During the summer, I started writing a new YA (young adult) novel. The idea came suddenly, and the first 8000 words came flowing out. But then they stopped. I sat looking at my screen, not knowing what to write next. How had my story, that had spilled out of me like monsoon rain, suddenly gotten stuck?
The idea for the story had come organically, and I had begun writing it with no plan. I had written the opening chapters with plenty of feeling, but with very little thought. Once the initial excitement blew over, I was left with empty pages and no idea how to progress.
The problem with losing confidence in one piece of writing, is that the lack of confidence spreads. I was afraid to write anything, in case I would find myself stuck again.
I needed to unstick my story. So I followed a few steps, to get my confidence back.
Firstly, I went to the beginning of my novel and read what I’d written. I questioned myself, at what point did the story stop working? I went back to the last point that the story worked, and restarted from there.
2) Why did it start to fail?
I considered what had made the story begin to fail? Had I filled my chapters with back story instead of action? Had I forgotten to include any conflict? Did I lose sight of the character’s motivations? By becoming aware of what not to write, it helped me see what my story needed to stay interesting.
3) Alternative story lines
I considered alternative story lines. I made a chart of different routes the story could take, and then decided which way appealed to me the most.
4) Character Study
When I really couldn’t see what I wanted to happen next, I took time out from the story and made a number of character studies. This included making a character sheet for the main characters, learning their fears, their experiences and their goals etc. When I had a clear image of my characters, their natural motivations guided the story.
5) Take a Break
It’s often when I stop thinking of how to the solve a plot problem, that the ideas start to flow. I find going for a walk, or doing something physical, helps to shift my focus from my mind. Releasing the pressure on my creative mind gives it room to breathe.
6) Talk About It
I am lucky to have some super writer-friends, and to attend a brilliant writing class a few times a year. When I get stuck, I look to them for motivation, for problem solving inspiration; even for opinions on my plot. This helps enormously.
7) Find Inspiration
I used to wait around, believing that divine plot inspiration would shine upon me. But this is not a good plan, because it doesn’t work. I accepted that I have to find my own inspiration. Creativity needs to be fed, and sitting a room with no art, no beauty, no nature, is not the way to feed it. So I went out, I read, I made a conscious effort to stimulate my desire to create.
8) Day Off
I occasionally need to take a day, or two, or a week, off writing. This helps reduce the pressure I put on my writing. It also gives my brain a wash out so it’s ready to start again. And rather than dreading sitting down to write after my day off, I often find myself refreshed with motivation. It also helps me begin again with fresh eyes and a fresh head.
So now I’m back on track, and the words are flowing again. I have a clearer direction, a better understanding of my characters and I know what I want to achieve with this book. I took the pressure off myself and gave myself a break, and found my motivation again. And once the words started flowing, my confidence was rebuilt. Believing that I can write this novel, is the most important step to reaching those precious words, ‘The End’.
Good advice for when we get stuck in any part of life
Thanks for this. Very useful.