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 Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)
After I write my big middle scene, like I talked about last week, I've usually given myself enough material to work with for a few chapters. But inevitably, around 2/3 of the way through my first draft, I find myself doing more staring at my Word document than actual writing. It's not that I'm exactly blocked but I've definitely lost momentum.
Most writers have a place in the first draft process where they find themselves stuck. By now it's happened to me enough that I've learned some ways to handle it:
1. Clean my desk.
Yes, I'm serious. Often I've been in such a writing groove with my exciting middle scene that my desk is now a cluttered mess of story notes, research books, receipts, and random items that my kids have brought down to my office and left for me.
I don't do well working in chaos, and if I invest 30 minutes in getting the mess cleaned up, I find the words magically return.
2. Review my story notes.
Sometimes in the wake of whatever happened in the middle scene, I've lost touch of the other story threads I had going. Simply scrolling through my document or reading through my story notes will often jog something. Like in chapter four when I mentioned a character coming for a visit and who has never actually arrived...
3. Deal with holes in the story.
When I scroll through my Word doc or review my story notes, I sometimes discover I'm currently stuck because there's an enormous hole in my story.
I need a character to do something, but I haven't motivated them properly. Or my character has developed a terrible illness, and I haven't yet bothered to research symptoms of said illness. Or I planned on "something mysterious" happening at the party, and I still don't know what exactly that mysterious something is.
Identifying the precise hole is sometimes the trickiest part. Other times it's figuring out the best way to patch it. There's nothing wrong with waiting to fix a hole in edits—if I'm in a writing groove, that's often what I do—but if you're struggling with what happens next, patching the hole could help you get your momentum back.
4. Brainstorm with others.
Sometimes I'm stuck because I have no idea where the book is going.
Coming up with the right ending is often a struggle for me, and I always fumble my way through the first time. So when I'm blocked, it can be because I'm trying to ramp up to a conclusion that I don't know yet. Or even if I outlined an ending, it's probable that I've changed enough story threads along the way that my original idea needs help.
In this situation, I take time to brainstorm. Preferably with a writing friend or two because I have such tunnel vision that I can't see what's surprising and what's predictable.
5. Examine my personal life.
Sometimes getting stuck isn't about the tidiness of my office or poor character motivations. Sometimes it's because I'm sick, stressed, suffering from self-doubt, or not getting the big chunks of writing time that I like. If my personal life is draining my energy, it's only natural that my creativity will suffer as well.
In those situations, I've learned the best thing I can do is just sludge forward one awful word at a time and tell myself that I can clean it up in edits. Taking time off is sometimes helpful and necessary, but often I have to climb my way out of a writing rut by putting words on the page. If I do that faithfully, the momentum returns.
Have you had times when you've gotten stuck in your first draft? How do you motivate yourself to get going again?