Thursday, June 5, 2008

Keep Writing!

Some days, I stare at my work in progress (WIP) and think one of the following:

*I don't know what happens next.

*I can't finish this, it's too big for me.

*I know I've got something screwy with the plot/conflict/setting/characters, but what?

*My WIP is a POS.

*I have no idea how to do this!

I think all writers have those days. Writing is such a solitary endeavor. No matter how many critique partners we have to share our load or how many supportive readers we have who love our stuff, the reality is that if we don't find the words, the story will never be finished.

How do we power past the doubts, the paralyzing realization that we've just written ourselves into a corner, or the blow of another "this project just isn't right for us" letter? How do we refocus when the ideas run dry, the words sound cliche, and the characters all start to sound like cardboard cutouts of themselves?

Here's what works for me:

1. Keep writing. Nothing fuels doubts more than inactivity.

2. Call a critique partner and brainstorm. Sometimes just talking through vague ideas or possibilities with someone who understands writing and gets your voice is enough to solidify the course of the novel in your head and get you excited about writing again.

3. Keep writing. Even if all you can eek of out yourself that day is a page, it's still one page closer to finishing and you have silenced the voice in your head whispering that you can't do this.

4. Network with other writers. The writing process itself is a solitary pursuit but the rest of this life doesn't have to be and surrounding oneself with others who are driven to put the voices in their heads down on paper can be refreshing and motivating.

5. Keep writing. Writing produces more writing which fuels more writing until the ideas are sparking, the words are flowing, and the passion is burning again.

6. Change it up. Do a few creative writing exercises outside of the chapters you're writing. Write letters from one character to another. Write scenes that happened before your novel takes place. Write a prologue for another project... =D Get your creative juices flowing again.

7. Keep writing. I may have mentioned this one before. If you stop, it's hard to find the inspiration to start again. Besides, inspiration is a fickle beast. Determination is much more effective.

8. Approach the problems that trouble you using Courtney's "because" method and get to the bottom of what isn't working so you can fix it.

9. KEEP WRITING. Nothing matters - your ideas, your creativity, your characters, your talent - nothing matters if you don't keep writing.

READER QUESTION: How do you move beyond doubt, discouragement, or dry spells in your writing?


  1. Great post, CJ!

    When I'm really stuck, I usually end up making myself a deal that I have to write three different versions of whatever scene/snippet I'm stressed about. Giving myself the freedom to do it wrong is usually all it takes to get me out of that dreaded creative paralysis mode.

    Good luck with the story!! :-)

  2. That's great advice! I'm a huge perfectionist and tend to refuse to move forward with the story until I think I've got the current scene just right...that can take days sometimes! I'm trying to convince myself that I can push forward and come back later when I have more clarity on what that scene needs. =)

  3. Ok, CJ, I get it now! Keep writing.
    Therein lies the inherent truth, I do agree. And hey, it helps to know you have 'those' days too. Thought it was just me in my paralyzed can't think mode.

  4. Great advice, CJ.

    When I'm writing and doubts creep in, I try to remember two bits of wisdom I've heard. One is that perfectionism is overrated.

    The other nugget is from author Kay Marshall Strom, who gave the keynote address at a writers' conference I attended. She said that there is no such thing as writer's block. We just keep writing. (Sound familiar?) After all, other professionals don't stop producing because of doubts or fear, do they? The roomful of writers roared when she asked us if we'd ever heard of dentist's block.

  5. LOL! Dentist's block. Nice.

    Thanks Kay and Beth for stopping by.

  6. I had this feeling just this week. I finished my revisions on my editor-requested book and sent it off. And the whole time I'm packaging it I'm thinking it's crap, it's not as good as what other people are writing, and there's no way it's going to get bought.

    Today, I started back to work on the Harlequin Presents -- which isn't bought, but which has an editor anyway. And I thought this is crap, it's not good, etc.

    I think we just go through it sometimes. I try really really hard to keep writing anyway. I can fix crap, but I can't fix a blank page.

