Real writers write. Keep on writing. Butt in chair. Just write. Write or Die.
Good advice except when it’s not.
Louise finished the first draft of her novel a year ago. She had it evaluated by a professional editor who told her there wasn’t enough conflict and the stakes were too low for the protagonist. She understood but had no idea what to do about it. She had conceived her story a certain way and couldn’t imagine making big changes in it. So she spent a year revising the writing but left her story untouched.
Norman, a successful psychologist in private practice, was working on a self-help book about an “effortless” way he developed to help people establish new habits. His initial excitement had catapulted him forward. The first two chapters wrote themselves, then he hit a dead end and couldn’t see beyond them. He kept revising the chapters with the hope that eventually he would have a breakthrough. By the time we talked, he was thoroughly discouraged and close to giving up.
ARE YOU MIRED?
Sometimes the most productive thing you can do for your book is to stop writing it.
Here are three common symptoms that signal it may be time to take a break and get a new perspective.
1) You have no energy or excitement anymore when you think about your book.
2) You’re not writing anything new. You keep revising the same section or chapter over and over.
3) You start to question the value of your idea or story.
This is a potentially crisis situation. Without a shift of perspective, self-doubt can easily devolve into a downward spiral of self-judgment, self-blame, and self-loathing.
Years ago, when I couldn’t move my plot forward, my mentor told me to take a break. I had a writing schedule I was committed to—7 to 9 am every day no matter what—and I protested vehemently. It was that schedule that got my first draft created and I was more than reluctant to abandon it, even for a few days. I was afraid that when I returned my desire and even my ability to write would be gone.
My mentor assured me that my book wasn’t going anywhere, that I really couldn’t disconnect from something that was a part of me.
Disengage to Re-engage
What I discovered: The first step to re-engagement is to disconnect fully. If you unplug, you will be surprised at how quickly your mind will clear.
This is hard to do because when you stop “working on your book,” you’re admitting what you don’t want to admit: that you don't know what to do. When I set my novel aside, I felt bad. I felt like a failure. It was hard to see it as a way of inviting in clarity and inspiration because there was nothing to wrestle with, no decision to make. It’s like sitting in the dark with the lights out. It's a very a challenging moment to stay with. It’s easier to keep on revising, deleting, copying and pasting endlessly.
Take the 20,000 Foot View
A wonderful thing happens when you give yourself space. Insights and new ideas show up. Insights love space! However, they’re not too fond of constricted areas and they almost never show up when we’re anxious and full of self-doubt.
When you feel refreshed (you start getting ideas), don’t rush right back to your problem section, chapter or scene. Stay in the Eagle’s view. Reconnect with your vision and purpose so you can see your book differently.
Take some time to appreciate your WHY. What inspired you to write your book initially? Has your reason or motivation changed?
Recall a time when you were on fire and totally connected with the purpose of your book. How did it feel? Then ask: What’s next? What do I need to do now ?
If you’re not sure, try applying what I call the 3-Option Rule. Make a list of three possibilities. You may be surprised what comes to mind.