by Ryan Lanz
We’ve all felt it at one time or another. The story loses its shine and you’re left with a half-completed story. Why does this happen, and how do you continue?
For a lot of writers, this is the mid-point of the story, but truly, it can happen at any point. I want to focus on something entirely different from “writer’s block”; this topic regards when you know what to write next, but you just don’t feel like doing so.
“Of course, motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” – Zig Ziglar
The cursor blinks at you, nudging you to continue typing, but the combination of your eyes drooping and the itch to do something else feels overwhelming. You’ve already procrastinated enough today. Your bedroom can only be cleaned so many times, and you’ve already checked Facebook, Twitter, and your email twice in the past half-hour.
“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”
You’re a writer. You know how to get the job done; it’s the motivation that’s lagging. Let’s look at some different factors.
Your story no longer excites you
For me, this usually happens just on the other side of the midpoint, roughly 55% into the book. About then, I usually start envying short story writers. It’s when the thrill of the beginning and even the spike of the midpoint event wears off, and I have to begin laying the ground work for the finale, but it’s not yet to the exciting build-up for the ending climax.
Wherever it normally happens for you (and it could change from story to story), it can be a trial. Why does it happen? Here are a few possibilities:
- You’ve already thought of the next story, and you’re more interested in starting the new one than finishing the current one
- You hit a plot snag and aren’t looking forward to unraveling it
- You realize that your story idea might not be as interesting as you thought it was
- Self-doubt creeps in
- Life got in the way of writing, and you’re not as emotionally connected
- Something as simple as: it’s just not new and shiny anymore
The first one gets me every time.
To remedy many of the above, you could take a short break from writing to read your story from the beginning as if it was a finished product. Oftentimes, that brings about the romance for writing this particular piece again.
Whenever I daydream about the next project, I jot down all my ideas onto a pad of paper, but I promise myself not to start writing it until the current project is finished. That way, I have a treasure trove of tidbits to work on by the time I do transition.
Also, take a look at your writing schedule. If you wait until you have 4 hours+ to write, try writing more often but in smaller chunks. It could be your method of attack that’s holding you back.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Rohn
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Mainly for me, I had to come to grips with the concept that at some point in the book, it would be a chore to continue. Perhaps other authors aren’t this way, but that’s how I operate. I had to wean myself from the mysticism that I have to be in constant love with a story to write it. 100% of the time, when I go back to polish what I had to prod myself to finish, the magic is there again.
Whether you reluctantly write and later polish with passion, or you passionately write and later reluctantly polish, in the end, the reader can’t tell the difference. Either way, a quality product is completed. But if you wait for passion to do anything, the project will likely get done much, much later.
“What I adore is supreme professionalism. I’m bored by writers who can write only when it’s raining.” -Noel Coward
Just plain don’t feel like it
To me, this is another thing altogether. This could be due to some of the reasons above, but largely affected by mood, hunger, emotional state-of-mind, how restful I am, etc. Here are some things that I do to warm-up to writing when I don’t feel like it. In advance, don’t judge me.
- I go into a different room (dependent on a portable writing apparatus). I read a study once that changing rooms resets the mind, but for whatever reason, it seems to help.
- Reading some of what I wrote the day before to get me in the mood. This usually does the trick, for me.
- I listen to music. In the Writer’s Toolbox, there are two of my favorite picks of music to listen to while I write.
- I have a small spray bottle of water, and I occasionally spray myself in the face. This is used when I am tempted to curl over my laptop and take a nap. This is the “don’t judge me part,” if you were wondering. So, yes, my methods for staying awake is the same as the punishment for your cat for eating the houseplant.
Similar to what I mentioned in the last section, usually when I don’t feel like writing, I do it anyway. There are a few times that I succumb, but I usually remind myself that people can’t tell their boss that they don’t feel like working, which is something Janci Patterson also mentioned in my interview with her.
Everyone has a different method. All these suggestions might work for you, or perhaps none of them will. The key is to experiment with what motivates you to write, so that you can get one step closer to your writerly goals.
Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
Ryan, I appreciate your discussion. While I haven’t tackled writing a novel yet, some of your thoughts may generate enthusiasm to finish a longer short story. It is time to return to it.
What you thought was a barrel full of possibilities turns out to be a teacup of half-cocked mediocre ideas that now that you’ve worked through the first three or five of them, peeter out and now there’s nothing left to fill in the remainder of the story.
I’ve got twenty such beginnings. “Oh, this is a good premise…” No. No it’s not.
The other one is, 1/3 to 1/2 way through, you realize that your premise is not unique, that it’s a trope common in the market and that you rehashing a known set of memes is a pointless exercise.
That’s where C.S. Lakin’s points really resonate with me. Get the story pinned down so that you KNOW that it’s worthy for the entire time you’ll be writing it:
The four pillars…
• Concept With A Kicker
• Protagonist With A Goal
• Conflict With High Stakes
• Theme With A Heart
• Plots and Subplots In A String of Scenes
• Secondary Characters With Their Own Needs
• Setting With A Purpose
• Tension Ramped To The Max
• Dialog Compressed and Essential
• Voice -Unique for Each Characters
• Writing Style – Concise and Specific
• Motifs for Cohesion and Depth
— C.S. Lakin
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Good post! Always encouraging to know it’s not “just us” and these times happen to many writers. Saving the Ziglar and Rohn quotes. Thanks!
I laughed so hard at the punishment of the cat chewing on the houseplants method, which I’ve renamed “Wake the Cat” a subtle play on Blake S. I loved the article. I think it’s important to point out this applies to more than writing a novel though. Here, on an early Sunday morning, sitting at my computer for over an hour, attempting to wrap up data collection for my dissertation, I’ve paused to read some writer’s articles that I enjoy to get remotivated. Not nearly as fast as a bottle of water sprayed in the face. And now that I know what to look for, I’m thinking you have a great method actually. Too many times I’ve stood to get tea, coffee, asperin, stretch, smooch on my dog, touch my toes, read a moment of kindle, twitter, FB, anything really to get out of my chair during the hardest part of my Ph.D. work. All the while I’m soaking in the music, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air from the nearby patio door. For my novels, I spend endless hours plotting and outlining so I don’t really run into this boring moment you write about. And I tend to stop writing in a fairly exciting spot that leads to exciting pick up the next day. I’m currently writing a movie script and its a learning curve for the format (since it’s my first) but its a similar body of work that takes overalls and a pitchfork at times. PLOT THAT STUFF. I also keep a file on Evernote or somewhere, that I can jot down plot ideas that pop into my head randomly. I probably have 60 possible plots that are new novels sitting in that file. And I currently have six or so ongoing novels that I write on when my muse novel jumps to some other characters. I’ll never stop writing. But jotting it down takes it out of my head for the immediate moment. Perhaps the snag issue is truly a parking curb bumper for my writing. I tend to rewrite while writing my first version and that’s clearly a no-no. I see that my plot idea could be enhanced if char so-and-so was just allergic to butterflies (or whatever). Then I go off on tangents. A) Would this make the novel more controversial, or more exciting, or what if the butterfly was a monarch and it makes the char turn ORANGE when touched (think avatar scene with tiny seeds dancing down)? My creativity can be a true torture device when trying to stay in the lane I created when plotting. I’ve fixed this (barely) by writing a note on the scrivener index card that highlights my idea and a quick note = (possible idea needs forecasting) or something like that. I hope some of this helps or at least tells me times up for my diversion. Have a great Sunday.
“Life got in the way of writing, and you’re not as emotionally connected”
Sadly, I’m not even writing a book, just struggling with blog posts.
Even with all the extra time that everything being cancelled has given me, my brain simply will not engage. I am not a quitter, but am really having issues concentrating.
A few of your tips I have not tried; so I will. I appreciate your words.
Reblogged this on Kim's Musings.