Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Birth of a Novel: Stalled Novel-itis

So the update this week is I was stalled something fierce, but I think I am finally shaking loose. The word-scree is starting to fall. Hopefully I won't be crushed in the subsequent avalanche.

Rather than reenact my panic and dismay, I thought I would share with you what helped me break free of being stalled and make some progress.

And for definition, when I say "stalled" I mean "has absolutely no clue what happens next and no amount of brainstorming has helped". Most people say to just keep going, and this is normally the best advice. But it's hard to keep going when you literally have no idea what's supposed to come next. At least for me, a plotter.  

So here are some tips:

*Remind yourself why you love your book oh so much:
-listen to songs that make you think of your characters
-read poems, excerpts, other novels that remind you why you wanted to write it in the first place
-look through your picture file related to the book
-Make a list of all the things you LOVE about your novel
-if you haven't done any of the above, go ahead and do something now. Make a playlist of songs. Collect a bunch of pictures that capture the mood or look like your characters. 

*Read articles on the subject:
-Jim Butcher The Great Swampy Middle *note You can apply most of these techniques anywhere your novel is stalled.
*Read over the book again. 
Take notes on any new ideas you might have, as well as old ideas and plot threads you've since forgotten about. Review your brainstorming notes.

*Do the opposite. 
If you've outlined it to pieces, throw the note cards out (at least hide them for a while). If you haven't outlined, then make some note cards.

*Skip to the part you DO know about. 
In the end, that's what got me going again. I normally prefer to write in order, but sometimes it can't be helped. If you don't know what scene comes next, but you do know what scene is supposed to come 5 scenes from now, go ahead and skip ahead. You can write yourself a little note about what happens plot wise ( *Sandy and the vampires find the Demon of Doom) and move on. Then you can either keep going forward, or if you have ideas about the space you left, you can go back and fill it in. Whatever floats your boat.

*Work on something else.
Some caveats: If you know you are the type to get Shiny New Idea syndrome and abandon every idea you're working on for a new one, you probably shouldn't try this.

When you work on something else, it should be AFTER you work on the main book. You should always make the current book your primary project. Give yourself a specific word count or time limit that you have to work on your primary project. Then with the other project do the same, only make the word count goal or time frame smaller. Much smaller.

The idea is to take the pressure off of the primary book. Personally, when I get stalled it feels like the end of the world. I know it's not, but somehow my brain doesn't get that. I panic and worry and freak out and just feel miserable. Things Aren't Going Well. By turning my attention to something else for a small portion of the day, the pressure lightens up. Yes, my book is stalled and wonky, but it in fact, is NOT the end of the world. Also I tend to get more ideas for the primary project if I am off thinking about something else.

I guess I am just contrary that way. But again, do not try this unless you've tried everything else, and you know you can maintain the discipline to keep working on your primary book. Otherwise, you'll abandon the book for the new idea, and then when the new idea gets hard, you'll abandon that one for something new, leaving a string of broken books in your wake and never finish anything. Also, you'll probably die cold and alone, without a single book to your name (I made that last part up. Mostly.).

What about you? What gets a stalled novel going again? Besides loads of caffeine and sugar.


  1. There is a lot of great advice here. In a way I'm glad you got stalled because you just reminded me what I need to be doing right now. :)

    I re-read and sometimes skip ahead. Currently, I'm working on something else, but I need to keep writing something on that novel.

  2. Charity: SO GLAD you work on other projects too! Most people give me horrified looks when I mention it. Ergo the heavy caveats under my suggestion.

  3. My first novel, I wrote asynchronously. I had lots of scenes that were here and there in the timeline, but no path from scene a to scene d. So I built bridges - what happened between.

    The big problem I had with my second novel was a huge dilemma: was it one book or two?

    (Note: I still need to edit the darned thing.)

  4. I remember you talking about that, Linda. I think it's going to work out for me. I need to move scenes around anyway, so it's not like I am messing anything up.

  5. Moving scenes around can be tricky, though. Be vewwy caweful. There can be a cascade effect. (Goes nicely with your word scree.)