Writing Your Novel: What to do when your story stalls out

Note: I actually blogged this over a year ago but felt it deserved a re-blog. It is still relevant!

 

There’s nothing like halfway through your story getting that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach because you see an inevitable roadblock ahead. And then…you hit it. You run out of words, ideas and the story is just stuck.

Help I can’t think of anything else to say!

For most of us this is the point where we stop; we pull away from the computer, get up and do something else…anything else. Sigh.

The question becomes: what made the story dry up? Why the stale mate? Is it the story or is it…us? In fact, it could be a combination of many things. This is the point where we must stop and look back. Start with the story first because, honestly it is the most benign and arguably the easiest to fix.

Compass (1)

 

Where was I going with this? 

Let’s face it, every story should be headed somewhere. There are reasons you started writing the novel in the first place; there was a point you were trying to make, so to speak. Retrieve it from your memory, go back, read what you have written and ask yourself if in fact you ventured down an alternate path. (umm what if I turned here?) It could be that halfway through the story you discovered an exciting new direction, and that may be O.K. But if you began with one thing in mind and the story took off in a different direction, this will become a problem.  Your readers will become lost. There may be some heavy editing involved at this point so that the story will flow without obstruction.

There are too many subplots.

There’s nothing more convoluted and frustrating than a novel that has ten characters and ten subplots. Trust me, if you’re getting twisted, your reader will too. Sometimes you just have to clean it up. And it may be that all ten subplots are essential to the theme. Take a second look; they probably are not. It is exhausting to try to keep up with too many people and story lines. Additionally it becomes cumbersome to write and keep the momentum going.

There is too much information.

Details are good, but too many can halt your story like a traffic cop. Again if they are a burden for you to write, imagine what it will be like for your reader. Sometimes it isn’t what you give, but the way it which you give it. Give less, but in high concentration– kind of like Espresso.

What if it’s me?

Yes, chances are the story is fine; it’s tight and well-written so far. Good. Maybe it is you. Perhaps you’ve lost the momentum or something is going on in your life which has dried up your creative juices. Then yes, walk away…literally. Take a walk and clear your head. Take a few days away from writing and regroup, rethink. Give. Do something for someone else. Sometimes less attention on yourself and more focus on others will provide clearer focus. Meditate, not to empty your thoughts but to be present in the moment. Embrace where you are at this very moment.

Now what?

Make a decision to except this moment and move on or change some things in your life. There’s nothing like imbalance to stall your writing. First remember writing fiction demands a lot of you. Also remember your story needs you and it needs you to be whole. Start again when you are ready. The world is waiting to hear what it is you have to say.

Are You Waiting it out or Giving Up?

waitingSome years back we had a white Astro Van that shot black, chalky smoke from the rear like the stack on an industrial plant, moved at the speed of a four-year-old on a tricycle and finally one day, coughed, sputtered and died. I was tempted to prance around and chant, the witch is dead but I remembered it was my only source of transportation. Suddenly I was forced to take the bus to get around.

Public transportation really doesn’t suite me because it requires that I actually stand and wait on something and I’ve never really been good at that. Besides, in my experience buses and cabs rarely showed up early and were usually late. To add to it, I lived in Michigan at the time and the winters are brutal to the faint of heart and not much better for those who consider themselves brave. Sometimes I would take a cab when I could afford such a luxury and on those days I was really feeling flustered and peeved at the world for permitting the death of my Astro van. On cab days I would loll around inside the nearby CVS until my ride came. (Did I mention I hate waiting?) Not once, but several times I missed my cab and even after explaining to the dispatcher that I had in fact been waiting patiently, and a long time at that, I had to be placed on the bottom of that list and forced to wait…again.

At first glance there seems to be an obvious difference between waiting it out and giving up. But if you look closely the two often share the same attributes.

Waiting often mocks the appearance of doing nothing or giving up because it is internal, you can’t see it. You only know that someone is waiting because they tell you so. We wait because we are hopeful and that is not always apparent to the onlooker. On the other hand someone can tell you with the broadest smile that they are hopeful, when, in fact, hope packed up and left weeks ago.

Well, what is the difference between waiting it out and giving up?

