This month, we’re writing about how we’ve dealt (and are dealing with) some of our biggest personal writing obstacles. My brain nearly exploded with the possibilities. If there is an obstacle to writing, whether it is the ‘I Have Enough Rejections to Wallpaper My Entire House’ nightmare or ‘Nobody Cares About My Latest Release Because It's Nonfiction’ blues, you can be sure I’ve had it.
After some thought, I, finally, settled on a challenge I’ve heard other writers deal with, too. I call it the Curse of Page 25. It starts when a brilliant idea shakes you awake in the middle of the night. You fly to your computer and begin writing. For the next several days or week, you write maniacally every chance you get, only stopping to cry, “This is genius!” Then, around page 25 or 30, you stop cold. You don’t know where the story should go next. Your ‘brilliant’ idea, suddenly, seems to have fizzled out. Should you stop? Start over? Keep pushing through?
It took me awhile to discover there are many answers to this dilemma. Sometimes, you should stop. Sometimes, you should start over. Sometimes, you should push through. But how do you know when to do what? Since I love food and cooking, let’s measure it out in the kitchen.
Check the Ingredients: If my once-fantastic idea is dissolving in front of me, it may be because I don’t have the right ingredients to create a tasty story. First, I revisit my characters. Do I know who what is driving them? Am I just scratching the surface of who they are? Are clichés weighing things down? Next, I tackle the other ingredients of my novel. Is the plot engaging and well-paced? Is the voice distinctive? Is the first chapter powerful? Am I being too predictable? If any of these areas are weak, I need to do some heavy-duty thinking before pressing on. At this stage, I will often create an outline – just to jump-start things and get me moving forward. The outline helps me gauge where I am, where I’m going, and where I want to end up.
Turn on the Slow-Cooker: Sometimes, I hit a stumbling block because my brain needs time to process what I’ve written and consider where the story should go next. I used to panic and think that if I didn’t hit my quota of words for the day I was dry and would never write again (I do have a flair for the dramatic, which may be why, as a child, my mother nicknamed me Sarah Bernhardt). Now, I find a quiet spot to relax and let my mind wander down all of the paths the story could take. When I find the right road, I know it. Sometimes, it takes a few tries to get it right. This contemplative process can take a few hours, days, or sometimes, weeks.
The Back Burner: If, after thoroughly thinking things through, I can’t see clear to the next section of the story, it’s time to put the idea on the back burner. It doesn’t mean that I can’t or won’t eventually find a solution. Sometimes, I need to admit that I am not ready to write this particular story. At least, not yet. Other times, I must acknowledge that my idea didn’t have a strong enough base to build a book around. Sadly, not every good idea makes a good book.
Talk to the Chef: Often, my biggest problem is moi. Once the initial thrill of the idea has passed and the real work begins, I start doubting myself. I second-guess my choices. I tell myself the idea wasn’t really that brilliant, after all, and that maybe I should quit and come up with a better idea. I have learned to ignore this voice. Bad voice. I force myself to press on and press through the doubts. And sure enough, they slowly fade away. Before long, new, fresh roads stretch out before me and I am glad I stuck with it.
Only you can truly know for sure if your idea has the staying power to last beyond the Curse of Page 25 (or 30, or whatever it is for you). Trust your heart. And don't worry. You won’t run out of ideas. New ideas will always come at you. Your mission is to stay open to them and then choose the ones that really let you cook.
Here’s to serving up your next delicious story!
And please take a moment to comment and share how you handle breaking through your own writing walls. I'd love to know. I'll be in the kitchen, burning something or eating pie or both . . .