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Writers block. Any advice?

Fraxo
Updated:

Finally managed to put up one of my stories here last year a long time after I started writing.

I have about 30 different stories in varied lenghts and genres, and ideas for at least 30 more. At the start and some days some of the stories almost seemed to take on a life of their own, and some of them almost wrote themselves. Two or maybe three of those stories are getting closer to ending them.

When I sit down to write these days, I often have a read through the story to get the feel of it again. But instead of producing, I find myself changing small things like a word here and there, or maybe write a sentence somewhere in the text. And most of the times, instead of finishing one of my stories, I find myself starting a new one instead.

Have any of you guys got any tip or advice for writing when you seem stuck? Do you just force yourself to start and work your way through it? Does it help to involve an editor this early before the story is completely finsihed to try to get some input?

Thanks

Fraxo

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ernest Bywater

I find I read the story, fine tuning as I go, then when I reach where it currently ends I usually just keep on typing as I write the next scene. However, I don't always have the inspiration to continue that story at that time, so i go to one of the other works in progress and try the same thing there.

NB - the end of each incomplete story file is a set of notes of where the story is going and where it's up to, so i know what to write about, just need the inspiration of how to do the next scene.

Switch Blayde

@Fraxo

When I sit down to write these days, I often have a read through the story to get the feel of it again. But instead of producing, I find myself changing small things like a word here and there, or maybe write a sentence somewhere in the text.


I do it that way. That's why my stories go through so many edits. btw, Ernest Hemingway did it that way too so don't worry.

And most of the times, instead of finishing one of my stories, I find myself starting a new one instead.


You're either bored with the story or don't know where it's going. Not much to do about the former other than put it aside for a while, but if you know the ending before you begin you won't have the latter.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

You're either bored with the story or don't know where it's going. Not much to do about the former other than put it aside for a while, but if you know the ending before you begin you won't have the latter.

As Switch said, if you're unable to make progress with a story, it's time to put it aside. Either the story doesn't fully capture your attention (and thus won't capture the readers' either) or you're taking the story in a direction it doesn't want to go. When that happens, your characters will actually rebel, refusing to perform the acts which you dictate.

Whenever that happens, I go for a long walk, putting the story out of my mind and thinking of nothing in particular other than the work, letting my mind process what's wrong with the story on auto-pilot (i.e. no conscious thought to interrupt it and dictate what's allowed and what isn't). Often, that's enough to break my logjam. If it isn't, I simply shelve the story and move on to more productive endeavors.

The key is just to write. Figure which story fires your imagination, and pour all your energy into that one, rather than wasting your time with the multitude of distractions.

REP

Not disagreeing with the above, but you may want to think about why you seem to be stuck. Could it be that you don't want to end the story? Ending a story seems almost like I'm killing off the characters I created.

Ross at Play

@REP

you may want to think about why you seem to be stuck. Could it be that you don't want to end the story? Ending a story seems almost like I'm killing off the characters I created.

A good point, but a fear of others seeing anything less than perfect seems a more likely explanation to me ... and that is from someone who's never completed anything to the standard I require, and ended up editing for others instead.

Hopefully the feedback received from the first story will convince the author that pretty good is actually very good for this site. A score of 7.15 from 288 votes is very good for anyone's first posted story.

Some percentage of "failures" is to be expected, i.e. ideas for stories that did not really work when actually writing them was attempted. However, a "success rate" of less than 1 in 30 does seem extreme. It does appear you need to pick something and finish it, come what may, as best you can, and then ask others for advice for solving whatever problems are currently preventing your progress.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@REP

Not disagreeing with the above, but you may want to think about why you seem to be stuck. Could it be that you don't want to end the story? Ending a story seems almost like I'm killing off the characters I created.

That might be because you started writing without a clear end point in mind. I've written some lengthy stories (3 to 6 books in excess of 300+ pages each), but I've never had a problem ending a series (often by killing off the character in question, if I felt it was the right thing to do.

If you simply write chapter-by-chapter (I'm guessing) you don't have the sense of a clear and definitive end to the story, and thus the resolution seems ... arbitrary, meaning it could either end or not, rather than the entire story building to a dramatic conclusion as a way of resolving the inherent story conflicts.

That's why many of us here believe in revising stories, so we can modify the story based on what happens within the story. If certain themes aren't fully developed, they get trimmed back or cut out altogether, while we build in insights to the eventual conclusion, so it'll seem natural to readers when they read the story.

I realize many here don't write like that, but it's still important to write with a definite end-point in mind. You can take as long as you want to get there, but the story should at least aim for that finish line so readers will feel satisfied with the conclusion.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

A good point, but a fear of others seeing anything less than perfect seems a more likely explanation to me ... and that is from someone who's never completed anything to the standard I require, and ended up editing for others instead.

Another good reason for the revision process. While most authors dislike going back and changing a 'finished' story, I'd suggest (once it's finished) that you then go back and revise the entire story, developing so it builds to the eventual conclusion (which necessitates the conclusion resolving any story conflicts, so it doesn't seem arbitrary).

However, I can easily understand if, after that much of an investment, you're ready to tackle a completely unrelated project next. :) Readers tend not to reward authors to make minor adjustments to completed stories!

