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Writing problems

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by SaltyDog, Nov 23, 2016.

  1. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

    Hi all, I don't know where to put this, so I ended up just posting in the old writing questions.

    Anyway, recently, I have started having a few problems with my writing of my novel. Problems such as not really knowing how to continue at the stage I'm at. See, I'm at a point where I know where the story is headed, I have the end in sight, and have loosely sketched the way to get there. My main problem though is how to get the strength to push on... I admit I'm kinda burned out with the story. Don't get me wrong, I love it, and I'm really proud of it even at it's early unedited stages, but...I'm lacking the motivation to push through and finish it. Or just to start on it again where I had left the story.

    Partly, this is do to my busy schedule, I do recognize that. When I'm constantly on the go, writing will and is not a priority. Bummer, so I'll just have to wait for the weekend. But when it gets here, I really have quite a lot of trouble in getting myself going, or even starting, to write. It's an unfortunate situation...one I'm hoping I can maybe get an idea of what to do from y'all. How do you push on? What do you do to keep the spark lit? Have you had this occur to you in your writing?

    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  2. Hiya! Umm...What do I do when I start getting burned out...?

    I think the short answer is write anyway. Butt in chair, stare at story until words come. If they don't, keep staring until tired. That's basically what I've been doing in my current story, and I'm starting a lot of writing sessions reluctant and dragging my feet, but sooner or later things start to flow.

    Lots of times, you can't wait on that spark to show up. You have to kindle it yourself.

    i don't know what underlying problems might be causing this, so i can't give too much specific advice. It does sound as if your schedule is preventing you from making a habit of writing, and having it be a habitual act really helps. But, lack of motivation can be beaten. Butt in chair! Words on page!

    Or, just sit there and stare blankly at the page. (I've spent sessions that way too.) It's still better than not doing it at all.
    SaltyDog likes this.
  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Some people say "butt in chair" and that works sometimes.

    But sometimes it doesn't and that is OK. I give myself the break. I just say "Ok, you can have three days off. You obviously need it. But you must start back up on Friday."

    That aways works for me, but I can see how other people might never go back...

    I call it the Hemmingway creative process. Hemmingway was honest about the fact that sometimes he just couldn't write every day. But he said that when you aren't writing don't think about writing. Do other things. Enjoy good food. Get some exercise. Your subconscious will keep working away without you even knowing about it.

    Sometimes when I get stuck on a story I allow myself the time off for a few days because I'm too close to the story. I can't see what is right in front of my nose. I need some distance sometimes. When I do this I will suddenly find that "BAM!" I'll be driving to the grocery store and the perfect solution will rise to the top of my brain and then I'm ready to hit the story hard again.

    I know I'm not the only one, GRRM says the same thing happens to him.

    Sometimes it is ok to have a rest and gain some perspective instead of plowing through with a fatigued brain.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2016
  4. This, too, is completely true and very useful advice.

    I myself have never been able to write daily for more than two weeks. My mind needs the down time, and the longer I push myself to write every day, the longer the down time I end up needing. I can't do without it. You're probably the same. I doubt anyone can just never take breaks.

    This is good advice for when you're having trouble keeping up the pace. When you're having trouble starting, sometimes you just need to give yourself a friendly push. Or a not-so-friendly one. Whatever works.
    SaltyDog likes this.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Okay, so let's address the story first. There's a huge difference between knowing where something is going, and going there today.

    When I get stuck on a part that sucks...maybe I don't have a good scene I want to show, or perhaps I just don't have a clue how to get from the point where one event is going on, to the next big moment where something else happens, I think of a small conflict, something HAPPENING. Maybe two characters have poor timing to air their grievances and it disrupts the dynamic of the group. Maybe something from the MC's past comes back to haunt him when he sees something he doesn't handle right.

    The smallest event can spark a new wave of furious writing. Try to come up with a couple things that could breathe some life into a scene that feels underwhelming. Look back a few chapters and find something you can resolve or blow wide open, maybe.

    Also, it's totally okay to skip a section that feels lukewarm and move on to a scene that really gets you fired up. Once that future scene is complete and awesome (or maybe not, but finished nonetheless), go back to the lame scene and put in a little conflict or foreshadowing or something that will then lead into the future scene and make it have even more impact in the future.