To give up is to retreat and stop hoping both physically and in spirit. When we give up we take our eyes and mind off of the thing. When I would go into that CVS to browse my eyes were no longer on the lookout for the cab and it didn’t take long for my mind to follow and focus on something more apparent–something that’s actually present.

With writers and other professionals where awaiting a response from other entities is as much a part of what we do as the profession itself, waiting must become somewhat of an art; we wait on editors, publishers, readers…checks. We are constantly pitching, selling and reaching out. We are told not to stalk or pester or appear anxious. Don’t call us until six weeks have passed…we are currently two months behind on reviewing queries… We are instructed to be gracious, enthusiastic, but not frustrated. All the while our insides are screaming for a response NOW. And if we aren’t careful our hope can dwindle to a mere ember as we move on to other projects or set our eyes on something more likely…like a real job. We become disinterested in trying to fix or adjust that which we were holding out for.

Giving up diminishes a part of us. In some regards it is like death; what we hoped for is no longer a part of us. We may smile and tell our friends we know it’s coming. They look at us assuredly smiling along with us. People want to believe in us, because in some way we reflect their own hopes and aspirations.

With waiting there is an internal anticipation, an alertness that follows expectancy. When we are actively waiting with hope, we are unconquerable and tend to take more risks and are more resilient to rejection. We are focused, centered. We are more prone to hear the voice of God, because we expect to.

And as long as we have hope, we will wait it out.

How do you deal with waiting? I would love to hear from you!

Writing Therapy

I could easily be reclined on the couch of some therapist staring up at the wall peppered with all of his or her framed accolades, pouring from my soul. I’m sure you could confess to having the same opportunity. But I have chosen writing as my therapy instead. Writing is therapeutic in ways that cannot be touched by a simple one-dimensional dialogue between two people. This is not to play down the benefits of a good therapist in any way. Everything has its place, but the writing effect pushes you to explore deeper like no other form of communication.

Everyone who writes will not become published writers. Most choose not to display publicly at all. But that’s the beauty of it; in private you can tap at a keyboard and vent everything from your subconscious, your mind and back again. There is no one analyzing your words and opinions. What you think or feel won’t be forgotten because unlike conversations, it is inked forever.

Getting the words on paper is a way to expose our demons and give voice to those things we cannot talk to others about; there is no judgmental eye, raised brow, no opportunity for any real retaliation unless we allow it into our space. In the solitude of our thoughts we can express ourselves uninhibited.

It is the crux of the social media craze, is it not? It’s like crank calling: anonymous, secretive, seductive and satisfying. It is the opportunity to behave cowardly while disguising it as bravery. People expel their opinions and expertise while hiding behind avatars of their pet schnauzers and their cousin’s babies because as a people, we want to be liked. To be disliked forces us to either find a new group of acceptors or stand alone. We are naturally social beings and our worth is often not intrinsic but based on what others think of us. When we write or vent in private it is a way to relieve ourselves without the repercussion of being disliked, judged or shunned.

At its best writing is cleansing. It allows us to get it out, reveal truth, and express pain or pleasure, or purify by getting rid of that which is toxic, decaying or useless. And even when writing fiction and telling stories that are not our own, we see that we are all connected and in some way that story does belong to us.

Allowing our minds to explore the hidden and dark places has a way of exposing and then identifying. Sometimes putting a name or face to our pain helps us to resolve matters. Writing is therapeutic when it is for us, first.

Don’t Be Afraid to Use the N* Word

It has such negative connotations. People cringe when you say it and tend to view you differently when you use it regularly. But sometimes you just have to be bold and use it anyway; they will get it later and you may be better off for it. Yes, we all know what that dreaded n* word is. Yep, it’s exactly what you think, the word, no.

‘No’ seems to be an ugly word, especially among women because much of our self-worth is tied into doing for others. We tend to be interminable givers. To say that we can’t or won’t deems us less valuable or lacking in our ability to fulfill our duties as loving, giving human beings. Well, let’s squash that myth.

It seems we’re inundated with opportunities and someone is always after our time. Everyone has a seminar, a new group or an invention and apparently we would be absolutely foolish not to delve into it, right now. Today. They need our help planning an event or writing something up quickly. It’ll be a breeze for you. You’re a writer. It would take me far too long.

