When Your Work's Not So Much in Progress

If you've been following this blog for awhile, and especially if you are a writer yourself, you'll know that the road to a first draft is not a smooth one. You'll hit bumps, twists, and turns, and sometimes even a dead end.
Things happen, usually because writing time is rarely uninterrupted: your day job gets too demanding, the world needs saving (again), Loki's in Berserker mode and wants you to read his awful WIP, which is so unfocused it brings out the Other Guy and the next thing you know you've leveled a major East coast city. Okay, maybe those last examples don't apply to you, but this situation probably does: you take a (forced) break from writing and no matter how eager you are to get back to your WIP, when you power up that laptop and touch the keyboard you decide that you could use another day off, you know, to rest up and be really ready.
But don't do that. Instead, consider my Top Five Tips for Getting That Draft Back on  Track when you've stalled out.

1. Walk away from it. Literally. 
 The mace is optional, but go for a walk, get your blood flowing and your creative juices should follow suit. I do this a lot and often just a few miles into the walk, I'm hit with such a great idea I have to sprint back home before I lose it. When I'm feeling frustrated by my work, I walk away before the Other Guy comes out and bends my keyboard. 

2. Watch a great movie or read a really good book, not to copy it or to feel bad about your own failure to produce something equally amazing. (I guarantee you that those writers stalled out a few times, too. You're seeing the result of lots of revisions). Watch or read to be inspired.  
 Something in another story could unexpectedly spark an idea or provide the solution to a story problem.  I got the idea for the gamma bomb while reading sci fi. I regret how that turned out, of course, but you can put your inspiration to better use.

3. This one sounds antithetical, but hear me out: work on something else. I always have a few WIPS in various stages of progress: an outline; a first, second, or third draft; vague ideas written on a napkin in the Hulk's illegible scrawl. When I hit a brick wall with one WIP, I turn to another. I know that sounds like a serious case of ADD (worse than Stark's?) or more evidence that overexposure to gamma rays is to be avoided at all costs. I've gone on record saying that Loki's brain is like a bag full of cats because the guy cannot focus, and this plan sounds just as bad, like a sure route to never, ever, ever finishing anything. And it can be if you're not careful. But it works.

There's neuroscience behind it, but I won't bore you with it. (I tried to explain it to Hawkeye once and he just gave me that 500-mile stare he gets sometimes, and when I told Natasha about it, her mouth just formed that grim line that says without words that I have spent way too much time in a lab and not enough in the real world). Suffice to say that switching your brain to a new task, giving it a new problem to solve, actually liberates it so that you end up solving not only the new problem but the original one as well. It takes the pressure off and allows you to find the solution as you focus on something else - and often this happens surprisingly quickly. I'm going to recommend that Stark Industries suggest this to their employees - other companies have implemented it with great success.
 And it's definitely worked for me.

4. To ensure that you never even reach the point of stalling out on your WIP, always be sure that you know exactly where you want it to go next before you quit writing for the day. Never end a writing session without knowing what you'll start with when you open up that word doc again. I've been away from my WIP for over ten days and I sat down to it this morning, rustier than Iron Man in a swimming pool, but because I had a post-it note saying "Meets M in coffee shop" I knew what to do. I didn't let myself stare at that blank screen for too long. Sometimes you just have to power through a writing session, telling yourself that at the end of it, you'll at least have something to work with later. And something is almost always better than nothing, even if it looks pretty bad.

5. Remember these words from one of my favorite writers, Ernest Hemingway:
It makes me feel better to know that Hemingway felt this way too, even after writing so many great novels and short stories. You'll stall out, too, but you will find your way back again.

These are just my top five solutions of many - leave a comment with your own suggestions. And the Hulk wants to add one more:

No matter how frustrated you get, do not smash your laptop or writing device of choice, even if it's a pencil. Try those other suggestions until that urge passes.

Keep your rage on the page, my friends.

Bruce Banner (and Hulk) out. 


  1. I never write the last word when I finish writing for the day. I never finish the last sentence, because it's easier to get going again if I have to finish the last thought I had yesterday rather than think of something new to write. It's never failed me yet!

  2. Great post! I always have to write this short, unorganized list of things that need to happen in the next couple of scenes. Usually as I write unforeseen scenes seem to make their way in too. But that's writing.

    I love that quote by the way. I'll have to write it down.

  3. Great post but I think the "read a book or watch a movie" suggestion is definitely to be avoided for me. If I enjoy it I'll just want to read more and end up in a never ending loop of reading and procrastinating. Not good.