    One of my favorite techniques is to just write and see what happens, even if I end up cutting half the words. Maybe something will develop in a conversation...and when one character blows the roof off a problem in an unexpected way...you get excited that your story took a turn, and want to backtrack to actually set it up properly. I find that this happens a lot for me. I may have started with a plan, say, a character was keeping a secret and I had a place to put the reveal, but suddenly I bring it out earlier...it sometimes has a monumental impact and a ripple effect in a place where I wasn't expecting.

    Remember to be building, always increasing the overall tension and drama, even while you tie up loose ends from earlier conflicts. By that, I mean that when you close one door, consider whether you can open two more. Finally, Frodo got the ring to Rivendell. Great! But then the people there start bickering, and Frodo jumps up and volunteers to take the ring on the rest of its journey. It's unexpected. He thought he was done. But now, he has to keep going. No rest. No going home. Luckily, his friends stick with him. Open doors are the writer's best friend. Open a couple. Raise some questions. Give just enough information to the reader that they'll forget to stick the bookmark in the opening of that next chapter, and force them to stay up "for just one more chapter" and then do it to them again. They'll thank you, even if they're sleep-deprived the next day at work.

    Okay, let's talk motivation. Motivation is one of the things we fight against forever, I think. We get tired of working on a single piece. We want to punch our characters in the eye because we're so damn tired of making their dialogue awesome and delving into their psyches to keep them consistent. It's really hard work.

    If you find yourself burned out on a particular story, perhaps changing tracks for a few miles wouldn't be a bad idea. Write a short story in an afternoon, instead of cracking open that novel that you fear you'll just stare at and make no progress on. Write something very different than it. Or stick with it, and perhaps consider writing a scene from the character's childhood. It might give you a more solid understanding of the person and help you in coming unstuck in the novel.

    I like to write short stories that are weirdly cool and totally refreshing. Maybe try something weird. Take a random inspiration from a generator like Seventh Sanctum, even.

    The main issue is to keep writing. Do it as often as you can, and the more you do it, the easier it will become. I say that with a reasonable amount of confidence. I've heard it several places, but veteran writers seem to agree that it takes them steam to get rolling a lot of days, and the best way to get to the good stuff is to skim all the crap off the top. Write a thousand useless words if that's what it takes to begin getting to the meat of what you're trying to say. Until the dialogue is sufficiently emotional, or the scene is flowing with the right pacing.

    Another thing I started doing in the last few months was detailing my goals before I write. Okay, so in this scene, I want to do three things. I want to show the weather taking its toll on the character, I want to have her relationship with her friend hit a dangerous level, and I want to have an argument that splits the party into two separate groups who will in the future meet up, but must travel separately for a time. Good. So...she's sleep-deprived because it's been raining for three days, her clothing is soaked and caked in mud, and then her best friend is still a cheerful bitch...even though she spilled all the coffee on the ground the previous morning, and now everyone is suffering and has only cold water to drink. Great. So, it makes sense that the character wakes groggy, can't have her caffeine to wake up, and then she's nasty to her friend, reminding her that everyone's miserable because she was a klutz.

    If you can figure out three main goals for a scene, it can keep you from meandering off topic. When you can stay with what's really pertinent, then the writing becomes easier. When the character is getting dressed, we don't want to see her pull fresh clothing from a dry bag...that doesn't support the goals. Have her deliberate between a garment covered in mud, or the one that's just soaking wet. That debate can not only tell us more about the character, but it shows her mood, her thinking, and adds to her distress as we then move to the lack of coffee.

    Build on what there is already set up in the last scenes, and then find ways to make the next scenes just a little worse. A little less pleasant. A little more conflict. Or go the other way. Maybe the friend is apologetic the next morning as our character is trying to decide between muddy or soaked clothes. She comes in and gives her friend a hug and says she made her tea from an herb she found in the woods...and you realize the party doesn't have to split up at all! Or that they do split up, but it's on amiable terms and has a strategic benefit. These things sometimes happen, and when i've experienced them, I think my story is better for not sticking too closely to the original plan.

    After the party splits up, then, the character can reflect on why she said awful things to her friend, a person she's known since they were kids. Perhaps even a little flashback or exposition there could add to the overall impact of the situation. Whatever you do, don't cling to writing rules. Don't "fear write". Just let things flow and then trim as necessary. I think that's one of the biggest problems we often face. We say in our head, "Flashbacks are stupid. Don't use too many descriptions/ use more descriptions. Show more, tell less. Rewrite the dialogue until it feels like a mental punch in the face to the reader. Etc. etc. and so on."

