If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, it’s happened to you. You’re cranking along, a blissful conduit for the story flowing through you. It’s awesome. It’s the most incredible feeling in the whole world.
And then, SCREECH! It comes to a crashing halt.
You have no idea where the story’s going now. It…it was just there. Really. Only a moment ago. And now it’s gone. Insert severe frustration here.
So what do you do, after the sniveling stops? If you’re like me, you’ve got to do something. I write, therefore I am.
I have a variety of methods to deal with this problem.
1. Refuse to acknowledge it. Sit down and write garbage if that’s all you think you can manage. You can figure how to fix it later. Gritting your teeth and powering your way through is a simple, often effective option.
2. A break may be in order if you’re trying to write when your brain is dead tired. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Play a game of cribbage with your significant other. Anything–as long as it takes place in the real world. I’ve sniveled and gotten away with occasional weekend camping trips, which are the absolute best escape for me.
3. If you’ve tried these two options for several days and you’re still struggling, you may be trying to tell yourself that something is wrong with your story. Sit down and outline what you already have (yes, even if you’re a discovery writer). If you know how to write queries, try writing one for the story you have. Sometimes distilling it to its essence will reveal problems you haven’t seen before.
4. If you’re still unsure, now would be a good time to run it by a beta reader. If you don’t have one or don’t know what that is, work on remedying that now. An outside pair of eyes can do you a world of good.
5. While your beta reader is looking at it, don’t quit–write something else. Catch up on future blog posts. Write a short story. Edit something you’ve set aside for when you needed some distance.
6. If you’ve done this and you’re still stumped, I’m going to suggest outlining the main turning points with an eye to story structure, even if you’re a discovery writer. Set them up in front of you like guideposts, and put them at the appropriate places, dependent on your projected word count.
7. There is also the possibility that your story is too thin. Conflict is the engine that drives stories, so you might want to play a few rounds of What Else Can Go Wrong? Look at your scenes, both written and proposed, and ask yourself, how can I heap misery on my poor protagonist? Sure, her boyfriend dumped her, and she’s devastated. But he could break up with her on a date, leaving her all alone and there’s no one to call, and now she has to walk home, and the shoes she borrowed from her crabby older sister without asking twist in a grate and the heel comes off, so now she has to walk home barefooted, and she cuts her foot open…
You get the idea. Really pile the misery on. Great story ideas can come from this.
8. If you’re really stuck for where you’re going, you can try Ray Bradbury’s exercise, although I believe he usually used it to start stories. Set a timer for two minutes and write down all the nouns you can think of. When you’re done, see if you can link them together into some sort of cohesive whole. I’ve never done this, but some writers swear by it, so give it a whirl.
9. Derek Haines, in one of his posts (here), has some further suggestions. Make a loud noise, right by your protagonist. Have him/her trip over something, preferably damaging a body part. Have them get into a rip-roaring argument (perhaps over the borrowed shoes.)
10. Ask yourself if your protagonist is really driving the story. If they’re being carried along by events instead of making them happen, especially if you’re past the first act, that may be your problem. In my example above, you get a pass if it’s the inciting incident. But still, if your protagonist gets dumped because she confronted him over hanging around with his skanky ex-girlfriend, then she’s showing some agency. Characters with agency drive stories forward. Passive characters get carried along, and the story simply happens to them.
11. As a preventative measure, I’ve learned never to end my writing at the end of a scene or the end of a chapter. Write at least a few lines of the next scene before you stop. Even if it’s only marginally coherent, it gives you something to work with when you come back to it.
Sometimes stories just have to mature in their sweet time. It can’t always be pushed. Think about your stalled story in odd moments while you’re working on another writing project. Try to jot your dreams down right when you wake up because sometimes your sleeping mind goes to work on the problem for you. A solution will come.
All you have to do is apply copious amounts of my least favorite virtue–patience. And keep writing.