Thursday, January 12, 2012

Keep On Trucking

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


Joyce Tremel said...

Sorry this posted so late. Blogger was being bitchy again. I had it scheduled to post and I guess Blogger just didn't feel like doing it. Again.

Welcome back, Alan. Great advice!

Liz Milliron said...

How about advice to "keep on trucking" through the revision process - which is where I am now.

Ramona said...

Great advice. I'm writing from a coffee shop now.

I love the change your pants comment!

Patg said...

I like the skip ahead approach. Linear has never worked for me, so stuck in one part means move totally away to some other part.
Change your pants! Humph! A pantser is a person with a closet full. Changing 10 times a day is the norm, and sometimes the problem.

Joyce Tremel said...

Mary, my advice for revisions is pretty much the same as for writing the book. Every once in awhile I find myself procrastinating because frankly, I'm a little tired of this book. Once I sit down and start working on it, I always find some little thing I wrote that I like, or that brings a smile to my face. Those moments keep me going and make me realize that maybe the book isn't crap like I thought it was.

C.L. Phillips said...


Great post. Am at this point in a project, so I'm going to take your advice.


Paula Matter said...

Hi, Alan, welcome back! You were, and still are, a great guest.

That's some excellent advice. I especially like the suggestion to skip ahead to a different scene. That's a terrific way to kickstart things.

Annette said...

Welcome back, Alan!

I'm currently collapsed in a heap after sending my revised manuscript off to The Agent this morning. But I love your advice. Write on.

Jenna said...

Thanks for visiting again, Alan! Good advice, too!

Alan Orloff said...

Joyce - Thanks for inviting me back! Always a treat!

Mary - Most of my revision advice can be summed up with, "Pull your hair out!"

Ramona - I used to have a crit group that met in a coffee shop and I'd always come home smelling like coffee.

Patg - Some of my best friends are pantsers.

CL - Oh no! Don't actually TAKE my advice! At least not without getting a second opinion.

Paula - I once skipped ahead so far I found myself back in the first chapter :)

Annette - Congrats, Annette! Well done!

Jenna - My pleasure. Y'all have a real nice home.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great post, Alan! I like your tips for moving forward with a manuscript.