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.
On Monday, I talked about how I used to think writing a novel was like climbing a mountain, but that more and more I think it's like hiking a canyon. That you start out on top, and that you go down before you come back up.
All writers are different, so your struggles along the hike might be different than mine. Hopefully, even if our struggles are different, some of my suggestions might help you too when you're in places of low momentum.
As I write the first couple chapters of my book, I'm usually flying high. I'm in love with the character, the idea feels fresh, the theme important, and I'm really proud of the foreshadowing I've written.
And then out of nowhere (not always, but often) around the close of the third or fourth chapter, I write in a plot twist that I hadn't planned. Initially I'm excited. But then I glance at those notes I made back in the brainstorming phase, and I have a, "Huh. What now?" moment. How does this new twist fit in? Is it better with it? What does it mean for the rest of the story?
What follows these questions is my first slip in momentum, my first few steps down.
|Heading into the canyon|
1. Give up the idea altogether
In my days as a teen writer, this is often when I abandoned a manuscript.
2. Go back and edit what I've already written.
There are wonderful writers out there who edit as they write (Roseanna M. White is one of them) but I always used it as an excuse to not move forward with the story. I would focus on perfecting the beginning and I often would never make it to the middle.
3. Press forward, one stilted word at a time.
This is something I did in the name of "writing bad first drafts." It was okay that I was meandering around with this next scene, because it was a first draft and they're supposed to be bad, right?
I've found that there's a better way for me to work through my first lull. Here are some things that have worked for me, or that I've seen work for other writers:
- I write my synopsis. It used to be that I wrote my synopses after my novel was done and when I needed it to pitch to a publisher. I hated them. But when I write my synopsis after just a few chapters, I really enjoy the process.
- I pull out one of my writing exercise books. The ones I use most often are Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass and Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren. They have lots of exercises in them for brainstorming your plot and characters, but they often don't work for me in the brainstorming stage. For whatever reason, I need to write a few chapters in the story world to figure out my major players and plot lines before these exercises do me much good.
- I don't do this, but if you're a visual person, now might be a good time to work on finding pictures of your characters or settings.
- I plan out the next couple chapters. Having too much of an outline can stifle me, but if I think through a few different paths for the next chapters, that can make a big difference in the rewrites phase.
- If I have two options that I can't decide between, I might ask the opinion of a writing friend. What I don't do, however, is send my rough chapters to critique partners. For some of you, having others read your book along the way may not just work well for you, it may be part of your creative process. For me, I can't let too many voices in or I get paralyzed. The first draft is mine, and if I started sharing it with others, I find myself full of doubts. (Or too much confidence - neither is good!)
Is there anything that helps you get back into your story when you've had a momentary setback? If so, please share!