Sigh.

Understand that I love helping people. I love to give. I gain great pleasure from both. We all have causes close to our heart, we all want to give when and where we can. But when it is time to say ‘no’ or take a pass we must do it with the same confidence in which we say ‘yes’.

People tend to put no more value on your time than you do. It’s not a slam to others, it’s simply human nature. We are by nature selfish beings. We want our way.

Sometimes, simply saying ‘no, I don’t think I’ll be able to do it’ or ‘I’ll pass this time’ is sufficient. Those on the receiving end of this may take it as personal rejection. They probably won’t look at you with pride and admire you for being so upfront. Nope. But that’s O.K. as long as we are kind in the way we say it.

Now I know some of the goodwill police are ready to arrest me and I could readily defend myself, but I will simply say there have been many occasions where I have stayed up until daybreak working on other people’s projects because they needed me and how could I possibly turn them away? I’ve come home exhausted and frustrated after giving everything and feeling as though I’d lost my place. Kind of like when you digress while telling a story and then can’t seem to find your way back to where you left off. It was the hubby who told me to cut it out. The world would not (contrary to my imaginative thinking) end if I didn’t do it.

I said, “Well, I just can’t tell them no!”

Could I? Really? Well, dang, it seemed I could!

As a freelancer writer, wife and mother of three it is up to me to prioritize in order to effectively use the 24 hours I’ve been given. I know if I always make myself available to everyone and everything I will cease to be a good steward of my 24.

Saying ‘no’ sometimes is just as necessary as saying ‘yes’. It gives us time to concentrate on working effectively on projects we are skilled to do. It allows us to give to causes close to our hearts and provides gateways for others to step up and discover their gifts, talents and avenues of contribution, as we step aside.

So go ahead, say it…I dare you.

Take time to consider

It takes time to succeed, because success is merely the natural reward of taking time to do anything well.  Joseph Ross

My mother died in May of 2005. I would like to say that my Mom and I were always close but this is not so. We didn’t forge a bond until well into my adult years.  For years growing up it was as if we were polar opposites and the disparity between us developed early on. It wasn’t that we bickered and fought but there was a silent and apparent understanding that we viewed life very differently.

Mom was a slow mover; she took her time in most everything she did. She got it done, but was thorough and unhurried about it. She wasn’t moved or frustrated by my huffs and long sighs. I just had to wait until she was done. She was one to take the time to do it correctly.

But she was this way with people as well; patient and considerate and understanding to a fault she was. She didn’t jump to conclusions based on hearsay and gossip, headlines and speculations. She waited to hear the whole story; and even then she waited some more because she had to be sure.

I am on the other end of this scale. I generally make decisions quickly. Even as others are speaking I am already drawing conclusions as to what my reply will be. I am a, just-get-to-the-point kind of person. It has helped and hurt me equally; I have hastily made decisions on matters when I should have waited. I’ve said ‘yes’ to a project before I realized it was much more than I could handle. I’ve been impatient with projects and have shoved past them quickly because the results I needed didn’t come fast enough. I’ve been impatient with myself, especially with my growth as a writer. It has not been until recent years that I have slowed it down and have begun to take time. Unfortunately Mom didn’t get to see this change in me.

In a world where the just of our news can be crammed into a half an hour or where three minutes is too long to wait on a nuked full-course meal it seems ridiculous to tell someone to take time. Yet taking the time to do it at a reasonable pace can mean the difference between getting it right or completely botching it. Yet I am determined to make even more changes this year. I will take some time this year to:

  • Chew over information slowly so that I understand and can make complete and informed decisions.
  • Listen to people without constructing a response before they are even finished answering.
  • Hear and listen to my kids before making speculations about what they really want
  • Enjoy the people with whom I keep company without making excuses as to why I cannot stay a little longer
  • Listen to the world around me and allow it to be reflected in my writing; especially in the area of fiction writing.

Time is a precious commodity and arguably as valuable as money. Although it seems limitless, it is not. One day we will look back and wonder where it all went. Meantime, I’m determined to spend it wisely.