This post was inspired by my latest WIP, which I really struggled with a couple months ago. I had characters I loved and an idea I was excited about, but I had a terrible time getting everything to come together.I have a pretty reliable writing process. I know what I need to do in order to develop a story and be an effective writer. But when it came to this project, I found myself hitting road block after road block.
I have a pretty reliable writing process. I know what I need to do in order to develop a story and be an effective writer. But when it came to this project, I found myself hitting road block after road block.
I talk a lot on this blog about the importance of finding your writing process, but let’s be real. Sometimes a project is just difficult! Pushing forward when none of your usual tricks are working can feel like an impossible hurdle to overcome. So, what do you do if you’ve found your process failing you?
I can only speak from my own experience on this, but here are a few things that helped me push on, get a draft down, and find my story when my process let me down.
Work with what you have
If you have something to work with, do your very best to move forward. Try not to focus on what you don’t know. Instead, modify your process based around what you do know.
I typically have a pretty solid idea of what my story is going to be, and I outline the whole book before I start writing. But this time, I found I only had a solid idea of the first eight or nine chapters and then a fuzzy idea of what came after. I tried to get a clear picture of the rest of the book, but it just wouldn’t surface.
Instead of waiting for the rest of the book to come to me, I decided to outline the first eight chapters and start writing. When I got to the end of those eight chapters, I figured out the next eight, which I could see a little more clearly once I’d gotten the draft started. I was able to write the entire draft in eight chapter chunks. In the end, I had a very messy draft but a complete draft nonetheless, and I learned a lot about my story while I wrote it.
Trust your writerly instincts
Most of the time, our inner writer knows what we need to do more than the brain does. Personally, I have never been one to take a brainstorming walk. I tend to get too distracted by my surroundings, and I never end up actually thinking about my story. But when I was struggling to figure this book out, I felt compelled to take a walk and brainstorm. Additionally, I randomly got a song I hadn’t heard in months stuck in my head. I soon realized it was a song that captured the feel of my book and main character perfectly. I downloaded the song and went for a walk, listening to it on repeat.
My brain told me this walk was a waste of time, but I went anyway. In the end, the combination of the music and the walk were exactly what I needed. The music helped me focus my thoughts and I wound up with three revelations that proved to be essential in moving forward. I’ve continued these walks and they’re still generating ideas for me.
Try to understand how this story is different from previous stories
Maybe your process is finely honed and effective, or maybe you’re still finding what works for you. Either way, it’s important to keep in mind that every project has its own needs that must be honored. To accommodate those needs, you need to understand what makes your story different from the ones that came before.
This turned out to be a key for me. As much as the previous steps helped me to keep moving forward, understanding my story’s differences helped me go over the hump.
In this case, my idea came to me a little differently than it usually does. Traditionally, I start with a character, an environment, and a growth trajectory, but this time I started with a story concept–nothing else attached. It meant I needed to do more development work than I usually do, which I was prepared for. I did tons of work on the character aspect but I had inadvertently left my world underdeveloped. These development holes were my main issue. I couldn’t tell an effective story in a world I didn’t fully understand. Everything started to take better shape once I solidified these details.
Now that I understand the breakdown, I’ll know to check in on development issues next time a problem like this pops up.
That’s all I’ve got for this one!
Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get a bi-weekly email with posts just like this one (plus a handful of email exclusives) delivered directly to your inbox!
Now it’s your turn: What do you do when your process fails you? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.