    Sometimes it's those fear voices in our heads that is halting the progress, not our ability. So, keep on writing, and if you need a break, write something funny or weird, or whatever refreshes you. Or write something pertaining to the story at hand, maybe a future scene you can use to build on, or a flashback that may never come into the story. Anything that'll get you back on track and skim those uninspired words off the top, until you can get your stride.

    I am terribly guilty of not writing when I only have an hour or two to work. I know I won't get anything good done, and i'll be hitting my stride just as i have to leave the house.

    One of my favorite tactics is to call a writer friend and pitch them my idea. "Hey, I'm really stuck on this scene in the rain, but I need to get my characters to the next town. What do you think would make this more impactful?" And you can brainstorm on your own and just talk to yourself as if you were your own friend HA! I do that, too.

    Another seemingly counterintuitive tactic I use all the time: clean the house. I'm so serious. I think a clean environment helps to clean away clutter in my head. I have come up with some of my best ideas as I'm weeding the garden or wiping the counter. I just let my brain process while I'm doing mindless tasks, and inspiration will strike in the weirdest ways. Sometimes I'll see a person in a store, and they'll totally inspire me to give the character a quirky POV sense thing. Or something I see, even the smallest thing, gives me an idea to deep the reader experience in an unexpected way. The thing I see will give me an idea about something the character maybe experienced in the past, that can come up in the current predicament, and i"m off, writing in a frenzy again.

    Try as many things as you can stomach, until you find one that works for you.

    Best wishes!
  6. CM has some really good advice too. Jumping off of that...I might have a good supplement.

    I'm usually able to write past scenes that are leaving me cold and burned out. But here are some things I wrote down to help me when a scene is giving me a bad taste in my mouth:

    1. Put it in a cooler setting. Now, this is me, who is really fascinated by unique, evocative settings. It might not work for you. But if you have a scene that's going badly, maybe change the surroundings. Instead of a sunny meadow your characters can camp in the burned ruins of a village built of bones. Changes the mood a lot, doesn't it...? And changing the mood can help. It can give you fresh eyes. Or you can put it someplace that's just more interesting. Instead of an old abandoned house your characters can meet in an old abandoned house that's haunted with mysterious laughter and has illegible messages scrawled on the walls in what looks like blood. Instead of having your characters make plans underneath an oak tree they can make plans in a dark cave by the lake full of bioluminescent worms and huge spiders, with chests and boxes, their latches rusted shut, stacked about. Recently I set a scene I knew I would have trouble with in a room full of taxidermy animals. The taxidermy animals weren't very relevant, but they made things more fun.

    2. Have something unexpected happen. I mean this more along the lines of surprise yourself than surprise your characters. Have your characters' plans go wrong. Have a stranger show up. Have them come upon a feature of the land that's mysteriously omitted from the map. Have a character reveal a secret. Have someone step on a spiny dyctxtxtarstxthchuu and swell up to twice their usual size. Look at your original vision of the scene. Are things progressing naturally? Does everything happen in a predictable, logical fashion? Then throw a wrench in it. Complicate things.

    3. Figure out how to develop or reveal character using the scene. Think of something about a character you could develop using this scene. A secret you could drag out. A trait you could exhibit. A new development you could begin. Hint that two characters might have a thing for each other. Reveal a character's awkward irrational fear. Bring up a character's dark past. If you use the scene to develop character, it's not wasted.

    4. BAD THINGS. This has already been said, and I've kinda already touched on it, but recall Murphy's law. Ask yourself, "How could this get any worse!" Then, make it worse. Diseases! Disappearances! Betrayals! Ambushes! Poisonous creatures! Awful secrets! The possibilities are limitless.

    5. Sometimes you need to cut out things. Traveling, small talk...I used to get stuck on things like that a lot. If you're getting stuck, you *might* consider asking yourself, "Is this necessary?" It might not be.

    Now you've got a very good collection of ideas and suggestions to go on; maybe try some out and see how things go? ;)
  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Unless there is trauma in life or utter exhaustion, I don't really have days where I "can't write" on a mental level. I don't believe in that anymore. It's an illusion. (roll your saving throw and defeat that spell) Now and again I might need to exercise, getting off one's ass can be conducive to sitting on it, it seems, heh heh. Hit the bags, break out the longsword waster and slay orcs, go for a walk in the woods and creek, whatever. If I've got a story problem, I write past it. I'll have the end written before the middle even if it changes, because of this. If I've got limited time and can't quite get into the story quick, I reread and edit, and this is usually my trick for stimulating my brain anyhow. Writing is rewriting, I don't care if I write new stuff or edit, it's all writing, and once going it tends to free up my mind and off I go.

