I bet we've all been there at some point--your novel is just too boring/cliche/unbelievable/plotless/whatever that you feel there's no point in writing it any more.
You loved this story at some point. It was a shiny plot bunny then, and you could just picture it on the shelf at the bookstore.
But now it's lost all its charm, and you dread opening up the document. In fact, most days, you don't open it up at all.
What do you do? Do you give up on the story, and start something new? Do you take a break? Do you force yourself to keep writing, even though you hate it?
I think the answer is different for each writer. Sometimes you're really just burnt out writing-wise, and taking a few days off will clear up any problems. Or maybe you've taken off for too long, and you're having trouble getting back into the routine.
But sometimes, the answer might really be that the story just isn't worth continuing.
Now, before you enthusiastically pump my hand and thank me for giving you permission to ditch your story, there's a few qualifiers. You need to get through the list I have below, and you need to think each item through before moving on.
- Are you really sure your story is boring? Or is there just another "better" story that you want to write?
I won't pretend that I've never had this happen to me. Plenty of times, I'll be about halfway through a rough draft, when I'll get a new story idea--one I'm sure is far better than this story will ever be.
Sometimes, that really is the case. If you started this story spur of the moment, maybe there's just not a lot of good plot to keep the story going. It might really be best to drop this story and work on something else. But be careful--if you start writing that new story idea right away, what's going to keep it from doing the same thing halfway through?
Just make sure to identify the difference between a good story idea, and a "shiny plot bunny." Plot bunnies are not reliable, shiny or otherwise. Develop, develop, develop, until you've gotten down to the core of the story. If it's still worth writing, go for it.
- Have you taken a break from the story?
Try taking a break, if you're stuck. Spend the day with your family, or go somewhere with your friends. Watch a movie. Go for a walk. Do something away from your computer, laptop, or notebook.
If you're just stuck on a story problem that needs to be solved before you can keep going--a very crippling issue; I know this from experience--chances are, just ignoring it for a few days will actually help. Your subconscious will be at work solving the problem while you get a break from your story.
- Have you gone back to writing after the break?
I'm serious. After you're done with your break, sit down and write. Don't just say, "Okay, I've gone for three days without writing this story and I still don't feel like writing it. Goodbye, story!" Of course you're not going to want to write. Imaginations are lazy. When you go for an extended period of time without using it, it's going to be tricky getting back into the swing of writing.
Do it anyway. After your break, spend a few more days writing. If you're still having problems with your writing after a week, maybe it is time to think about moving on.
- Identify what your story is really about. Are you still writing that?
I've had this happen to me very often. I get so caught up in the words, the actions, the scenes, that I forget what the story is about. I have to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember what I'm writing.
What is your story goal? What does your main character want? What about that unnamable feeling you get when you think about your climax? Are you still writing that?
- Is it really a bad story, or do you just have Chapter Seven Syndrome?
Chapter Seven Syndrome is my word for "I'm about two-thirds of the way through the story and I'm very sure that this is the worst thing I've ever written." It's not usually at chapter seven for most people, but when I started writing using a twelve-chapter outline, chapter seven was always where I lost my enthusiasm.
If this is where you're at, take heart--it's a passing phase. Take a day off today, and start writing again tomorrow. Write as much as you can, even if it's awful. Eventually you'll get to a scene you've been wanting to write, and hopefully you'll start enjoying it again.
- Remember the enthusiasm you had for this story when you started. Is there any of that passion still left inside of you?
I've found that writing a little note of encouragement to your future self when you start writing a story is very helpful. Take all of your enthusiasm and passion and love for your story, and write a few paragraphs about how amazing this story is. Go ahead and make it all flattery. Just make it sincere. If you have a good writer friend, ask them to write a little bit of something too. Then hide it all away somewhere, and don't look at it again until you're completely stuck and hating the story.
Can you blow on that ember and relight the fire you had for this story?
- Are you really willing to give up?
It sounds kind of harsh when I say it like that, but it's the truth. By giving up on your novel, you're doing just that--giving up. Are you ready to admit defeat?
If you've gotten this far, and nothing is getting your interest back in your story, maybe it is time to start something new. Something you're truly passionate about, and something you'll see all the way through to completion.
Just make sure you won't burn out halfway through again. Develop, develop, develop. Make sure this is a story you truly love. Make it something you'd want to read, and read again. Daydream about seeing it on a bookshelf, on Amazon.com, on a random review blog, read by somebody you've never met and probably will never meet. Imagine what the cover will look like, and the movie that will be made from it.
Go ahead and dream. That's how we write, isn't it?
Catsi Eceer is an aspiring author of fantasy and dystopian novels. To learn more about her, visit our "About Us" page.
We have currently have a holiday poetry contest open, which you can find here.