Have you started writing a novel, but found yourself stuck somewhere in the middle of the first draft? Even when you have a brilliant idea and characters you love, it’s common to encounter problems once past your opening chapters. From writer’s block, to plot holes, or scenes that are difficult to write, there are always reasons to put down the pen.
But as many authors attest to, the only thing that all published writers have in common is that they all finished writing their book – so here are some of CBC’s best tips on how to deal with these problems and get your first draft done.
1. Don’t be a slave to chronology
Remember, you don’t have to write your story in chronological order or in the order in which the material will ultimately appear in the book. If you’re stuck in the middle (and middles are famously tricky), have a go at writing the ending – it might give you a clue, which will help you when you go back to the middle again.
You can also move back and forth in time when it comes to telling your story – you can skip parts in which nothing interesting or relevant is happening (which can understandably slow your writing down!) in order to get to the next dramatically interesting event, by using a line break or a new chapter to just move straight on.
2. Nothing is wasted
If it feels like you keep writing character descriptions or scenes only to ultimately scrap them, take comfort in the fact that nothing is wasted: even if you end up having to scrap a lot of what you’ve written, it will all have been a part of the process of getting to a full draft that works. And you don’t even need to consign the words you’ve written to the bin – you can always keep them in a separate document. You might just find yourself returning to them at a later point.
3. Keep reading!
You might hear of writers setting other books aside in order to concentrate on what they’re writing. While that works for some, if your writing is feeling a little lifeless, you might find that reading something you love will help you reconnect with that desire to write, and return your writerly ambition to you. Some writers will even curate little ‘libraries’ of the books that inspire them, to dip in and out of while they’re working, for a reminder of what they set out to achieve.
4. Keep your plan handy when the going gets rough
If you’ve reached a moment of crisis, and you’re not sure where to take your story next, remember to refer back to your plan. Planning can be much less exciting than writing (though some people think the opposite!) but these are the moments in which the hours spent with sticky notes will pay off. Our founder and Director Anna Davis has lots more in-depth advice about this on our six-week online Write to the End of Your Novel course in a dedicated ‘Active Planning’ module.
5. Struggling with writer’s block? Do some research
If you find yourself stuck, or struggling with writer’s block, and you’ve got some research to do for your novel that you’ve been putting off, this would be a good time to get stuck into it. You might even find that doing so gives you an idea about how to move on with your story. Research could look like anything from reading a book to taking a trip to one of the locations in your novel.
6. Recognise when you’ve hit the wall – and build up your confidence again
Writing a novel is a marathon, and not a sprint. If you find yourself flagging, try picking up something else that keeps your writing muscles engaged, while also giving you some respite. You could try some writing prompts or exercises, for instance, or try free writing for a while. Or you could use the time to get to know one of your characters better, taking them somewhere in a scene that you’re not planning to include in your novel. You might be surprised what you learn about them.
7. Give yourself a break and let your mind wander
There’s no point sitting in front of a blank screen getting more and more stressed and heaping pressure on yourself – that’s one way not to get the creative juices flowing again. Instead, head out for a walk and let your mind wander as you go. Try not to listen to music or a podcast – in fact, you should probably leave your phone behind, though you could take a notebook with you in case anything occurs to you that you want to jot down. Give yourself a break – just don’t let a break turn into a total halt. Try again at the next opportunity, or try some of the other methods mentioned here.
If you’ve found this useful, you might like to sign up for our Write to the End of Your Novel online course. Designed for writers working on their first draft, this six-week course will help you develop the skills, techniques, and staying power that will get you over the finish line with teaching videos, resources, tasks and a student forum, all hosted on our secure bespoke learning platform.