Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How to Push Through When You Want to Give Up

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.



Its inevitable. I know it is, and yet somehow I always think I'm going to get through my first draft without hitting the checkout phase. The low point. The woe-is-me stage. Call it what you want, but for me my instinct is to checkout for the day and to go watch Veronica Mars reruns instead.



I can usually feel the desire to give up, to check out of the manuscript, swelling for a few days before it hits full-on. I'm still typing, still pressing on with the story, as I spiral down. Inside my head it sounds like this:

This story stinks.
Why am I even writing this?
This book feels like such a mess.
Should I even continue?
Is it time to scrap it?
Who would want to read this?
No one will buy this book.
Maybe I should just give up.

For me, the desire to throw in the towel typically strikes somewhere around 60- or 70-percent of the way through my first draft.  Maybe that's not your trouble spot. Maybe you struggle with the very end, or maybe "checkout" doesn't happen to you until edits. (Or maybe it doesn't happen to you at all. If that's true, I advise you to not say so in the comments section or you might get virtual tomatoes thrown at you.)

You would think that since I know the checkout phase is going to happen, I wouldn't panic too much. That I'd just be like, "This is the checkout thing. I don't need to give up, I just need to do X, Y, and Z." But I don't. Because each time feels uniquely scary. Sure, I figured it out last time, but that was a different story! It was a different problem! That book didn't suck like this one does! Why did no one talk me out of writing this?

But during my sane moments (what few there are), when I can recognize the checkout phase for what it is, I've identified some strategies that help me:

Try to not think (actively) dwell on the problem. I know that might sound a bit lame, but I also know I'm not the only one who gets most of her good ideas while washing dishes, vacuuming, running, or other similar activities. I don't know what the science is behind it, but sometimes all I need to work myself through the checkout phase is space from my story and a scrub brush.

Use your brainstorming buddies. (Or if you don't have brainstorming buddies, get some!) When I'm stuck or blue over a story, I tend to take on the attitude that my preschooler does when I'm trying to help him with his shoes - I want to figure it out myself. But I'm getting a lot better about that because I've realized how much value there is in asking for ideas from others.

Like last weekend, Jill Williamson was stuck on something in the book she's writing, which is the third in the Safe Lands trilogy. She brought a plot question to a group of four other YA writers, and we started tossing ideas at her. We prefaced about half of them with, "This might not even make sense with your story, but what if...?"

When you're the writer, it's hard to brainstorm in the "this might not even make sense" way because you're locked in to what would be logical. Brainstorming buddies are awesome for helping you think bigger.

Take some time to refill your creative tank. A lot of times if I've hit the checkout phase, it's because I've pushed myself hard to get to where I am in the story. I'm drained. Often what I need is a weekend of watching great movies, or cooking great food, or coloring with my kids to get me back on track. If you're an artist, it might help you to step away from the story to paint for a few days. If you're a musician, maybe some time with your instrument will do the trick.

If I'm going to read to refill my creative tank, it's going to be Jane Austen or something completely different than what I write. If I'm in the checkout phase and I pick up another young adult book to read, all that does is leave me feeling like, "My book isn't nearly as good as this one." (And of course it's not, because mine is still a first draft.)

Try, try again. The risk with the checkout phase, is that all of that fun rejuvenating you're doing can quickly become too much of a distraction. Often after a few days of that, I still don't feel like working on my book again - I feel like popping in another movie or going book shopping.

This is when I have to pull out my lovely timer and tell myself that I can go back to movies and books after I've written for 25 solid minutes. No Pinterest. No email. Just me and the book for 25 minutes.

The first five minutes might drag by, but then I get in a groove, and before I know it the timer is going off, and I don't even feel like checking Pinterest. (Okay, maybe for just two minutes...)

So, yes, give yourself time and grace to work through your emotional checkout phase, but also don't hesitate to give yourself a kick in the pants when it's time to get back to writing.

If you've experienced a time when you wanted to give up on your manuscript, what helped you get back to work on it?



41 comments:

  1. Stephanie, do you ever work on more than one project at once?

    ~Robyn Hoode

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    1. Great question. Sometimes I do because I have to. Like if I'm working on a first draft, but my edits show up or I need to put together a proposal for my agent to push. Otherwise, I usually focus on one project at a time. It just works better for me.

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  2. Ok so when I started reading this post I was like 'this hasn't happen to me yet' but then as I read on I remembered when I wanted to give up a couple of months ago. But then I found your blog :D it has totally gotten me in the writing mood. I finished my first draft today. :D PLUS I know what my next novel will be. (Ive started that one today also) thanks so much for your blog and the 100/4/100!!!!!!!!!! :D

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    1. Congratulations on finishing your first draft! And I'm so glad that Go Teen Writers has been a source of motivation for you.

