Writing a book is like driving a car: every once in a while you’re bound to hit a bump in the road. When an obstacle slows you down or halts the writing process, it can be difficult to get back on track. You need to figure out what caused you to lose your momentum, find a new route and hopefully prevent it from happening again in the future. Let’s assess the damage so you can finish your book (don’t worry, this won’t affect your deductible):
1. You’re too focused on length
Whether you’re the type of person who struggles to get to the 50 page mark or the type who could easily write 200,000 words about wallpaper, length anxiety can significantly slow down the writing process. Is my book too short? Too long? Maybe it should be long where it’s short and short where it’s long?
During the writing process, if you’re continuously thinking about length, it could slow you down and significantly stifle your creativity. Yes, there are genre-specific suggestions on word-count, but there are also exceptions to every rule. For example, the ideal YA word count is around 60,000, but The Order of the Phoenix clocks in at 257,000. That’s over four times the suggested length, and yet it’s one of the best-selling books of all time. Think quality over quantity.
When your book is finished and you’re reviewing, that’s when you address its length. Otherwise, let it be.
2. You feel like you need the whole story figured out
You know the saying: take it one day at a time. If you’re always looking ahead and worried about where things are going, you forget to focus on the here and now.
Although it may be helpful to have an outline or a general idea of where your story is going, the truth is you won’t know where it’s going until you write it. If you’re creating a scene and you keep thinking about where the story is headed, that lack of focus will show in your writing.
Just write. Freely, without fear.
Once your story is more concrete, you can always revisit scenes and decide whether they’re still important to your book. At that point, if the scene in question isn’t supporting your story’s direction, you can work on editing or cutting it out entirely.
Ultimately, if you box yourself in by refusing to deviate from your outline, you’re going to miss out on a lot of good ideas.
3. You don’t know how to start
Whether it’s a new scene or the opening line of your manuscript, there can be a lot of pressure for a strong start. If you spend hours on an opening line instead of spending that time writing, you’re not doing your book any favors.
Use a line as a placeholder–something that resembles what you want the overall theme of the beginning to be. This can be anything at all, as long as it gets you past that initial opening line so your creativity can flow freely.Revisit that line later, once you get in the groove. Often, writing the scene will end up leading you to that missing line.
If you’re really stuck and need to spark some inspiration, reading is the key. Check out some of the top-rated books in your genre or even do some research on the best opening lines for novels. We’re not encouraging plagiarization, but seeing examples may lead you to your own powerful opener and alleviate some pressure. Knowing how the greats have started scenes may help you realize it’s less complicated than you think.
4. You suffer from perfectionism
Perfectionism, if too compulsive, can be the death of creativity. If you’re rewriting the same sentence four times or spending half an hour googling synonyms for the word ‘thing’, hate to say it, but stop (halt, cease, conclude, terminate.. you get the idea).
Editing as you go can kill your confidence. You’ll be less likely to experiment, less likely to be bold, and less likely to try new things. It’s that bold instinct that often leads to the greatest writing.
The characters in your book come from you. They’re a part of you, yet they also take on a life of their own. A good story is entirely driven by the characters and your pure instincts tell you where the characters are taking the story next. If you become too much of a perfectionist, your sense of doubt may drown out that voice telling you where to go.
The best advice: keep your writing and editing completely separate. Wait until you’ve finished your book before you go back and edit. This way you aren’t stifling your instincts and your story flows where it is naturally meant to go. And don’t be afraid to write poorly–every great writer in history has. Take a lesson from David Bowie- you’re under pressure. Let yourself out.
5. You’re stuck
This is another huge reason writers will drift away from their work. Well, ‘drift’ may be putting it mildly- more like run screaming.
Maybe you’ve come to a scene that’s tough to write. Maybe you don’t really know where the story goes next. Maybe you’ve written yourself into a corner and can’t pull a Hamilton and write your way out.
Even if you don’t want to, even if you hate it, even if it makes you feel lost and stressed and scared…do it anyway. If you stick with it, you may end up with four or five drafts you hate, but eventually you’ll write one that you love.
Another way to help dig yourself out of this hole is to look for inspiration elsewhere. Take a walk, go to a coffee shop- listen, see, touch, taste, smell- experience the world a bit and you may find something that sparks a new idea.
Reach out to a friend or editor. Letting people read your work before it’s finished can feel like you’re letting them see you naked, but it can really help to have a second set of eyes. Brainstorming sessions are a great way to get the creative juices flowing again.
6. You’re not making time for it
Maybe you just got a new job. Maybe you’re really into Netflix binging right now. But common sense says this- you’ll never finish your book if you’re not making time for it.
No one is advocating that you drop everything in your life and become a hermit. But,by the end of a long day, when there’s nothing you want to do more than go to bed- don’t. Stay up an hour later than normal and write. Or get up an hour earlier the next morning.
If you’re not actively making your book a part of your schedule, it’s easy to forget or put it off for another day- a day that may never come. All the greats have made the mistakes, sacrifices, and suffered from sleepless nights. It’s part of the badge you earn for being a writer. You CAN finish your book…don’t let a few road bumps stop you.