How To Keep Going When Your Story Gets Stuck

When you first get a solid idea for a story, it feels exciting, like anything could happen. You write it down, start building on it and thinking about it. You start crafting character bios and researching locations. You put the work in and hope that when the time comes to start, the words will just be there, waiting to flow. Starting the story is sometimes the trickiest and scariest part of writing. There are so many things to figure out, for example. What point of view to tell it in, what tense to use, how to structure the plot, how to keep up the pace and so on. Once you get past the start, it feels easier. You have a great idea, you’ve put the work in and you’ve worked out how and where to start it. Then, you get stuck. Inevitably, you run out of steam, or get lost, or run out of energy or get some form of writer’s block…

Don’t worry if this happens to you – it’s very common! This is the really tricky part, you see, the part where the whole thing could get derailed and fade to nothing. This is the danger zone, potentially at least. So many stories never get past this point and so many writers of all ages and abilities give up when this happens and move on to something new. Because new is exciting right? And chances are, there is another great idea knocking around inside your head! I see this all the time with young writers and it was a trap I fell into too at that age. So, what can we do to avoid it? How can we get a stuck story unstuck? Here are a few ideas that have worked for me over the years.

  • talk it out – find a willing friend, family member or even a fellow writer to talk to about it. This has helped me numerous times over the years. As the writer, you are so connected to the story it can be hard to separate yourself enough to stand back and figure things out. Sometimes just talking to someone else about your story can be enough to get it going again. They might suggest a way out of a plot hole if you are lucky, but even so, sometimes just relaying the story to another person can be enough to get you inspired again.
  • go back to the start – You might not be sure why you are stuck but going back to the start can be really helpful. Read it through, edit, get invigorated by what you’ve already written and hopefully inspiration will hit you again
  • try to figure out what the problem is – It is important to try to figure out why are you stuck, because there are so many potential answers. Are you bored of the story, if so, why? Are the characters flat? Do you need to do more research? Has the plot unravelled? Or is your attention being stolen by a new idea?
  • be honest with yourself – it’s vital to be honest with yourself if you want to get this story going again. Does the story flow? Is the pace fast enough for the genre? Are your characters fully fleshed or do they need a bit more work? Being honest with yourself at this stage is difficult because acknowledging that something is wrong with the story means you are going to have to redo things! But it will be worth it.
  • experiment – If you have been honest with yourself, you may now have figured out what is wrong with the story, or what is stopping you from writing it. Perhaps you need to change something, for example, the narrative point of view or the tense it’s written in. This means more work but experimenting could be the answer to getting unstuck so it is worth exploring.
  • go for a long walk and try to figure it out – This always works well for me. Long walks alone or with my dogs tend to get my brain whirring again. It’s definitely preferable to sitting in front of a blank screen for too long. Go for a walk and see what happens.
  • have a break and write something else – If your story is stuck, rather than giving up and writing a new one, why not try tackling a different form of writing, like poetry or non-fiction? This way you are still writing, and it will feel fresh to try something new, but you won’t be fully abandoning your story. You will just be having a little break from it while you try something else creative.
  • remember why you started it in the first place – Ask yourself what made you start this story in the first place, why was it important to write? What were you trying to say and why? Sometimes reminding ourselves of why we started can give us the push to carry on.
  • write a bit each day – When writing gets tough we can either give up and walk away or we can keep battling through it. The best way to do this is just to write a little bit of it each day. Even if it is just a paragraph, even if it is just a sentence! Even if it doesn’t really move the story on and doesn’t solve why you are stuck – just try writing a tiny bit, a few words each day to move it forward. It is possible to write our way through a hump or a block.
  • remember it doesn’t have to be good yet – sometimes we get stuck because our first draft feels so clumsy and ugly. It doesn’t feel as if it is going well. But remind yourself that it is just a first draft! It can be messy and chaotic, it can have notes and bullet points and question marks all over it. It doesn’t matter. The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself. Getting it out of your head. Getting it done so that you can start to polish it up in the second draft.

These are all things that have helped me get unstuck in the past. I hope it keeps you going too! Feel free to leave a comment. What helps you when you are stuck with a story?

