by Julie Tollefson
The revisions I’m making to my current manuscript have taken the story in unexpected directions, developments that have created holes in the storyline—huge, gaping canyons in logic and flow that leave me breathless.
The way forward is clear. I simply need to write several new scenes that bridge the gap from Ugly Draft to Not-So-Ugly Draft. I know the characters. I know what needs to happen to make the story make sense. Yet here I sit, fingers poised, and the words will not come. Faced with the blank screen, I freeze.
I’ve been in this exact same position a number of times in the past month. Once I finally start writing, the fear and the doubt fall away. But in that space between thinking about writing and writing, I can lose minutes, hours, in staring at the empty screen. Or worse, I’ll decide to pop over to check Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, just for a minute (uh-huh) while I marshal my thoughts.
It’s the polar opposite of the way I feel when I’m so far inside my story the real world feels alien. Then, when the words flow effortlessly, I resent people, real people, who dare to intrude in my fictional world and drag me back to reality.
I’ve heard other authors say that every new project feels like the first time. Daunting, with a healthy side of “I don’t know how to do this.” That’s a comfort when I feel truly stuck. Maybe this down time is my subconscious brain working out the best plot.
Or maybe I’m just a hopeless procrastinator.
Regardless, I’ve picked up a few strategies that help turn the word tap back on. The obvious—re-read previous scenes to get my head back in the story—works most of the time.
The rest of the time?
Occasionally, my brain says, “Here are some ideas, but they’re stupid, predictable, clichéd, and not very elegant.” Then, I give myself a stern talking to, a reminder that the first words on the screen can be weak or trite because I will revise them later.
And when the doubts seriously set in, I stoke my ego by re-reading previous work (“It’s not dreck! Cool!”) or feedback from others (“rich, lyrical descriptions”) to regain that “I’ve done it before, I can do it again” determination.
What are your go-to strategies when you’re stuck on a problem?