    The mss I just sent was rewritten from scratch 3 times. It might be crap, but it's polished crap that doesn't jerk from scene to scene anymore. :)

    Just keep writing. :)

  7. I don't know what happens next.

    I've been thinking this one a lot lately. Thankfully so does my heroine so it's been easier to translate it onto the page but it does get tiring.

    Like you said, I just keep writing to get beyond the dry spells. Sometimes I recharge with a book or movie or even ... laundry :D but above all, I just keep writing.


  8. Lol - just realized my last comment failed to thank Keli for stopping by, even though I mentioned something in her comment.

    I'm tired...too many late writing nights this week!

    Lynne, when you said you can fix crap but not a blank page, you said a mouthful.

    Katy, you had me right up until you said you recharge by doing laundry. There, I admit, we part ways.

  9. Thanks for posting this! It reminds me of something I read about one of my favorite directors, Anne Bogart. She said that whenever a scene isn't working and she doesn't know what to do, she stands up and shouts, "I know what to do!" and runs from the back of the theater to the stage. By the time she gets there, she just says whatever comes to mind. It either works, or it doesn't work. But at least it keeps her from getting director's block! Seems like "keep writing" is the same thing... eh?

  10. An excellent post, C.J., and I'm so glad to have it reinforced that I'm not the only one who goes totally blank some days. It's that itchy feeling that the right idea is out there, I just can't grasp it, that drives me batty. I've tried coaxing it out with sugar, nicotine, and alcohol, but they don't help. Sometimes a good brisk walk will loosen up an idea. But mostly I plant myself in my desk chair, put my hands on the keyboard, and repeat my current mantra: I am diligent. I've already spent too many years being my own worst roadblock. Sit and type. Or, if really desperate, grab a notebook and write longhand (I'm told it taps into another area of your brain when you handwrite things).

  11. Lately, the only thing that's been stopping me from creative writing is writing papers for classes, but at least I'm still writing. It's just not what I want to write at the moment. I mean, really, who wants to write a 15-pg. thesis? My last three classes completely interrupted the flow of my latest novel, and it took about three weeks to get back into it.

    When I have trouble with a story, I tend to jump to a different story to see if I can do anything there. I finished two novels one summer jumping back and forth like that. I'm now working on the revisions for one of them. I jump until I find one that speaks to me. That usually gets things going again. It at least gets me thinking.

    And I read... A LOT!

    Great post! Thanks for the advice. Oh, and I never know what happens next! =p

  12. Your advice is spot-on and I will add it to my repertoire when I'm just feeling blah about my writing and lackadaisical about doing any.

    I'm currently in a dry-spell right now, following the accidental death of one of my daughter's close friends. I've found that while the experience has plowed a lot of fertile ground for my writing, I don't have it in me to write yet.

    To keep me occupied with writing tasks, I've started notebooks in OneNote and have collected the ideas for plotlines and characters and some of the necessary research while I'm waiting for the muse in me to stop grieving. It's been very effective so far.

    I've also been collecting agent names and information to polish up some query letters for the two novels I have completed.

    These activities let me feel connected to the writing world while I'm having difficulties with the actual writing, and a feeling of belonging to this unique set of people is what gives me the most courage to continue writing.

    Thanks for the blog; the human connection with a successful author is priceless encouragement for us.

  13. Siobhan -

    The wonderful thing about writing is that it will always be there for you when you're ready to return.

    I'm sorry about your grief. That's a terrible wound.

    On another note, one of the secondary charters in DYING TO REMEMBER was named Siobhan (she's Irish) but I had to change it to Meaghan because so many of my beta readers complained that they didn't know how to pronouce it and it was distracting.

    It's such a beautiful name!

  14. LOL, CJ--on every writer's site I belong to, I usually have a pronunciation of my name in my bio. Once I left Siobhan alone and showed them how to pronounce MacIntyre just to play with their minds.


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