First Draft Madness

Last week I finished the second draft of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – Part 5. I originally scribbled this book into a notepad about six months ago. Finishing the second draft was exciting, because I managed to untangle the ending I had got in a mess with, and this lead to such excitement about the planned and plotted Part 6, I just couldn’t resist launching right into it.

So, in the evenings I am currently editing a chapter or two a night of Part 5, (making this the third draft). While in the day, any chance I can get, I am writing brand new, first draft Part 6 into a notebook. I am so excited!!!!

I have realised over the years that writing the first draft of a novel has a really strange affect on me. I love it but fear it. I can’t get enough of it. It is something I get addicted to, but also can’t wait to be over. I thought I’d list the things that happen to me when writing a first draft. Perhaps if you are a writer, you can relate? Feel free to comment if you do!

  • I feel nervous. This is a very, very weird thing. Now, I don’t think of myself as an especially anxious person, but like everyone, I have my moments. However, there is nothing that can make me quite as anxious and tense as writing a first draft. It’s really really hard to pinpoint why. All I know is that I will wake up with a nervous tight feeling in my belly, go about my day with that same heavy, almost painful sensation, start to panic about what it means, only to find it goes away completely once I start writing. This does not happen with the subsequent drafts of novels. Just the first! I guess it makes me nervous, though I’m not sure why. Maybe its nervous excitement? The longing to be writing is so strong that knowing I can’t do it until later makes my body tense? I have no idea.
  • I am addicted. This is the worst thing and also the best thing. Obviously, feeling addicted to what you are writing is a good thing because there is no danger of writers block or any kind of procrastination. I am utterly in love with the act of writing and shaping this novel and it feels like that too, like butterflies in my tummy. But it’s not the easiest thing to live with. When you’ve got two day-jobs, multiple pets and four children, it’s hard to find the time to squeeze writing in and when in the midst of the pure addiction that only happens with the first draft, it’s a bit like torture not being able to write.
  • I am distracted. Beyond belief! When I was a kid I was constantly being told by people that I was in my own little world. They were right I really was. And I still am. I’m still that kid. In a constant daydream I struggle to break free of. I am constantly thinking about my book and my characters. Plot twists and story-lines weave through my head all the time, which is exciting and brilliant, but I’m meant to be reading to my child? Or making dinner? Sometimes I wish the voices in my head would be quiet. Or at least wait until later. But they have other ideas and I just have to deal with it the best I can.
  • Creativity is at its peak. I usually have a plot before I start writing. In particular, with these books as they are part of a series, the plots are somewhat already in action, and at the end of the last book I would have written an outline for what happens in the next. But something exciting happens with the first draft of a book. Yes, I’ll have my basic plot, but every time I write a chapter, I get new ideas for the next ones. The next chapter will write itself in my head before I have finished the one I am on. The next chapters will line up in my mind while I am walking dogs and cooking dinner…it’s like a constant bubbling? I truly believe the more you write, the more your mind wants to write. The ideas flow once you let them, once your provide that release. It’s like they know it’s coming and they are finally getting their turn! It’s really quite amazing. So although my basic plot probably won’t change, in the process of writing the first draft, creativity will hit the roof. I also find I have way more ideas for blog posts, poems and short stories during this time!

There are loads more things I could say about writing a first draft. I think it’s important to let go of how clumsy and new it is, and just embrace the ideas as they flow. Subsequent drafts are for tidying up, tightening up and cutting down…and I enjoy that process just as much for different reasons. But the first draft is a crazy time…a crazy thing. I will be a bit sad when it is over for this book!

In The Writing Zone…

It’s my favourite place and I love it here. Yes, I am currently well and truly trapped in the writing zone. For anyone who is not sure what I mean by this, imagine being given full access to the thing you love doing the most. Imagine that thing giving you pure, unadulterated joy. Imagine that thing going really, really well and filling you with feelings of satisfaction and excitement. That is how I would describe the writing zone.

Of course, I’m a writer and I write every day if I can. Sometimes life gets in the way and it doesn’t happen. Sometimes I am trapped in the editing zone for what feels like years…This is not so bad. I actually love editing and revising my books. To me, this process is really interesting, as you begin to shape and mould your first splurge of words into something that others can hopefully one day appreciate.

