Revision is my least favorite part of the writing process. I second-guess myself the entire time, flip-flopping between word choices or settings of various scenes or the names of secondary characters. I have trouble with the drafting process as well. I’m on draft 7 of Volume 3, and the plot still has big, gaping holes, evident by chapters with headings and only half a page of text before jumping ahead to the next chapter and next plot point. I know where I need to go but not how to get there.
What part of writing do I like? Proofreading. By that point, the story is done, the prose sparkles, and if I’ve done my job right, this phase of the process is spent diving into a world filled with characters I love and doing nothing more than fixing a few typos. At times, it feels like I’ll never get to that stage.
The writing life has been difficult this last month. I’ve been feeling so devoid of solutions to my plot problems that I considered setting all my work aside (all 327,000 words I have so far, which have been written and rewritten over the last four years) and starting over. I would start with a magic system first, since that seems to be the biggest source of my troubles. Still, it would require building six novels from the ground up. That thought was overwhelming.
Rather than making any drastic decisions like turning my back on everything I’ve already done, I made a list of things to do when I feel stuck like this.
- Step away from the project. Sometimes you just need a break. You can return to the project with fresh eyes, and sometimes solutions will come when you’re not actively looking for them. However, it’s important to set a time limit on your break or you might never return to your book.
- Visualize what you want the project to look like when you’re done. What kind of story did you want to tell? What type of world or mood did you want to create? This is something I do before beginning a project, but it’s important to remind yourself what you set out to create.
- Work in another medium. If you normally write on the computer, try handwriting a chapter or typing on a typewriter. When I do this, it tricks my brain into thinking that if what I write isn’t any good or doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story, it doesn’t have to go in the actual draft. Even working in a new document with a different font than I typically use makes me see the story in a new light.
- Write the back cover blurb. Blurbs are my major weakness in writing. It’s hard to sum up a book in a few paragraphs. You need to have a good grasp of the major plot points. Sometimes, writing this can be more frustrating than fixing the holes you’re avoiding, but other times, it can help you clear up some of the issues in your plot.
- Do the interior formatting for the print copy. Of course, this only applies if you’re planning on ordering a print copy and don’t hire someone to do the interior formatting for you. This is my favorite thing to do. I love playing around with different fonts for chapter titles, seeing how many pages the story stretches out to with different page sizes, and formatting the headers and footers with page numbers, the book title, and my name. I like seeing what the manuscript will look like as an actual book.
- Create an e-book of your draft to read on your e-reader or phone. I use Draft 2 Digital to create e-books of my drafts to read on my Nook. Sometimes reading my stories in that format, as if they were a real book, helps me think about them in a new way.
- Watch, read, or listen to whatever it was that inspired your project in the first place. I get a lot of my ideas from music. Many characters in projects I wrote in college were loosely based on musicians from my favorite bands. If a favorite book or movie sparked the idea for your current project, revisit that inspiration.
- Do some research. Two of my characters are historians studying the founding of their town. To write their scenes, I need to know a bit about the time period they’re studying. I’d also like to mix some Celtic mythology into the “otherworld” of my series. There’s a lot I need to learn, but I have to remember not to get bogged down by all the information available. For the drafting phase, I might settle on 3-5 key details gathered through my research to mix in and get me over my mental block.
- Make a list of all the questions you need to answer in your plot. You don’t need to answer them right away; just make a list. What do you need to know to write that scene? When you are ready to start writing again, take a look at the list and work on answering one question at a time rather than trying to do it all at once.
Remember, the worst thing you can do when you’re feeling lost or frustrated is to delete your story. Even if you don’t intend to share it, revise it, or ever work on it again, it is worth storing an extra file on your computer or an extra notebook on your shelf to keep from feeling the regret you might have over the loss of all your hard work.