We’re all well acquainted with the excitement that accompanies a new book idea. It’s a bit like having a crush, isn’t it? Our heart beats faster when we think about it. We get giddy when we start to outline it. We wake up in the middle of the night, our minds restless, antsy with infatuation. And like any rom-com relationship, we experience a blissful honeymoon phase: dreamy, idyllic dates with our laptops, long, uninterrupted daydreaming sessions in which our characters whisper honey-sweet nothings into our ears, pages and pages of stage-setting, character-creating, tension-building bliss…
And then BAM! The honeymoon stage hits a very big, very hard, very demoralizing wall of doubt, discouragement, and disinterest. Stare at the wall long enough, and the manuscript we’d been so in love with just moments before gets sucked into the HAOUM (Hopeless Abyss of Unfinished Manuscripts).
For some writers, this wall occurs at around the halfway point of their book. Others encounter it after a few mere chapters. No writer can predict just where the wall will pop up and threaten to block their creative progress, but every writer can surmount it. After a few wins against the wall, many writers (including yours truly) find that the wall disappears entirely, having surrendered to their dogged determination not to let anything stand in their way of “The End.”
I’ve written 17 books (seven nonfiction books, nine novels, one novella), which means I’ve had my fair share of confrontations with “the wall.” I know just how it feels to get 20,000 words into a book and be convinced it’s out of juice, or more accurately, that I’m out of ideas. I know how it feels to have my attention stolen by a new, bright, shiny idea that seems to hold so much more promise than my lusterless work-in-progress.
And I know how it feels to tell my feelings to take a hike because even though honeymoon phases fizzle, our self-discipline and drive doesn’t have to.
If you’re currently facing that infamous wall of writer’s block/boredom/self-doubt/you-name-it, then I hope the following tips will help you see your book through to completion!
Remind Yourself “This is Normal”
You’d be hard pressed to find a writer who didn’t think his or her manuscript was complete crap at one point or another. Seldom do any artists look at their work partway through and think to themselves, “This is a masterpiece. There will be Oscar-winning movies about this creation one day!”
We all struggle with nasty things like doubt and impostor syndrome. They come with the territory of being a creator.
The moment you remind yourself that those icky thoughts are normal, you can take a deep breath, and move on to Tip #2…
Your book, be it a nonfiction how-to on growing succulents or a vampire novel set in ancient Rome, is going to have problems. From poor character development and faulty world building to a lack of suspense and a surplus of adjectives, there will be plenty of items which will require your keenest editing eye.
But…focusing on all that’s wrong with your book while you’re still in the process of writing it is a good way to kill your momentum.
Don’t start editing, or even thinking about editing, until you’ve finished the book and set it aside for a few weeks or months. Make finishing your number one priority, because remember: the first step to publishing a book is finishing it!
Reject All Distractions
We’re writers, which is another way of saying we’re expert idea generators. We see inspiration everywhere, which means our brains are constantly being bombarded with story material. Quirky people we see at the gas station, stunning landscapes we see on TV, haunting music we hear in the movie theater, news stories we read about on Facebook, conversations we overhear in coffee shops… All of this and more contribute to the ongoing story factory buzzing and whirring inside our heads. It’s a wonder any of us finish a manuscript, yet finish we do because of a little something called self-discipline.
Self-discipline is what’s left over when that initial spark of head-over-heels infatuation fades. It’s what keeps the athlete training when she’s tired out, sore, and ready for a vacation. It’s what keeps the exhausted mom eating nutritiously and exercising regularly despite wanting nothing more than to eat Ben and Jerry’s and binge-watch This Is Us. It’s what keeps aspiring musicians playing their music and writing new songs despite getting rejected by agents and record labels again and again. It’s what keeps committed couples together despite the flesh’s tendency to lust after others and be unfaithful.
And it’s what keeps writers writing despite their distractions. It’s what keeps us faithful.
Whenever the Muse blesses you with a new story idea, don’t try to forget about it. Instead, jot it down in your notebook or type it into an app on your phone so you can return to it when the time is right. If complete paragraphs and characters begin materializing, write them down as well, but don’t devote your full attention to it until your current book is….yes, that’s right….FINISHED! 😀
Figure Out What’s Bugging You
Sometimes there’s more to the manuscript blues than distractions, boredom, and doubt. It’s completely possible that your book has some legitimate kinks that need working out before you can continue.
If your story isn’t working, consider if the following problems are at play:
It’s Gone off the Rails
This means you’ve lost your original vision of the story and it’s now in the driver’s seat, taking you and your characters where you had no intention of going. Revisions are manageable, but when your plot goes too far afield, it can become a beast beyond taming, not to mention beyond recognition.
If you’ve lost the thread that first connected to your story, as well as the fiery passion that drew you to it, you may want to consider letting it go and pursuing one of your other shiny ideas.
Also, never underestimate your gut instinct. During my own brawls with the wall, when I’ve wanted to give up and wave the white flag, my gut has risen up within me crying, “No! You will finish this book and you’ll be glad you did!”
Conversely, if you’re gut’s telling you it’s time to call it quits, don’t be afraid, or ashamed, to listen to it. If you feel relief, not self-condemnation, when you close the manuscript for the final time, that’s a good sign you’ve made the right decision.
The Logic’s Off
If there’s a logic problem in your story, there’s usually always a fix. To resolve it, spend some quality time asking yourself questions like: What’s irritating me about my story? What’s not jibing with my writerly instincts? Then begin narrowing it down, peeling back layer after layer, until you arrive at the culprit. It will require time and effort, but it’ll help you move onward to the finish line!
I know you pantsers out there won’t appreciate this tip, but having an outline, even a brief one composed of bullet points, is like having a parachute in your pack – when you find the unwelcoming, rocky ground speeding toward you, you can pull it and voila! Safety and no broken bones, aka, unfinished manuscripts.
I’m not saying you must have an outline for every book you write, but if you’re not confident about the direction your story’s going in, or aren’t sure it’s going anywhere, creating one can only help you.
For more on outlining, check out THIS POST.
Walk Away (for a while…)
The words “I think we need some space” are often a euphemism for, “I want to break up.” But when you say it to your work-in-progress, you really just mean you want some space.
Go for a walk. Go to a café and get lost in your latest read. Engage in another creative endeavor, like painting, or knitting, or playing guitar. Don’t feel pressured to stay glued to your writing chair if all that’s achieving is burning eyes, cramping hands, and massive amounts of frustration.
Please note that writing is hard work and that there’s a difference between needing to keep grinding in the name of self-discipline and calling it a day in the name of creative health. It’s up to you to discern that difference and act accordingly.
If you return to your manuscript and still feel blah about it, perhaps that’s a sign you need to break up with it, as it were, for good.
Writing is hard work, yes, but it should still be rewarding and incredibly gratifying; if all you feel is drained, dragged down, and defeated, you’re probably writing the wrong thing.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful! Let me know your thoughts on Twitter at @dandersontyler or on Instagram at authordianatyler. I love hearing from you!