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    2. Thanks!! I heard that u 2 Hannah have finished your 1st draft. Is that true....? :) Tw

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  3. When I felt like giving up. Hmm. Well, I can't really recognize a pattern or anything, since I'm only working on my second full manuscript. But in the last one, I felt like giving up once when it was a totally different story and I had to trash it all and start over, and once towards the middle (I think, anyways...can't really remember where). The first time what helped was reading about plots, giving myself time, etc. The second? Camp NaNo ;) I did it this April as a rebel and that helped me finish the first draft! (My first NaNo event of any type, too)

    But...there came a point recently with this one where I took a step back from the story, looked at it, and said "AAAAAAAH I DON'T KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN." And I started freaking out a bit. Because while I like the story, I've never edited a book before and it's SO OVERWHELMING. A week or two ago, though, I realized there were people who thought it had potential and people I know it would touch, and I'm slowly starting to think about the story again :)

    Okay, this is getting long...good thing I haven't gotten to that point in my WIP yet ;) Anyway, thanks for the post!

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    1. Editing can be so overwhelming. That's a great time to bring other people in for their perspective!

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  4. Yeah, when I was just a newbie to writing, I'd get an idea, IMMEDIATELY begin writing, and then get burned out 1/3rd into the story and quit.

    I've noticed I still kind of do that a lot with new ideas and such, but I found that you first need a basic plot and then just write the entire first draft.

    For my current novel, I got a little burned out, but I knew I need to keep going. So, I did.

    I can see I will still have a few troubles along the way, 'cause my plot needs some more "pointers".

    But like what Dory says, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."

    So just keep writing.

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    1. Wow, this sounds so similar to me, Samuel! And I love a good Finding Nemo quote :) That's great advice to apply to the first draft!

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  5. I don't care what it is that I'm writing (short story, college English paper, speech, etc)... I always check out in the beginning. If I ever write through it I pretty much do okay. Except with books. I can't seem to write through it with books. I want to SO badly, but I just can't. :/

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    1. You'll get there, Ashley! It just takes practice.

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  6. NaNaWriMo helps me get through those slumps because I have 1667 words to write and no time to slack off.

    But during editing, my sister is what really helps me stay on track. She's always encouraging me when I'm feeling down, because she wants to read the next draft. :)

    My writing friends and CP's help me too, because during edits I start thinking about how incredibly awful my book is and I want to give up. But then I think of them I decide I want to show them a better version of my book than what it's as now. I want to show them that my writing is better than the first or second draft that they tore to shreds.

    Thanks for another great post as always, Stephanie!

    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. I love hearing that your sister is a source of encouragement! How wonderful, Sarah.

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  7. Awwww! Cute picture! I find my checkout phase usually comes in the middle, just before the climax. I've been building up and foreshadowing for all this time, and now all I want to do is get to the good part, the excitement of the final battle, kill off some main characters (just kidding) -- but I have to drag through a bit more less-exciting stuff first. I've heard people recommend to just write the fun scene and then go back later, but I HAVE to write in chronological order, or I NEVER go back. I learnt that the hard way...

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    1. Thank you! McKenna was three in that photo. She had obviously dressed herself and was in a very dramatic mood. I told her, "Act sad!" and that's what she busted out with. She cracks me up.

      That's exactly where I checkout too, Hannah J. And I'm the same way - if I write that fun scene, I may never return to write the rest!

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  8. Great, informative post! I shall definitely keep these things in mind. Thank you for posting! :)

    Let's see... I'm not sure if there's a specific place I tend to want to checkout during the manuscript. I want my writing to be perfect, but I know it never is and never will be, so it's easy for me to want to give up when I see a chapter that doesn't quite flow right or I have too much "telling" and not enough "showing" or too many adverbs (yes, I'm one of those people who tries to avoid adverbs). Also it's easy for me to want to check out when suddenly I hit a way and think "What now? How am I going to get my character out of this one?"

    The thing that usually helps me the most is to just push through and keep writing, and worry about editing later. I just had a point like this in my current manuscript, but the 100 for 100 challenge helped me. For about three days I could barely get 100 words out, but I kept doing it anyway and by the end of those three days I was back on track, excited for my story again, and then started writing my 1,000 words again. :)

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    1. Yes - I tend to have that perfectionist thing too. I agree, the only thing to do is press on. Keep writing, keep writing as Samuel said in his comment. I'm glad the 100 for 100 is helping!

