Stuck on Your Novel? Here’s How to Get Moving Again
It’s a familiar situation for most novelists: you get a few chapters in (or if you’re unlucky, a few pages) … and for one reason or another, you find yourself stuck.
Maybe your initial enthusiasm for the project didn’t last.
Maybe you had the first few chapters planned out in a notebook, but now you’re stumped about what comes next.
Maybe you’re disillusioned by the – massive – gap between what you imagined this novel to be and how it’s turning out on paper.
Maybe life got busy for a while, you stopped writing, and now you can’t figure out how to get back into it.
Maybe you have serious doubts about the artistic (or commercial, or both) merits of your project – and you’re worried that, frankly, you’re not much of a writer at all.
I can definitely understand all of those because I’ve been through them too. In fact, with most of my novels, it feels like I spend more time stuck than actually writing.
It’s important, I think, to recognise that it’s normal to find fiction-writing a struggle. It’s a really hard thing to do well, and it can be very difficult to make the time for it when the financial return on hours spent writing is negligible (or non-existent).
So if you’re stuck right now, or if you’ve spent long periods not working on your current project, then please don’t think that this means that there’s something wrong with your novel (or with you as a writer).
Of course, you probably want to get unstuck. Sometimes, that happens more or less by itself – but you can definitely help the process along.
One of the best ways to do that is by writing.
I know that might sound like rather ridiculous advice (“You’re stuck on your novel? Hey, here’s a cool solution … start writing again!”) But hear me out…
Nothing You Write is Wasted
Novels are big, complex, projects – and it’s inevitable that you’ll end up with some false starts, wrong turns, and backtracking along the way.
This can feel frustrating, especially if you have limited time to write. A couple of Fridays ago, I checked into a local hotel for a full afternoon and evening of writing: something that I get to do three or four times a year. I had a great time immersing myself in my novel-in-progress … but by the end of the weekend, I’d figured out that there was a better direction I could go in with this particular section of the plot.
I’ll need to – heavily – rewrite a large chunk of the 7,000 words I produced. And it’s easy to feel like I wasted my time.
But I know (deep down!) that this isn’t true. Without writing the “wrong” words, I’d probably never have had the realisation that will hopefully lead to the “right” ones. I needed to try out one path to see that it wasn’t quite the best fit.
Even if you feel uninspired, even if you don’t know where your plot is going next, even if the words that you’re getting down on the page feel thin and unsubstantial and a million miles away from the richness of the story in your head … you’re still making forward progress with every single word.
Writing Helps You Move Forward
I’ve got a confession to make. Over the past six months or so, I’ve not written much fiction at all.
There have been plenty of good reasons for that (primarily that I’ve more than doubled my freelance work and that I’ve just launched a new blog) – but one of the reasons is because I’ve just felt stuck on this novel.
I’ve been struggling with the plot. I’ve been struggling with whether it’s even worth writing, because I’m concerned it’s just rehashing old ground that I’ve covered before. I’ve been struggling with pinning down the characterisation of a new character.
During those six months, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about my novel. I’ve been pondering different ideas, running over key scenes in my mind, and so on. But it’s only when I actually write – either notes or full-blown draft material – that I ever really make any forward progress.
As I wrote in a guest post for Productive Flourishing last week, it’s all too easy to end up thinking in circles: to go over and over the same ideas, without really moving forward.
The great thing about writing stuff down is that the very process of doing so helps you to put one thought down and move on to the next. With fiction, as I write, I get one idea “finished” and move forward.
I don’t mean to imply that thinking about your work isn’t important, or that ideas can’t come at odd moments away from your desk, or that you can’t get sudden inspiration from a piece of music or a painting or a story you’re reading. But when it comes to getting unstuck, the best way to do so is through writing.
What if You Don’t Feel Like Writing?
Well … I can sympathise! I love writing fiction, but recently, I’ve been feeling pretty drained of words by the time I’ve got all my freelance and non-fiction stuff written.
Sometimes, sitting down to write can feel like yet another chore on an unending list. Maybe you’re reluctant to add “writing” to the burden of things that you should be doing. Maybe you find it very hard to carve out any writing time at all, especially when you don’t even feel like doing it, or you feel guilty about taking time to write when writing is “just a hobby” for you.
I don’t think there’s a magic, easy solution here. One thing that helps me, if I’m in a rut, is to get away from home to write. It’s not always easy to be in a creative mood when there are piles of laundry and dishes waiting!
Even if you can’t get away for long, can you take an hour or two at a cafe over a cup of coffee to write? Can you head to a local library? Can you find a space at home where you’re not likely to be interrupted?
Also … while writing is important, and while it can be hard and draining, it doesn’t have to be that way all the time, especially when your motivation is already low. Could you treat your writing as something to play at – something you can spend an hour having fun with, without worrying about there being any sort of productive result?
If you’re stuck right now – first of all, you have my sympathies! If it helps to reach out in the comments (or by email – firstname.lastname@example.org) to tell me a bit about where you’ve got stuck, please do.
Secondly, can you find some time this week, even if it’s just 20 minutes, to write? You don’t have to work on your novel itself – you could write about your doubts and worries, or you could write something practical like a list of different ways in which you might be able to find extra time for your writing.
Good luck – I’m rooting for you. Your writing matters, as do you.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?
The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.
Hi Ali, Nice to hear from you! You seem to inspire me when I’m stuck!!