    For me, when in a novel, I never really stop thinking about it for long. There's the old myth of men thinking about sex every 7 seconds... while an exaggeration, I'm that way about the novel. There is no break, not really. One of the many voices in my head is always flapping its lips about some plot or character point, LOL.
    visually_alert and SaltyDog like this.
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

    There is some really good advice in this thread.

    One slight caution though. I too, for a time, used to skip past scenes that were harder work for me, or I was struggling with, to write the stuff I was enthusiastic about writing at the time.

    Then I ended up with about 80% of the book done, all the fun stuff finished, looking at 20% (or so) of the hardest, least exiting stuff to write ahead of me.

    That was a big mistake on my part.
    SaltyDog likes this.
  9. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

    Hey all, thank you each for your amazing advice! It really, and I mean it, really helps. I'm going to try out these ideas soon, probably later tonight and later in my writing path. I've gotten a lot of new takes on what to do, and thanks again. Lol I'm to go writing! I'm giving it a chance!
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  10. visually_alert

    visually_alert Dreamer

    Yes! This tread has so truly amazing advice. I'm not a writer... yet. I've just had this idea that keeps growing inside my brain and I think I can turn it into something good. My question to you Salty, is, do you commute? Just work long hrs? And what do you use to jot down ideas or take notes? I have a lot of my good ideas while driving. I either jot down notes at red lights or talk out my longer ideas on my phones voice recorder. If you're at work a lot you could even talk out whole chapters or outlines then write them at a later date. That is, if your work and environment allows it.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SGH-I337 using Tapatalk
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  11. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

    I know! It does have great advice! Even though you aren't a writer yet, I would certainly suggest taking these ideas for later use. Actually, I'm yet into the work force now... still in high school here, lol but in reality I'm on the go constantly, much like going to work or working lol. I like the idea of constantly jotting down ideas for my story, and I really like the recorder idea, and I can see how I can incorporate it into my daily life. See I'm home schooled, which allows me a very busy day of going to and back to stuff such as class, sporting events and other activities. I can definitely see myself trying out your ideas throughout my day...and I'll give them a shot. Thanks!
    visually_alert likes this.
  12. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

    I'm a bit of a mess when it comes to this sort of thing, but I'm assuming this is your first draft? What I do is essentially start writing until my words form something cohesive that I can keep moving on. I mean, let's face it, the first few lines in writing sessions tend to suck either way, so might as well wing it to spare yourself the time.

    Specifically if this is a first draft.

    Sent from my SM-J700M using Tapatalk
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    What has worked for me, though not nearly often enough: I tell myself the story.

    This is especially with places where I feel bogged down. I start to write out what happens next and then next after that. Or even what *might* happen next, without worrying about whether or not it's right and usable.

    The key is that I don't attend to audience or format. It usually begins as describing what happens. Very short on scenery. It usually evolves into bits of dialog, often without tags. Nearly always it's in present tense (my stories are always in past tense). I head-hop. I get wordy. I repeat myself.

    But I'm writing *for me*. Telling myself this part of the story. Rarely do I use what I've written verbatim, but the exercise serves a couple of purposes. One, it keeps me writing. Two, it forces me to slog through that bit of the plot. Three, it tends to reveal inconsistencies, problems of motivation, even plain old physical problems. It's sort of like a really wordy outline.

    At that point, one can either go back and really write the scene, or skip over it and keep going.

    There is really only one way to fail: stop writing.
    visually_alert likes this.
  14. Jackarandajam

    Jackarandajam Troubadour

    I can very much relate to this problem; it's what kept me from finishing NaNo this year... what almost kept me from WRITING this year.
    I'm 80k into a novel that I completely lost speed on, slogging through the parts I considered boring writing; the bridging sections that filled in between action scenes.

    If it's boring writing, it's probably boring reading.

    I re-outlined the book, chapter by chapter. Looking at the big picture, I was able to set goals and landmarks for myself in each chapter. If a couple chapters were thin, I combined them.

    I cut the fat, basically. I don't want to write filler anymore than a reader wants to read it. I want every sentence to drive the plot onward or build character identity. I want to write the story, not glue to hold the story together.

    I understand that everyone has their favorite thing to write; I love the action scenes, other writers love dialogue, some description. I get stuck on dialogue a lot.
    its okay to be heavier on your favorite element; that's part of your "writers voice," I think.
    You'll find that the other elements are far more bearable if they're purposeful.

    Hope that helps!
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