It’s every writer’s nightmare: you’re halfway through that story, the words are flowing, the characters witty, the plot twisty… and then disaster strikes:
You stop writing.
Whatever the reason, you stop writing. The story languishes half-written on your hard drive, and every passing day is another nail in the coffin. The characters become dim two-dimensional figures, their motivations faded, their personalities cracked.
Your story is a failure.
…or IS it?
In Episode 11 of Webfiction World, I look at abandoned stories and how to get back into the habit of writing. Joining me is author Becka Sutton, who has never missed an update in two years of writing online serials. While the podcast focuses on writing serial online fiction, much of the advice and commentary can apply to writing at large.
Why do people stop writing?
I’ve been there: I abandoned Above Ground.
Halfway through writing, I looked at the first chapters and realised they sucked. My writing — and my understanding of the characters and their motives — had developed so much that the first chapters were painful. I was ashamed of them. And as soon as that thought stuck, it was over. I couldn’t face going back and editing, couldn’t face continuing.
I stopped writing.
Your reason may be different. You may have run out of momentum, run out of ideas. Your plot isn’t meaty enough, your characters wander aimlessly; there’s nothing to say.
Or you’ve launched ahead without an outline and written yourself into a corner. There are gaping plot holes, pointless scenes, and you completely forgot to introduce the bomb that plays a pivotal role in the climax.
Or it could be something even simpler: lack of time. If you don’t have a routine, it’s easy to fall out of the rhythm of writing. As Becka Sutton wisely says, “It’s very hard to make a good habit, but once you break it, it tends to stay broken.”
Whatever your reason, don’t worry: you can bring your story back to life. All it takes is dogged determination, something which all writers should have in spades.
7 Ways to Start Writing Again
Make it a habit. Set aside a time each day or week. Put your butt in the chair. Write. Doesn’t matter what you are writing, as long as you write. Get into the routine of writing before your tackle that unfinished story.
Outline. The pantsers amongst you will be cringing, but this is the best way to avoid writing yourself into a corner. It can have as much or as little detail as you want, so long as you have enough to keep going.
Write to deadlines. Set yourself small, achievable targets. One chapter a week, 300 words a day; you decide. The pressure of a deadline, and the satisfaction of meeting it, helps maintain motivation.
Peer pressure. Find some enthusiastic readers who’ll pester you for more. It’ll be harder to abandon the story when doing so disappoints more than just your muse.
Start from scratch. If your abandoned story isn’t working, go back to the start. Make outlines, fill in the plot holes, pin down the character motives, trim or expand upon the story as needed. Make it work — then start writing.
Keep a buffer. If you are writing to deadlines (whether posting online or otherwise), build up a buffer. You want to write a chapter a week? Great: have four in reserve. That way if you’re sick one week, you won’t beat yourself up for having missed a deadline.
Post online. If you really find it hard to finish a story, consider posting it online. I’d started and abandoned three novels before I turned to webfiction. When I finally did, the combination of peer pressure, regular deadlines, and reader interaction gave me the motivation I couldn’t find alone.
How do you keep yourself writing? What would you recommend to those looking to get their butt back in the writing chair?