I’m in a writing slump.
Not on here, obviously. I can just word vomit on here and be fine. (Maybe that’s why I can’t seem to do anything constructive when it comes time to work on the manuscript for my current novel.)
But, no matter how hard I try to get it right, the story won’t come out of my fingertips. I know what needs to happen, but I don’t know how to get there. I’ve restarted this novel three times now and I hate it every time.
At first, I thought I was making things too easy on my characters. Okay. Let’s open on a fucking torture scene. No one can claim that they have it good after that. But, no, it isn’t flowing right. Maybe I just need to spend time watching the scene play out in my head – noting the location of every bush, the smell in the air, what sounds echo from the distance, and what the temperature is – before I try to get it down on paper. That didn’t work either. I don’t know where they’re at, because I don’t know how they got there or why they’re even there in the first place.
Maybe I need to go through my dedicated Pinterest boards or peruse my storyboards and outlines.
Maybe I need to go explore nature.
Maybe I need to watch war documentaries or fantasy movies.
I probably just need more coffee.
You know what it is? I’m pushing myself. I haven’t even had a chance to redraft my beta edits for the first book and I’m already trying to dive into the second? I need to take time off to refocus and get back into the world.
– S T O P –
No. What it comes down to, what it always comes down to, is this: I’ve lost track of my characters. Not just literally, either. I mean, I literally have no idea where the fuck to start this book or where the fuck they currently are in this world or where the fuck they’ve been or how the fuck they got there, but that’s not what is stopping me.
I have lost track of their voices. Of their essences. Of the elements of who they are as individuals that forced me to write them in the first place. Because, if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve always known where my characters are going, but it’s always been them who have taken me on the journey. I’m not good at manipulating plots and setting things into motion: My characters are. They always have been.
If I don’t know who they are right now, how am I supposed to tell you their stories?
So, instead of forcing myself to write fifty-eight pages of garbage like I have the last two times I started this novel and then realized I hated it, I finally faced up to my problem and did the only thing I know how to do when I find myself feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or otherwise loser-ly.
I went crying to my husband.
Metaphorically. Gawd. I’m not that pathetic.
I read him what I’d written and he agreed with me: It was garbage. (He said this to me far more nicely, of course.) His critiques, however, were not what I had expected: The main character is being too useless. The story isn’t flowing right. I don’t like this chain of events.
His critique was this: “Wraith would never say that.”
His follow-up advice was this: “Have you listened to Skillet lately?”
His conclusion was this: “This is Wraith’s attitude in surround sound.”
And that’s the story of how I listened to “Feel Invincible” by Skillet (check it out, because it’s phenomenal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qzw6A2WC5Qo) and suddenly realized that I need to get to know him again.
Wraith isn’t the main character. He’s a side character and occasional villain. But it reminded me that every aspect of a story is important: Plot. Dialogue. Setting. Side characters. Motivations. Outside forces. Internal dialogue. Emotions. How much sun filters through the leaves. Whether a character smirks or lets out a single bark of derisive laughter. IT. ALL. FREAKING. MATTERS.
The next few weeks will be dedicated to getting back into my character’s minds. I need to listen to music that makes them click. I need to reread the prequel. I need to talk to my husband, because he knows Wraith better than I do. I need to find my footing before taking off. Then, and only then, will this story continue.
But, because I wasted your time on this monologue, let me offer you some tried and true methods for getting past writer’s block or difficult portions of your manuscript.
- Have a critique partner who knows you and understands your world. Go to them when things get too messy or something just seems wrong with your story.
- Listen to music. Either blast the song that inspired you to sit your ass down and write in the first place or track down music that gets you into a character’s head or spend some time envisioning a scene to the orchestral masterpiece playing in the background.
- Revisit who your characters are. Remind yourself of their defining attributes and their primary motivations. Keep them true to themselves and any character development that has occurred up until this point.
- Have a Pinterest board or other location dedicated to images and quotes that inspire your creativity and remind you of your story. Peruse it to try to get the image in your head again or dislodge the trapped part of your character’s voice.
- Drink coffee. Lots of coffee. Gallons and gallons of coffee. Iced coffee works best. (My lack of iced Caramelizers could very well account for my current conundrum.)
- Read/watch something that reminds you of your own story. Watch a Korean drama or an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Don’t be afraid to dedicate an afternoon to The Walking Dead or World War Z. Reread that one book with that one character who kind of reminds you of your character.
- Push yourself. It’s easy to feel unmotivated because all you want to do is lie on the couch and scroll through Facebook. Make sure that you aren’t just being lazy.
- Do something else. Go on a walk. Go to dinner with some friends. People watch. You can learn a lot by truly allowing yourself to experience the real world.
- Start over from scratch. I’m NOT saying to delete your first attempt. It might not be that bad and you’re just being way too hard on yourself. But try coming at your story from a different angle. Sometimes, sideways is better.
Hopefully, one of these tips will help. They usually help me, though not necessarily in the order prescribed. Any one of these steps can be a good starting point in your battle against writer’s block, so take advantage of whichever one sounds most helpful to your current predicament.
Meanwhile, as always:
Much love and lots of coffee,