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  9. I'm at the 70-80 percent mark right now and I'm feeling the quititus coming on. So I've been giving myself 30 minute word wars. I know I have to write as much as I can for 30 minutes, then I get a break.

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    1. Well, carry on.

      I can't wait for Rebels to come out! ;)

      (Your lucky being an adult. I wish I had some extra time for writing.)

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    2. Brilliant, Jill! I have to do that with editing too.

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  10. Fantastic post! I usually have a really hard time with ending my stories, I can never seem to get everything to match up. I agree with taking time off and doing something else for a while, because it freshens your mind so you can see the real problem.

    www.alicekouzmenkowriting.blogspot.com

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    1. I usually have to rewrite my ending a few times before I'm happy with it. They're so important...

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  11. I have two points in my novel where I get "stuck." One is the quitting point, somewhere between 3 and 20k words, where I find out I didn't do enough planning and the story is going nowhere.

    The second is about 1/2-3/4 through the novel, at what I call my "breaking point." It usually occurs after a huge week of slamming down 20k+ words, and I need to get the book finished but my brain is just about worn out. So I keep writing... And, haha, when I go back and READ what I wrote in that section, it's usually pretty funny :P Which isn't good. But revising it into shape isn't horribly difficult :P

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  12. Sounds very similar to the way I am, Betsy!

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  13. Awesome post! Perfect timing too, I'm in that spot right now. I'm half way through and trying to chug along. But at this point, I'm kind of struggling.

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  14. My checkout phase happens during editing. Like...now. I'm about to start a third draft and suddenly I'm feeling overwhelmed and like it's not really something that could be published. I decided to take a break from it so until then I'm working on another project that's a whole new genre and completely different characters. I still love my other story but we both need some space right now lol

    http://joallapcollab.blogspot.com/
    http://escapingnormal.blogspot.com/

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  15. Ahhhhh, great post! I love this. And the picture up there--tooooooo cute! You have a precious little girl. ^.^ I think my check-out phase is about 60% of the way too. And it usually comes because I'm a pantser and my flying has coasted to a perfect stop and it's time to actually figure things out. So I just do a little plotting and often get the reading of the books I've been ignoring while buried in my own writing. Like you said, it usually comes back after I refill the creative tank. ^.^

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  16. I don't really have Checkout phases, but I do get Writer's Block (which I guess can overlap some). Basically I quit writing for a week or so, all the time planning another scene of the book in my head, read similar stories to get inspiration, and one day it all pops back into place.

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  17. How do you know exactly what I need when I need it? This is something I am going through at the moment. I have been thinking of trying some of the things you suggested, but I always get scared to because I often think I'm the only one in the world feeling this way. Now, I'll sit down and try some of this for real! Thank you so much, Mrs. Stephanie.

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  18. My characters dragged me back into it.

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  19. I get stuck at the inciting incident and then at the climax. At both times I get that feeling that I'm the most unoriginal person and I can't write worth anything.

    That's when I break out my silly cartoons, sketchpad and music. One week later I'm ready to write again.

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  20. Thank you for the great tips. I think the "kick in the pants" after a break is especially needed for me--which is why I need to set a break that's a specific number of days or weeks, or I won't get back to the story.

    I'm pretty sure I've faced this problem before, but the time escapes me at the moment because it's probably been quite a while ago.

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  21. Ah! I'm totally in this phase right now! >_< It's very frustrating. I'm trying to get through it by telling myself to just write little bits at a time. And come now, Stephanie. Is it possible to be on pinterest for JUST TWO MINUTES?? Really? XD

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    1. Ha! No. No, it's not. But it's possible to TELL yourself you'll just be on there for two minutes... :)

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  22. "Virtual tomatoes"...hehe :)

    I have many of those despairing phases, but somehow or another I keep on trudging onward. I guess it's because I have a 500 word goal for every day (which takes about an hour), and if I can get past the first 300 words, I usually find myself wanting to continue writing even further. Lots of people tell me I shouldn't push inspiration, but without my goal, I would be nowhere. The funny thing is since I've been faithful to my goal, I have begun to enjoy my WIP more and more.

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  23. Thanks for the great advice, Stephanie! I'll have to remember these great tips next time I get stuck in a writer's slump.

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  24. This is cool! I've used all of these methods. I've had to push myself lately when I've been so tired I have NOT felt like writing but made myself do it anyway. I definitely do the write for 25 minutes then you can do something things. XD

    Stori Tori's Blog

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