The writing process is a complicated creature, whether you’ve working on your first novel or your fiftieth. Add in the mysticism that seems to follow writers around like a shadow and it can be hard to tell whether your novel is stalled because of some mystic force or just because you’re sick of looking at it and don’t really know what’s going on anymore.
This past month, I didn’t get a whole lot of work done on my current work-in-progress, The Prince’s Champion. I love the book, love the characters, and enjoy writing it, but something was just… off. I didn’t want to work on it. I worried that too many of my story titles start with ‘the’. I thought that I should change the book to something less scary, less serious, less real. I’m happy to say that I’ve finally gotten back to work on it.
But, this period of unease made me wonder, why did this happen? When I knew that things were going smoothly, why was I unable to work on something that I enjoyed? I don’t buy into the idea of some Almighty Muse, but what was it that had gotten me so stuck? Better yet, how could I avoid such a thing happening in the future?
Are real life issues getting in the way of your writing?
The job that I’m currently working is beyond full-time. Just this week, I had 47 hours on a rotating schedule, the crowning achievement of which was yesterday when I worked 16 hours on only 3 hours of sleep.
I haven’t been happy with this job for a while now and have been really trying to figure out whether working part-time at a new job is the right choice for me. I want to work less hours so that I’ll have time to pursue other things that are important to me— such as writing, strength training, and time with friends and family—but had worried that the pay cut would be too steep.
I didn’t realize it but this dilemma was taking a huge toll on me mentally. I’d get off work and I wouldn’t want to do anything but play videogames and sleep. Even when I tried to write, I was so full of frustration and annoyance that I’d write for five or ten minutes and then set it down.
It wasn’t a good headspace to be in for writing, that’s for sure, and I had to take some time to deal with this problem before I could move forward with my novel.
Do you know where the story is going?
There’s a quote by Kurt Vonnegut that goes, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” When I was writing my first stories, I thought this was a mystic, writerly remark on the writing process. Certainly I felt like I was jumping off of a cliff every time I sat down to write! But now, I’m seeing that it’s something else entirely. In that quote, it suggests that you have something with which to build wings out of.
A lot of my early stories got stalled because I stayed strictly within the plot progression that I’d written out. There was very little play, very little ‘what’s over there?’ in my early work. I wasn’t giving myself material with which to build wings. I didn’t have enough interesting ideas to pursue to keep the story going once I’d gotten past that first idea.
Knowing your characters is a good place to start when it comes to this problem of ‘what happens next?’ Even if you don’t know your characters well, becoming familiar with them through short stories and throwaway scenes is a good method to use and will put more words into the story.
By working through both of these questions, I was able to get moving again on my manuscript and am now happily plugging away as a writer should. Most importantly, this experience has taught me that one of the most important things when it comes to re-engaging a stalled work is to believe that it’s worth continuing and taking a step back to see why it isn’t.
Until next time!