How many new pieces do you start in a year? Can you even answer that question? Or is it too many to count?
In my experience, the number tends to be high. Why? Because creatives ooze great ideas and stories, and starting stories is the fun part of writing. Anything can happen. Creativity soars.
Then, the story hits a plot hole. Or a character doesn’t end up doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Difficulties arise, and it’s much easier to start fresh with a new idea than it is to figure out how to solve the problems of a story that has careened straight into a dead end.
Runners call this “hitting the wall.” It happens when their bodies decide not to run anymore, and the athletes have to push past it in order to get home. Writers don’t necessarily have to push past it. They’re already home. They can just start fresh with a whole new story. Right? The problem with that is that by the end of the year, they’ve started a whole slew of stories, but they’re all unfinished in a story graveyard.
The writer who doesn’t push past the “writing wall” knows how to write amazing beginnings, but they have yet to ever reach a solid middle or end of a piece. This is a problem.
So what do you do when you hit the writing wall? When you seem to have an unsalvageable piece on your hands? You try to salvage it – that’s how you become a better writer. Don’t just throw your piece in the drawer, never to be seen again.
How do you do that? Follow these steps to see if you can save it.
1) Put it in a drawer or a file on your computer but only for TWO weeks!!
Set an alarm on your phone or on your calendar to get it out again after two weeks. Reading it with fresh eyes will often help you figure out the problem.
2) Get another set of eyes on it.
Have a friend or fellow writer read through it and give you feedback. Often, they can see clearly what you cannot.
3) Outline it.
This is especially helpful if you’re one to write without much of a plan in mind. Sit down and actually breakdown your story into its basic structure. Include the major conflicts, turning points, climax, and resolution. Can you re-order, expand, or even cut some of these elements to make your story work?
4) Go back to where you think it started to fall apart.
What can you change there?
5) List your favorite elements from the piece.
Do you love the main character? The setting? The overall plot? Take those pieces and free write for ten minutes without stopping on each of them. This will get your creative juices flowing again in relation to this specific piece.
Think of all of these steps as your writing “practice.” In order to get better at something, we need to practice. We won’t write our best work on our first try, but we also won’t get better if every time we “hit the writing wall” we give up and start on a shiny new project.
Try it now. Open up your drawer or file and find a piece that you tossed away because it wasn’t working for you.
See if you can make it work and share your experience in the comments below. Or, if you come up with another great strategy, share that.