it could help.
- Of course, there is the always suggested “distance yourself.” Walk away for a bit. Clear your mind and come back fresh. You don’t have to leave writing entirely…. Just the particular project that’s an issue for you.
I have issues with this. I read, read, read, and change, change, change. Later, rinse, repeat. You know the drill.
There is a comfort in that process of repetition. After all, no novel can ever be “perfect,” but by continual edits we can always make it better, right?
I used to use this as an excuse NOT to share my work with others. The fact is, there comes a point when I need to ship my work-in-progress off to beta readers.
Beta readers always find issues I have overlooked. They also tend to help me relax about issues I am blowing out of proportion.
My personal rule of thumb for when you know it’s time to involve the help of others? I can only say this works for me, but:
A big clue is when I start changing things from A to B, and then in my next editing pass, I want to change phrasing back from B to A. That kind of “back and forth” is a sign I’ve done all I can on my own with the novel for now.
A second clue is that I’ve done a second (or even third or fourth) read-through. You see, a bit part of my editing strategy is to read-through my novel from time to time and not edit as I read, just take notes on what isn’t working. Later, I edit based on those notes. Then I might read-through again.
By the time I’ve edited and read through my novel at least two times, it’s generally in solid enough shape for first readers to give input on how I can take it to the next level, smooth things out, and enhance what’s already working so that it’s even better.
So, what do you do when you get stuck? Have you experienced being stuck in one of these areas, or at a different point in the writing process, in a different way? I think this is a great topic to get a discussion going about. We can help each other grow and progress by leaps and bounds by getting ourselves unstuck.
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