You don’t know why your previously wonderful story has suddenly mired itself in what feels like the Bog of Eternal Stench. But all of a sudden opening that file and sitting down to work is no longer the pleasure it was yesterday.
It’s very easy at this point to send yourself into a downward spiral – questioning yourself, your story, your characters, your writing skill. But my advice, when you’re stuck like this, is that this is the very worst time to start editing or revising. It’s like being mid-battle and stopping to rearrange your troops—unlikely to help you win the war.
What you really need to do is get writing again. You need to get that spark back and push through that swampy mud and get to the other side. Then, once you’re through, you can go back and re-work things from a place of positivity and optimism.
Here are a few techniques that have helped me when I’ve been in exactly this kind of spot.
Change point of view (POV)
This is a very old idea, but I have used it more times than I can count. Scene not working? Switch it up. If you’re in the heroine’s POV, stop right where you are and take up again in the hero’s. Or try re-writing the scene completely—again if it’s the heroine’s POV, make it the hero’s. I don’t really know why this works, but it has done the trick for me over and over.
Get comfortable with pondering time
You know what? Sometimes maybe you’re not writing because your ideas just need time to simmer. For someone like me who’s pretty focused on productivity, the idea that thinking is sometimes more important than doing is a little tough to accept. But it’s something that I’ve come round to, the more writing I do. Having goals and deadlines are important, absolutely, but so is space and time to get things right. Give yourself a break and remember that what you are doing is an act of creation and you can’t always schedule creativity.
Be more disciplined
On the flip side to what I’ve just said, taking too long to mull things over isn’t going to get your book finished either. Sometimes the hard work of writing is sitting down to do it when you don’t want to. When you can think of a hundred other things (like cleaning the bathroom and sorting out that messy second-drawer-down in the kitchen) that you’d prefer. Perhaps, what you have to do is just sit there and not allow yourself to get up again until you’ve written 500 words (or a 1000, or whatever your personal goal is). It might not be great, but at least it’s more than you had before.
I’ve found that sometimes you just have to write yourself out of that corner. You can go back later and make it perfect, just move things along – getting your characters to the next point of the story is the most important thing for now.
Have someone new read it
You probably already have crit partners who love your work and are ready with encouragement and support. (If you don’t, you need some!) But sometimes, I hate to say it, that old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” starts to take hold. It’s not that you no longer value their opinions, it’s just that you can kind of predict what they’re going to say. Or perhaps they’re just going to say wonderful things about you when what you need is a kick up the pants (or vice versa!).
Having a fresh set of eyes look over your work can be a great way to get a new perspective on what’s happening. Someone who hasn’t been part of the journey to get to where you are now might just see the glaring point where you narratively turned left instead of right.
And sometimes, just seeing your writing through a new set of eyes can help you to look at it freshly again and perhaps find the thread you need to follow (or unpick) to get you back on track.
If you’re feeling a little blocked I hope these hints provide some help to set you going again. Whatever you do, don’t lose your momentum.