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?