What do you do when you hit a creative stumbling block, where no matter what you do the chapter just isn’t coming together as you’d like?
To me, every chapter needs to serve some sort of purpose in the furthering of the story. Maybe there is an action that needs to take place or a character that needs further development, but there needs to be a purpose. Once you figure out what the purpose of that chapter is, I advise writing that part first. Then, find a way to transition to that point from what has existed previously, then find some sort of resolution for the ending. If you’re still struggling after all that, put it away and do something else for a while. When you force out a chapter, you’re probably not going to be happy with the final result because it was so difficult getting to that point. I also recommend having a friend or a beta that you can bounce ideas off of. They usually know enough about your story to add suggestions or provide feedback that can aid you in overcoming your block.
A darling friend turned me on to Write or Die. It’s an online program that’s time/word count based and it makes the most horrible, anxiety producing sound when you stop typing. I use it just to get the words on the page. Most of the time it’s a jumbled mess of nonsense, but the ideas are out and I can pretty it up with editing.
I also take a break from the current chapter or story and write something totally different. I write the parts that I want to write first then go back and fill in the connections.
Work on something else, another writing assignment, even another part of the story that is going well. Put the troublesome piece down for at least a few days, then try to go back at it with a fresh eye. Read or re-read a good book.
I think the important thing is not to go too long without picking it back up again. Sometimes you’re just going to have trouble with chapters. Sometimes you are just not going to like what you have written. The important thing is to Keep Working On It. Realize that this may not be the best thing ever written, it may not be the best thing you’ve ever written, but it is the best you can do right now. I think too many writers put too much pressure on themselves, and its one big reason so many fics don’t get finished. Every picture can’t be a masterpiece, every story can’t win a Pulitzer. Sometimes it is worth just getting a story finished and out there so you can move on to something else.
I put it aside. The more I stress over something, the less I will accomplish with it. I need to put it away and focus on something else for a while. Then, when I come back to it, I can usually find my way again.
I do have a few trusted allies I use as “sounding boards” and talking things out with them is often helpful, as well (especially if I am on a deadline and putting the thing aside isn’t a realistic option).
I walk away from it until I can get it going. I usually write something else in the meantime. If that still doesn’t work, I’ll use a friend as a sounding board.
Email/Call my beta. My beta is the best resource I have for my story. We’re very close and she knows everything there is to know about it. She’ll talk me through the block or email me another outline filled with details we’d talked about in the past. I don’t know what I’d do without her.
I talk to my friends, Emmy and Jennifer, they help me so much. Or I take my son to the park, that seems to kick me in the rear creatively, which is weird but hey, I go with what works.
Write anyway! I don’t tend to hit stumbling blocks because I outline. What does happen is I become lethargic and don’t want to write when I haven’t done it in a few weeks. That’s when I write anyway. The only thing to pull me out of a funk is to keep writing until I get out of it. Sometimes I need to write something entirely different until I get my mojo back, then I can focus on why I’m having a hard time getting into the story I’m writing.
What I’ve noticed lately, is when a chapter isn’t coming together it’s usually because I haven’t visualized it. I can’t just sit down and start writing without a plan. I usually talk out a chapter with a trusted confidant in detail. I’m not talking … “Female character gets hit by a bus, but survives then meets sexy surgeon” (THE END). My outline for the next chapter that I’m going to write is almost 1500 words. I talk my chapters out in depth, from the way the characters feel during the scene to the setting and dialog. After that, I mull it over for a couple days, keeping it forefront in my thoughts so that by the time I sit down and write, I’ve seen it play over and over again, like a movie, in my mind.
The way I write is very intuitive, and so usually I kind of scan what I’ve written so far and something jumps out at me as being the place where the train went off the tracks. Usually (nine times out of ten) it’s because I’ve written something that is out of character, and that’s why the story isn’t flowing any more. The other time out of ten happens when something I’ve written may be in character but it pushes the momentum of the characters’ actions in a direction I really don’t want them to go in, or that they’re going in too soon.
I might take a break, have a beer, but mostly I just keep with it. Turn off twitter and other distractions and literally force myself to write.
I take a year off. 🙂 This is hard, but I read something recently about writing the scene from a different POV or in a different tense, or writing a reaction to the scene you are blocked on and how seeing it that way might help bust through the block.
There are two ways in which this happens to me. The first is when I’m being lazy, and I know I’m being lazy because it’s an important chapter that I’m worried about messing up. The hardest chapters to write tend to be the most important, so I just force myself to power through these, and tell myself, “You can throw it away if it’s bad in the end, but finish it first.” The other way is when I’m trying to write a chapter a certain way that’s clearly just not right for the characters in the story. I’ve gotten three quarters of the way through a chapter many a time, realized I was trying to force it, then chucked it and just started over with no expectations.
I just keep writing. For me, I’ve found that sitting around waiting for the muse to speak never works for me. I have to write, muse or no muse. I might hate what I wrote, but I just keep pushing through. Later, once I feel I’ve got a little mojo back, I can go back and look at the parts I was unhappy with and adjust. Usually I find that they weren’t nearly as bad as I thought. I rarely scrap whole sections just because I think they suck.
WC’s (writing challenges or word challenges) work well for me when I really just need to get it in gear. Something about writing with the clock, having to report back in an hour, does a lot to motivate me.
I don’t stress over it. I wait it out.
Step back and don’t beat yourself up for hitting the block. If you have notes/outline for your story, go back and read them. Sometimes that can spark a thought. Play the questions game- Where are these characters going? What does this scene need to accomplish? Do I need to do more research?
If you have a trusted friend, ask them what they think of what you have written so far.
Sometimes you just need a break. Do not feel like you have failed if you need to step away for a day, a week, or a month. This time away can give you the energy to get back in there and write.
Take a step back and breathe. I then try and visualize what I want to happen. It usually works.