When writing a book, or working on any other creative endeavor, even the best of us get stuck sometimes. The inspiration dissipates, and the project gathers dust on the back burner of the mind.
Recently I’ve stalled in my progress on the novel I’ve been writing since January, tentatively titled the Map of Daggers. I have 56,000 words written, and I’m happy with what I have, but I haven’t written anything new in weeks. Part of the problem was disruption in my personal life, as I recently moved out of my parents’ house to my own apartment in a new city. Most of my free time before and after the move was dedicated to packing, unpacking, shopping, organizing, etc. I also had to get settled into a new daily routine, and somehow my daily writing simply got left out of the equation. Since I didn’t schedule a specific block of time for it, it never got done.
The other part of the problem, though, is that I’m not sure where to take the story next. The scene where I left off is a stand-off between the protagonists and antagonists, but it is far from the end of the novel. I have to find some way to defuse the situation while retaining the tension and setting up for the final conflict to come. There are several potential ways for this to happen, and I can’t quite decide which is best.
Whether dealing with changes in your personal life, or stubborn plot issues, getting back to the novel and finishing what you started is one of the hardest things to do after a long absence. But I have a few strategies that could help, and I hope that writing them down will also force me to start writing again:
1. Put writing back on your schedule. In your calendar or daily planner, block out a period of time that will be devoted to writing. Even if you’re not motivated or “in the mood” for writing, you will sit in front of your computer or notepad at that time and give it a try. Write something, anything, if you can, even if you throw it away afterwards. Just the act of writing can be enough to get the juices flowing. This will only happen if you schedule it, because there are plenty of other demands on our time in a given day.
2. Skim through what you have already written. Don’t focus on individual words. Just scroll through the document or flip through the pages. Look how much you’ve already written! All of these words are words that you, and you alone, put together on the page to create a unique story. Feel pride in your accomplishment up to this point. But do not start examining individual words, because if you’re like me, you will immediately start fretting that you’ve chosen the wrong words, and you will soon lose your self-confidence. Remember, it’s not going to be perfect, and in fact it will need a lot of revision in the future, but as you’re easing back in, the key is not to get overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of you.
3. Revisit your outline. Look over your initial outline and reflect on which plot points have been written and which are yet to come. Have you strayed from the original path? Has your time away from the novel changed your idea of how you want the story to end? Now is also a good time to go back through what you’ve already written, more slowly, to refresh your memory on the major scenes and plot points. Have you missed anything so far? It also helps to see the desired conclusion still hovering on the horizon, tantalizing you and begging to be written. Even if the middle part of the story is getting slow, focusing on the interesting plot points to come could be enough to get your brain churning and your fingers typing again.
4. If you don’t know how to finish a scene, then write several endings. Let each one play out. Which one leads you closer to the ending of the novel that you have in mind? Which one better reflects and strengthens the main theme?
5. Reward yourself. Getting back into the swing of writing a novel, or working on any major project, is very difficult, which is why far more novels are started than ever finished. If you can succeed at starting again, then you owe yourself a big Congratulations. Set a reward for yourself for getting unstuck. For example, if I sit down and write a page today, I will have a bowl of ice cream, or watch my favorite show on Netflix. Or both! There are also motivational apps, such as Carrot, which allow users to set specific goals and rewards for themselves, though I haven’t tried any of them yet so I can’t vouch for them.
Good luck all of your fellow stuck writers! My plan is to unstick myself and write from 8-9 tonight, and my reward is a new episode of Breaking Bad.