Almost everyone who has written a fiction novel has a similar experience, often about mid-point, but it could happen anywhere in the manuscript. It’s the “NOW what should I write?” moment. The moment that can span into hours, or days, or cause you to abandon your work completely. You know what I’m talking about.
You panic because you didn’t expect it to happen with this book. The concept and characters are clear in your mind. You know the beginning. You know the end. You have the key plot points. You sat down and slammed out the first chapters with relative ease. Then you hit the wall.
You put something down to fill the shockingly blank white space, but it sounds dumb, so you delete it. You decide to jump ahead to the next chapter, but you’re no longer sure what the next chapter should be. And to make matters worse, in that state of mind, everything you’ve written in the book so far seems stupid.
Hold it right there. Turn off those negative thoughts, and focus on why you’re writing the book in the first place. It might be for self-satisfaction. It might be because you have a story you believe has the potential to be the next great American novel. It might be because you have a following of readers who love your books. Any of those reasons, and many more, give validity to finishing your book.
What will enable you get that next bit on paper? I’ve tried a number of things when I reach a standstill. Maybe one of them will help you.
- Talk to someone, and ask their opinion. Give him a summary of what you’ve written, and where you want to go. That person may have an idea you can’t use, or may not have an idea at all, but it could get your creative juices flowing again. Like any problem, when you tell someone else, it doesn’t seem so bad.
- Ask yourself if you’re bored. Are you at that stopping point because the last scene, or action was off somehow. Maybe you don’t like one of your characters and that’s slowing you down. Reread what you’ve written with an open mind and see what happens.
- You have your plot carefully outlined, but you don’t like the way it’s shaping up. Give yourself permission to change things up. My characters have taken me on some unexpected journeys during the course of a story. And their surprising actions or spoken words are better than the ones I had planned.
- Sit down with a blank piece of paper and do some free-style writing. Choose a word, i.e. red, and write without conscious thought for a minute or two. This simple activity can help get the creative juices flowing.
- Read another author’s book, and tell yourself, “She did it, and so can I.”
- Go for a run, or walk, or do arm circles, or some other physical activity. I have mentally written many scenes, and worked out countless character and scene problems while jogging. I have titled my books, named characters and figured out why they are so named, etc. There is something to be said for releasing those endorphins. Two great advantages–they’re free and easy to access.
- Jump ahead to a later point in the book. For the mystery I’m working on, I wrote the end first because it came to me, and I needed to get it on paper. In another book, I wrote several scenes and plugged them in when the time seemed right. Having a few scenes in your file might give you what you need when you’re stuck.
There are some hopefully helpful ideas. What techniques have you used when you’re stuck? I’d love to hear about them.
Christine Husom is the author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, and An Altar by the River.