by Allison Maruska


Welcome to Part 2 of our blog mini-series on where writers get stuck, based on this poll I took on Twitter.

We started with Planning, though today’s topic is closely related – so closely, in fact, that Dan combined them in his response to Part 1. Drafting issues are often the result of planning issues.

However, there are “specific to drafting” issues as well, and seeing as they came out on top in the poll, many writers struggle with them. Let’s visit a couple of culprits that cause us to get stuck in the drafting stage, or when we turn our plan into a narrative, complete with sentences, paragraphs, and hopefully, a good story.


Culprit 1: The writer doesn’t love the idea enough to stick with it.

In his aptly titled How to Write a Novel, Nathan Bransford says this:

Avarice is what motivates people to write in genres they don’t particularly like. It pushes them to choose ideas that they don’t love enough to make it all the way through the writing of the novel. It’s what makes an already difficult process completely impossible.

Later, he adds this (emphasis mine):

Liking an idea will get you to page fifty. It will give you an initial burst of enthusiasm . . . before you inevitably lose interest, your attention wanders, and you find yourself with an unfinished novel that you feel vaguely embarrassed about.

It may not seem like it during NaNoWriMo, when authors post daily word counts in the many thousands, but writing out an entire novel is a difficult and often long process. Your subject matter has to be something that excites you past page fifty. This isn’t to say you’ll love it every day (quite the contrary – some days you’ll want to throw your computer out the window), but like any long-term relationship, something draws you back. That something is passion for your idea, your characters, or that plot twist coming up. Maybe it’s all of those.

The solution: Write what you’re fired up to write, even if it’s not what you’re “supposed” to write or perhaps won’t sell as well. It won’t sell at all if it’s not written.


Culprit 2: The story veers off the plan.

I’m a plantser, and the one time I outlined a whole novel, I ended up changing most of it. I look back at the outline and laugh. I stuck with the bigger points, but the rest of the scenes – well, let’s just say the story didn’t like the box I’d put it into.

So I obviously don’t have an issue letting my story wander, as long as it makes narrative sense to do that. I suspect, however, that the hardcore planners among us struggle with such a thing – veering can lead to paralysis.

One of the commenters on the poll said endings are a particular challenge, which I 100% agree with. In fact, I usually have to toy with a couple of different endings – meaning at least one wasn’t in the original plan. Remember in Stranger than Fiction, when the author had writer’s block for ten years because she couldn’t figure out the ending? That was less than ideal.


The solution: Let the story wander, and if it doesn’t work, you can always rein it in. Talk out the newer points with writing partners if you’re nervous. But don’t let strict adherence to a plan freeze you in place.




Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.