Monday, June 29, 2015

Getting Unstuck

I've spent the last few weeks moving forward with my stuck manuscript. I'm usually a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of writer, but since the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results I decided to try a new approach. Instead of just diving in with the umpteenth rewrite, I took a step back and did a little planning--something I almost never do.
I can't believe how much of a difference this approach has made.

Sometimes you have to do a 180 to get a fresh perspective. Do you have a stuck manuscript? Here are a few ideas to help you get back on track. They really worked for me.

Immerse Yourself in Other People's Words.  The best way to get inspiration is to read, read, read. Read classics, read contemporary authors, read non-fiction and poetry. Learn from others. I'll truly never understand writers who don't like to read or who say they avoid reading when they're working (What? You're not working all the time?).  I know I'm reading a great book when it makes me want to run to my computer and write. I love this quote from Lisa See: "Read a thousand books and your words will flow like a river." Amen.

Share Your Work With a Trusted Reader. When you don't know how to move forward with a piece, it's often a good idea to get a fresh perspective from someone who is an avid reader in your particular genre. He doesn't even have to have mad editorial skills to be helpful--the reader's reaction alone can be informative. Which scenes or characters stand out for him? What themes is he picking up? What piqued his attention? Where did it wane?

Write Out a Sketch of Each Character. How well do you know your characters? The more specific you get about each character the easier it's going to be to get to the heart of the story. Knowing your character goes far beyond superficial details. Even though I had a complete manuscript with well-developed characters I still sat down and wrote out everything I knew about them. What I discovered is that throughout the manuscript my characters' motivations and wants were a little cloudier than I thought. It's not enough to know what they're feeling--you have to know what's at stake for them and what they're willing to lose. I'll have more specifics on this in a future post.

Make an Outline. Most writers belong in one of two camps--outliners and wingers. Some need to plan out the entire plot in advance, while others--like me--follow wherever the characters  take them. I've been a longtime proponent of winging it, believing in Robert Frost's assertion "no surprises in the writer, no surprises in the reader" but I'm changing my tune a little bit. I've realized that part of the reason why my story wasn't working was that I'd failed to make some key decisions. The plot was chugging along, but since I didn't know my characters as well as I should have, their actions weren't specific enough. To remedy this problem, I went through the entire manuscript and wrote a summary of what needed to be accomplished in each scene. I also wrote summaries for scenes that appeared to be missing. As I did this, the story became much more focused. Now, as I'm rewriting, I'm able to approach each work day in a more relaxed way because I've already decided what each scene needs.

Keep the Momentum Going by Setting Goals. When you feel ready to tackle your rewrite, set a deadline and tell others about it to hold yourself accountable. I've chosen August 31st as my deadline (with you , dear blog reader, as my witness). In order to stay on track, I've divided the number of days until my deadline by the number of chapters. I need to edit a chapter every three days in order to keep on track. I have written each chapter deadline on my calendar so I know where I stand. Currently, I'm three days ahead of schedule--yay me!

Write Every Day. Until now, I've given myself weekends off. I'll probably go back to that schedule eventually, but right now I can't imagine letting a day go by without doing a little editing. It's been tough with summer break and the kids being home. I have to steal my writing time any way I can. The confidence I'm feeling right now is a brittle, fragile thing. I can't afford to let myself get stuck again.

What do you do to get unstuck?