I’m in the home stretch on the story I’ve been working on for… since… like… a while. Long time.
In my fiction writing experience so far, I tend to write really fast for the first half of the book (that’s half by word count; I don’t write chronologically), and then gradually get slower and slower, so that I spend about half my writing time on the last 15% of the book. This is stage at which your story options are winnowed down and you’re searching and searching for the most satisfying ways to tie together all the elements you’ve strung across the story.
And there comes a point when it gets so slow that it feels like it comes… to a complete… halt.
That’s where I am now.
It would be easy to call the experience something like “writer’s block.”
Here is what I do when I don’t have any idea what the hell to write:
I write something terrible – by which I mean I type whatever the hell comes to my fingers.
And then I go, “No, no, no, that’s all wrong, that’s not how it should happen! It should be more like this…”
And then I’m off to the races.
This almost always works. If it doesn’t…
Sometimes I’m just burnt out on a particular story, problem, character, whatever, so I switch to a different project for a while. It’s like cross-training one set of muscles, while the other set gets a break.
This could be disastrous, of course – I could wind up down a rabbit hole. This has not happened to me yet. I am blessed/cursed with a brain that resists stopping until it gets to the end of something, so rather than disappearing into the new project, the original project beckons me from the distance.
The result is that I have a number of projects anywhere from a few hundred words to tens of thousands of words along, ready and waiting for me when I get done with this project.
Another version of this strategy is to work on the query, synopsis, or pitch to go with the particular story. This story I’m writing now is not under contract, I’m just writing because… I’m a person who has to write. (See below.)
Or I write a blog post about writer’s block.
I decide I’m not allowed to write.
Counting only the words that have ended up actually published in books, I’ve averaged 275 words per day – that’s about one page a day, every single day – for the last 3 years. If you include all the stuff I chopped, it’s easily double that. In short, I am a person who has to write. If I were forced to choose between writing and eating, I’d choose writing. I can live off my fat stores for WEEKS; but just a few days without writing would probably make me batshit.
So a writing fast restores my appetite, so that I’m longing to go back to work on that intractable problem. Sometimes I even come up with a solution to the problem! More often, I circle back to STRATEGY 1 – I write something terrible, and then I fix it.
So that’s what I do. I strongly identify with Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk about the nature of genius – that there is some outside something-or-other that occasionally descends upon you and transforms what you’re writing from craftsmanship to art, and it all flows beautifully. I imagine it, actually, like the teacher coming around a class. For just a few minutes, she leans over your shoulder and talks to you, gives you a boost… and then she’s gone again, off to help the next student.
But most of the time, you sit there and you do the work. You do your best. You don’t wait for the thing to show up – if today is not your day to meet with the genius, you do your work anyway. Because you have to be at your desk when the teacher comes by, and you don’t know when it will happen.