One million years ago, when lockdown first started, many people vowed to write that book they’d always intended to write. There is a possibility that some of those people have now reached a stage where that creative energy has waned a little. Or, perhaps, the whole book thing has entirely ground to a halt. For this reason, I thought it might be helpful to offer a troubleshooting guide to help new authors ‘fix’ the problem and complete their pledge. So, come with me. Let’s lift up the hood, and check for the following issues:
- Writer’s block
Writer’s block is often dismissed as a lack of ambition, or passion about a book, or a fear about not producing a brilliant read. In my view, it’s a sign that the author has veered off in the wrong direction. When you get to the point where your brain says ‘I have no idea where to take this,’ go back to the stage where you were happy with it and plot out a new direction.
- Clouded by complexity
If, every time you sit down in front of the PC, you are overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the task and all the various elements that still need to be shoehorned in, you’ve got a problem. You are either incredibly disorganised, or the narrative is too complex, or both. There is a lot of brain power required to juggle multiple characters and plot lines, which does not leave a whole lot of time left for creativity or focusing on the actual writing. Break down the project into smaller parts and, if you have not done so already, write a chapter-by-chapter plan.
- Hit a ‘boring’ bit
You’ve reached the part in the book which is a necessary scene setter, but, boy, it’s dull. Aside from questioning whether you need it at all, you have another option here. Using your chapter-by-chapter plan (see above) you can jump forward to a more interesting chapter and come back to the scene setter once you’ve hit the momentum once more.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with polishing every word to a high shine. We all want our books to be the best they can possibly be. But, if you are spending so long on a sentence, or page, that you never move on, you will inevitably lose your passion about the project. Perfectionism can also stall your writing flow, because you won’t even be able get the words on the page to polish. Here, authors spend so long trying to find the perfect word or expression, nothing gets written at all. Do yourself a favour: make some mistakes. You can go back and polish all you like at the end.
- General wear and tear
It’s not easy to keep going for 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 words or more. We all run out of steam now and again. It is natural. You will get to the point where you doubt whether or not this was a good idea in the first place. Or where you think it is not such a great story after all. Or the flow is not quite as smooth as you’d hope. The thing to remember here is writing a book is a tough endeavour, which is why not everyone manages to do it. It’s easy to become so immersed in the process that you no longer have a clear perspective. Take a break. Spend a few days, or even a week, away from it. When you return, you will see your work with fresh eyes and, all being well, will have a new lease of (writing) life.
- Crowded market
You know that thing, when you buy a white car and thereafter all you can see is a road filled with white cars? It’s the same with books. You’ll be happily writing in a particular genre and, all of a sudden, all you can see is similar books. Social media and the review pages of newspapers and magazines are all talking about your book. Except it is not your book. These are books written by someone else and already gathering sales. This is not the cue to scrap everything. There is plenty of room in the market for books with a similar premise. And they will all be a little bit different. In fact, you could take this groundswell of interest as a good sign: there is a market out there.
There are very few books that are completely ‘unfixable’. If yours has stalled, work through the troubleshooting guide to pinpoint your issue. If you still can’t work out what the problem is, speak to other writers. There is a very lively and supportive writing community on Twitter and elsewhere on internet writing forums, where other authors are usually very willing to give some advice. It really helps to articulate a problem, too, and sometimes just doing so will highlight a workable solution. Most of all, just keep trying to write. Forget about your problems and keep moving forward. By the time you reach the end of the first draft, you’ll realise the problems were not that bad after all. All you need to do now is start polishing.
Teena Lyons writes a regular blog about writing and ghostwriting on www.professionalghost.com