But I have to admit that writing the first draft of a new book is the most fun thing ever, and perhaps the most addictive. If it is going well, and I am well and truly ‘in the zone’, then the book is all I can think about. Here are some signs that I am in the writing zone, with no sign of emerging any time yet…

  • when I am not writing, I am thinking about writing. The book in progress dominates my every waking thought. It follows me around like a daydream I can’t escape from. If I go for a walk, the book is in my head. If I go to bed, there it is again. There is no escaping it and I wouldn’t want to.
  • when I am writing, I’m writing fast. Super fast. It’s been there all day teasing me and making suggestions, so when I finally get at that keyboard, it’s a bit like an explosion. Certainly, it’s messy and there will be plenty to clear up later in further drafts, but right now, speed is everything. I need to get that story out of my head!
  • when in the zone, time does not exist. I don’t even think to look at the time. It’s just not relevant. I will keep going until I feel there is a good place to stop and leave it for tomorrow.
  • I am happy. Really happy. This new book has probably been in my head for years and the book is happy to be getting its turn and the characters are really, really happy to be having their voices heard, and so I am happy too. It gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction and relief to be finally writing a book that has had to wait so long.
  • I’m excited. I kind of hate the start of the day, because normally writing has to wait until the evening. So I feel guilty, but can’t help wishing the day away so that I can get to the end of it and start my writing.
  • the writing is my reward. I can’t allow myself to have this reward until everything else is done. So, the day-jobs, the children, the pets, the husband, the house, the errands all need to be sorted out, before I can allow myself this wonderful indulgence. This is a great motivator because there is no way I am not getting my writing time!
  • I am distracted. There is a running joke in my house that I react to things a few minutes after I’ve heard them…and this is probably true. I’m so distracted by the writing zone, that it’s hard to focus on anything else. I get really forgetful in this state and my family certainly notice it.
  • I feel like myself. I think when I am sucked into the zone, I am more ‘me’ than I am at any other time. Which sort of means, I am multiple ‘me’s’ ? Slightly worrying perhaps, but I think more than anything, writing and loving writing are what make me me. It is the love that has been with me the longest and saved me the most times and provided me with so much it’s impossible to even try to explain.
Basically me!

So, that’s me, ‘in the zone’. I’m working on two new books, (one is the first in a four book series, and the other is the fifth in a sixth book series) at the same time. It’s utterly crazy but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why I Love Writing # 5; Sometimes It’s Pure Magic

Actually, it’s pretty magical most of the time. Of course, there are days when it feels like anything but. When you’re revising the hundredth draft of something, when you feel like it’s a complete waste of time that no one will ever want to read. There are days when you don’t want to do it, days when you feel rejected and uninspired and full of self-doubt.

But the magical days for me, outweigh the negative ones. They can happen at any time during the creation of a finished novel. I often find the writing of a first draft a magical thing. That first line, first paragraph, first chapter is so daunting, so impossible, yet suddenly you’ve done it. It’s there. And then strange things start to happen. Magical things.

Characters you had a loose idea of start to come alive. They flesh out and invade your mind. They start talking to you and you talk back. That’s magic. The magic of make-believe. And then there’s the plot itself. I often have a good idea of what’s going to happen in a book before I start writing, and I would have made lots of notes before starting the first draft, but at some point, something else seems to take over. Unexpected things happen. The plot takes another direction, or parts of the story start to weave together in ways that are genius, but like something out of my control. Sometimes it feels like there is something else at play, controlling the whole thing.

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Often I know where I am going, but not how I will get there. I never worry too much about the finer points because I have learned to sit back and let the magic happen. And it always does. Out of the blue, never when I expect it to, it will all just come together. This happened to me recently with the six book series I am working on. Books 1-4 are written, and book 5 has had one very rough draft. I knew roughly what I wanted to happen in book 6, what storylines would be continued, but I didn’t know how I would end the book, or indeed, the whole series. I didn’t stress about it because I still had work to do editing books 3 and 4, and book 5 to write a second draft of.

But one day, out walking, it just suddenly came to me. My mind pieced it all together without me even trying, without me even consciously deciding to think about it. I suddenly just had it. How to end the book and the entire series, and it was perfect.

How does that work? How does that even happen? I have no idea, but like I’ve already said, sometimes I really feel like it’s not me in my head, working things out. Moments like that are so satisfying, and magical, they make all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.