Tuesday, 27 January 2015

When you’re stuck …

Anyone who has ever written a novel will tell you it is easier to start than finish. I don’t think it particularly matters whether you plan meticulously or write in free fall, the beginning of a novel is always exciting and full of possibility. You write those first chapters with a head full of ideas and a heart full of optimism; of course you do, or you wouldn’t even get started.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time, thought Toby.
But then, a few chapters in, something happens; either the ideas dry up, or else they come so thick and fast you don’t know which way to turn. You probably do know how your story ends, but suddenly you have no idea how to get there. The phrase, 'I don’t where I’m going with this' is all too familiar, although what we should really be saying is, 'I don’t know where I’m going NEXT.' I’m not talking about a temporary brain freeze which can easily be resolved by a break from your computer, a cup of coffee and a little bit of mental space; I am talking about the kind of stuckness which jeopardises completion of the whole project.

If this resonates with you, my advice is to do just one (or all!) of the following…

  1. Remind yourself how your book ends. The ending – like the beginning – should be less complicated, and focusing your mind on your goal may help you to think of some ways you can get there.
  2. If you don’t have an end in mind, try brainstorming all possible scenarios (in a separate document). Writing anything is better than writing nothing and keeps those creative juices flowing in the right direction.
  3. Think about the next plot point – as opposed to the next ten or twenty plot points – and keep on writing. Subsequent plot points will fall into place as you free up your creative mind.
  4. Take some time out to focus on the main character. Write down a list of questions about their motivation, desired outcome, relationships, and actions. Try to ask open questions which lead to possibility and ideas, (for example, Where do you want your relationship to be at the end of the story?) rather than closed ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions. (Do you want to marry a prince?)
  5. Tell yourself YOU CAN DO IT. This is likely to be a confidence issue. No one is making you do this, so the motivation must come entirely from within. It’s all too easy to think you can’t do it, but the bottom line is … guess what? YOU CAN.
  6. Carry on writing – which seems like a backward piece of advice when you don’t know what to write, but it’s not. Write through the pain. Write rubbish. Write anything. Write yourself a bridge from the Land of Stuck to the way ahead. As long as you keep on writing you’ll keep on thinking, focusing, creating, and eventually you will cross that bridge.
  7. If you’re feeling brave, ask someone else for suggestions. They might not have anything useful to contribute, but on the other hand, they might have that very shiny nugget which inspires you and lights the road ahead…
Above all else, remember that all writers reach this awful moment at some point in their writing career, where they cannot see the way forward. The only thing which separates you from them, is that they carried on.


  1. Ha Ha, funny that; I've just recently tried number 7 myself ... ;-)

    Some great ideas as always, my esteemed friend. It is a tough one, this, and I think number five is certainly one of the most important ones to remember, as you so rightly say.

    Another fab post, x x

    1. Thanks, Kate ... was thinking of you when I posted this xxx


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