by Alan Orloff
I must have been a good guest (or at least not a terrible one), because I’ve been invited back to blog. Thanks, Working Stiffs! (This time, I promise to clean up after myself.)
Last time, I blogged about the stages I go through when I’m about to start a new writing project. Today, I thought I would offer a few suggestions about keeping an existing project moving forward when you’re feeling stuck.
Sometimes, it can be tough.
When a project is new, anything is possible—your optimism is boundless. Remember all that crisp, unspoiled filler paper on the first day of fourth grade, just sitting in your looseleaf notebook, waiting to be turned into a masterpiece? Same kind of thing here, except instead of “What I Did Over Summer Vacation,” you’re determined to pen the Great American Novel.
But after twenty thousand words (insert your own number here), the excitement and enthusiasm may start to wane. The characters aren’t quite what you imagined. The plot seems a little “off.” The dialogue sounds a bit stilted. There’s nothing “Great” about your novel. How can you keep plowing through, once the enthusiasm and excitement erode? (Or worse, plummet like a stone.)
Here are some things I’ve found to be helpful:
Set a quota and stick to it. I’ve said this before, but setting a daily word quota—and sticking to it—almost guarantees you’ll get your project finished. Be disciplined! (I’ve said this before, too, but sometimes I get up in the middle a sentence once I’ve hit my quota.) Don’t worry so much about the quality of the work; you can always fix it up during the revision process!
Try doubling your quota. Sometimes you can simply power your way back on track, especially if you can get into that all-powerful Writing Zone (notice the capital letters).
Skip ahead to a different scene. Sometimes skipping ahead to a different, and possibly more exciting, scene may kickstart things.
Outliners: Change your outline. Maybe your writing has slowed down because, on some level, you know you’re going in the wrong direction. Don’t be a slave to your outline! Modify it as you go along, if it serves the story better. (Pantsers: Maybe you could try changing your pants.)
Try writing in a different location or at a different time of day. Many writers head down to the local coffee shop, bookstore, or library to write. Fewer distractions and more caffeine (assuming you can ignore the stares of the baristas, or all those books on the shelves, calling your name). If you’re a morning writer, try writing at night, and vice versa.
Try a different atmosphere. If you usually write in silence, try writing with a soundtrack (or with kids screaming in the background). If you usually write in an isolated place, try finding a spot right in the middle of some hubbub (train station, shopping mall, Occupy Wall Street gathering).
Talk to some other writers. Most of the writers I know are interesting, engaging people. I find that talking to them re-energizes me and gets me back in the mood to crank out some words. (Yes, I know a few writers are twisted and deranged. They’re also fun to talk with, even if they make you a little nervous.)
Good luck with your next Great American Novel/Edgar winner!
Alan Orloff’s latest book, DEADLY CAMPAIGN, is the second in the Last Laff Mystery series (released this week!). He’s also written KILLER ROUTINE (Last Laff #1) and DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD (a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist). Writing as Zak Allen, he’s published THE TASTE (horror) and FIRST TIME KILLER (thriller), both ebook originals. For more information visit www.alanorloff.com