Fraxo
Updated:

Thanks for the input.

Hopefully the feedback received from the first story will convince the author that pretty good is actually very good for this site. A score of 7.15 from 288 votes is very good for anyone's first posted story.


Thanks. Feedback received after this was published was inspiring and made me want to continue writing.

Yes, I'm a perfectionist at heart and want to make it right. (That's also one of the reason it took me so long to finally publish something)

One of the problems I think I have is that the story I was planning to publish next has grown much larger than I thought it would be, and I'm not sure of the direction and goal anymore.

I also realize that there are some parts in the story that doesn't fit or work and I need to figure out what's right for the path here instead of trying to push forward.

As some of you said, a story and especially characters often tend to stake out a path on their own. I think it's time to listen and let it take it's time. :) Maybe let it rest for a while. Have read quite a lot of stories that ends abruptly and seemed forced just to "get-it-done".

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Fraxo

I also realize that there are some parts in the story that doesn't fit or work and I need to figure out what's right for the path here instead of trying to push forward.

Generally, it's best to write while the proverbial iron is hot. Get it out on paper, and then you can reevaluate what 'fits' and what are mere distractions during the revision process.

I've deleted whole chapters, subplots and entire characters from stories, though many here instead do their revisions on a chapter-by-chapter basis (before they know how the entire story plays out). However, even in those cases, they'll typically revise select passages when they realize it doesn't aid the story.

Also, if the story runs long, you can also break it into multiple books. You'll need to be careful, as it's generally better to select unique story conflicts and story objectives (what the story tells the reader), but you're at an excellent point to evaluate that now, before you get any farther into the story which might require backtracking if you change your approach in a subsequent book.

My objection about characters 'taking on a life of their own' is that you need to understand what's at stake and whether it's related to your approach to the story. However, once you've evaluated it and decided how best to resolve it, it's often easy to correct. Often, simply acknowledging an issue in a story is enough to buy you time to develop the story with your readers. They'll know whether something doesn't 'ring true', so letting them know it's a part of the story will get their buy-in and they'll wait to see how it plays out before passing judgment on the story. (That's why beta-readers are so valuable, as they'll often flag story issues you never conceived of.)

From the sounds of it, it sounds like you're on the right track. You're aware of issues and are already considering alternatives, instead of just bullying your way through the story (which is when writer's block truly runs rampant).

The one thing I would caution, though, is starting too many competing stories (was that you, or someone else?) While Ernest does that often, having too many concurrent stories tends to sap your attention and focus, causing you to miss essential issues with a story.

It makes sense to work on multiple stories at a time. That way you can write one while revising or editing another (corrected your editor's corrections), thus keeping your skills fresh. But having too many failing stories is a definite sign it's time to table a few of them. :(

Fraxo

Reaching out for help on this forum produced results. :) Ross at Play kindly offered to help me, and took me under his tutoring wings.

Crumbly Writer had a detailed look at the story I was working on. I am extremely grateful for the time and effort he put in to guide and encourage a new writer such as myself.

I thought I was suffering from writer's block, but CW identified my real problem, essentially my lack of planning for both my story and its characters. I just started writing. My story had some complex relationships and I had no clear plan how they would develop. The story and characters tried to warn me I was heading in the wrong direction. Instead of listening, I pushed on. The story and characters rebelled until it all ground to a full stop.

Note to fellow newbie author's: If your story isn't progressing, you need to pause and analyze why it isn't working. You need some planning before you start. You need to know your story and its characters. What are their goals and motivation? Do you have a plan for where the plot is headed? Then you may give your characters room to explore their emotions in the early chapters. If the plot and its characters are in sync, the story can almost write itself - guiding you along. If not, if you ask them to do something they're uncomfortable with, they'll let you know - your writing will flounder.

Find fellow authors or editors to discuss with, your ideas and how to develop them. It's easier for others to spot mistakes or inconsistencies, than the author, with their head deep in the story. I've also found putting stories aside for a while can help. When I come back to them it's easier to spot elements that need changing.

Finally, a big thank you to Ross for having the patience to read through my oversized drafts, both in length and amount of mistakes, and for answering all my stupid questions time and time again. Thanks also to fellow authors for their input and advice.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Fraxo

Well stated Fraxo. Now you're passing on the advice you're learned from others. That's how knowledge is passed on, not in self-help blogs or by refusing to listen to contrary advice, but by learning from those with direct experience, and by imparting that experience so that you understand it all the more.

Go forth and write the Great American (or whichever nationality) novel, and always be open to questions, answers and assisting others struggling to master this difficult skill.

Replies:   REP
REP
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Now you're passing on the advice you're learned from others.


A friend of mine, who is very religious, sent a story to the group I belong to, and the story sort of fits what you are saying. Any way I think it is a good parable.

A Holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, 'Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.'

The Lord led the holy man to two doors.

He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in.

In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the holy man's mouth water.

The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful. But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.

The Lord said, 'You have seen Hell. They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man's mouth water.

The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

The holy man said, 'I don't understand.

'It is simple,' said the Lord. 'It requires but one skill. You see, they have learned to feed each other.

The greedy think only of themselves.'

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