What do you do when your ‘work in progress’ stops progressing?

I am currently writing a middle grade fantasy novel. Having published three novels and one novella already, you might think I’m just flying through this project with no hiccups. But here’s the thing: even experienced writers deal with barriers and doubts. I had a setback last week. I was ready to press delete on the whole manuscript when I reminded myself of five writing lessons from past projects. Some of these might be useful to you.

  1. Step away from the project for a while. Sometimes I need time to let my subconscious take over when I find myself overthinking. I know that the best thing is to go pull some weeds or cook a meal. Cleaning the house also works but I tend to choose that option a bit less readily. After last week’s writing roadblock, I took a break and worked on some paintings like the one above. (She’s a fairy character in progress. Notice the white pencil lines of the underdrawing… there’s a lot of work still to do.) Putting a story away for awhile happens to be one of the top writing tips I give to pupils when I visit schools and libraries. Sometimes I have to remember to take my own advice!
  2. Don’t get too hung up on research. As with my previous novels, I’m looking into history, landscape and folklore. Telling a cracking story with richness of detail and authenticity is important to me, so I do my homework and collect lots of cool information. I spend a lot of time on research because I love discovery and ‘going down the rabbit hole’. On the other hand, it’s easy to get caught up in the cool background stuff a little too much, which leads me to Number 3.
  3. Get back to the heart of it: what story are you trying to tell? This is a biggie. I like to have the story worked out before I get too deep into writing it. For me, it’s like planning an illustration well before I make the finished piece. The problem with structuring stories too much before I write is that I can get caught up in the detail and lose sight of the big picture. And if one significant thing isn’t working, it can have a cascade effect on the rest of the story. This is a good reason to keep the structure solid but flexible to allow for magic to enter while I’m writing.
  4. Read the story aloud. This is another tip I give to young writers. Reading aloud helps you to hear any awkward phrasing or overlong sentences, among other issues. Because it does work so well, I am in the habit of reading my words aloud. Unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily help solve structural problems with the plot. That’s where I stalled last week… and then I remembered another piece of advice I give to young writers. Hello, number 5!
  5. If you get stuck, keep on writing. Don’t give up! I mentioned being ready to press delete on my writing project. I turned that feeling around by asking myself what I could learn from this frustrating experience. Where is the positive side? My answer is this: I have an opportunity to rethink and solve the story’s problems. This will result in a stronger book for my readers to enjoy. It can also be scary going back to a piece of work that has problems but I have faith that I will work it out. There is something wonderful about finding the solution to a writing problem after many attempts. If you care about telling good stories, don’t give up on it.

I’ve had a week away from writing and I’m about to look at my writing project again. I’m excited to think about how I will solve the problems and move on towards finishing it!

Did any of this post ring true for you? I’d love to hear how you take action when your writing projects encounter problems.

Happy writing and creating!