I’ve spent a long time in rewrites–first working on Moonshadow’s Guardian, then the second draft of my 2011 Nanovel–and the last two weeks have been the most unpleasant of all. Each day I wrote a page, maybe less, of the actual novel and spent hours entranced in other writing. Avoiding the novel itself.
Late last week I hunkered down, figured out the issue causing my avoidance and worked through it. Now I’m back to work on my novel, confident I won’t stall again.
When you’ve been working on the same project for a long time it can be difficult to continue. You start to lose your enthusiasm and writing becomes like walking on hot coals. Every scene seems an insurmountable challenge. The book itself becomes a monster you avoid like the one you thought was under your bed in childhood.
There are many potential reasons why you’re stalling, and many potential solutions. I’ve pulled together the methods I used to get myself back into my current WIP(Work In Progress). Still, the most important advice is to be persistent. If you write a paragraph every day, the day will eventually come when you write several pages instead and the dam is broken. If you want to start writing several pages a day again, beginning with tomorrow, these strategies should be able to nudge you in the right direction:
1. Re-assess your goals: stalling might be a sign you’re focused on the wrong goals. Maybe there’s another project you’ve been ignoring because you’ve been too focused on your WIP. Or maybe you’ve been pushing yourself way too hard and you need to scale back. Schedule breaks. Time to work on other projects, time for fun. Even when you’re not stuck, it’s good to re-assess your goals and current life balance often to make sure you’re on track.
It’s more important to build everyday habits that will help you achieve your long term goals than it is to finish it fast. Give yourself a goal that allows flexibility and room to relax. Pushing yourself too hard will only make you hate your novel and extreme burnout. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way a few times, and I suspect I’ll end up having to learn it again eventually. Re-assess your chosen goals and your overall life now–and again every few months–to avoid learning it the same way.
2. Modify your outline: the problem might be that you’ve taken your story in the wrong direction. It may be that you’re approaching a scene from the wrong angle, that you’re writing the wrong scene or even that your story is completely off course. Whatever the problem, if you’re working from a solid outline, you can find it there.
Examine your outline carefully. Are there significant changes since your first draft? Maybe the old story line was better or maybe you took it in the wrong direction. If you didn’t make any large changes, maybe it’s time you did.
3. Develop your characters: the issue might be that you don’t know all your characters as well as you should. You might be stuck because you don’t know a character’s motivations or how they’d react in a given situation. Or perhaps you’re not quite used to a PoV(Point of View) character’s voice.
Usually taking a troublesome character through some writing exercises is a good start and sometimes all you need. Doing a brainstorm session around a period of their life or their motivations, filling out timelines and physical descriptions can all be useful.
Sometimes you need to create a new character or kill one off. Don’t be afraid to do either one–whatever makes the story stronger–and don’t be afraid to take your time. Getting to the point where you won’t stall again is more important than working on your novel today.
4. Work on your backstory: sometimes you need to go back and take a closer look at your setting or other details of your backstory. For my current WIP I found myself having to write out the kingdom’s laws and several pages about the dominant religion before I could get back to my novel. Most of the time these issues are self evident after you reread the last few scenes you wrote or can be found easily by looking at the outline.
If you’re confident you need to develop your setting further, ask yourself these questions:
- How much do I know about my MC’s religion?
- How much do I know about laws in my story’s setting?
- What are some local delicacies?
- How much do I know about the science/magic/medicine of my setting?
These 4 strategies should get you excited about your novel again and smooth out the process of writing that second draft. Rewriting will always be difficult, but you can get through it–and if you want to be a pro writer, you will.