BTS008, How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Out of that Writing Slump
BTS008, How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Out of that Writing Slump
I’m super excited to announce that I’ve finally stopped procrastinating and overcome my writing slump. Yay! Before I share seven tips on how to stop procrastinating and get out of that writing slump, I want to share with you a recent experience I had while writing the first draft of my crime thriller novella, Missing.
So, How Long has it Been?
I want you to understand that I’m not being overdramatic. It’s been forty-one days since I last consistently contributed to the word count for my novella, Missing. However, this isn’t the first writing slump I’ve experienced with writing this novella.
I experienced another month-long writing slump between writing act one and act two. The reason for that writing slump was the story hit a little too close to home for me, and it was difficult to write. So, instead of being a professional and continuing to write through the hard writing moments, I gave into the temptation to procrastinate. I’ve fallen into the same habit, again. That’s the truth. There’s no way to make this sound sexy. Writing is hard, and the temptation to give into resistance and get distracted by everything else that’s going on is great.
My Writing Slump Experience
So, where was I in my story before I stopped writing? I had reached scene twenty-four out of a total of forty-three scenes. It’s safe to say that I had gone a little beyond the midpoint of Missing. You could put my writing slump down as a side-effect of reaching the midpoint. This time it wasn’t as easy as getting back in the chair and starting to write.
On Monday evening, I was watching re-runs of the BBC series Merlin on Netflix. As the credits scrolled across the screen for the first season episode, I saw the filming location for Camelot and the Pendragon Castle. I got a little curious and saw that it was located an hour outside of Paris. And, then I watched the next episode and then went to bed. Just a side note, the pre-Roland version of me would not have watched the credits. But, I’m married to someone that cannot get up from a chair until the last line has scrolled up the page.
What Writing Slump?
The next day, I decided to trick myself into writing by listening to my MacBook read back the previous scenes in my novella. I didn’t read through all twenty-three scenes but the last two before I stopped writing. As I was listening, I got the idea of using Chateau de Pierrefonds as a location in my novella, Missing. I wrote a note and then started editing what I had already written.
First, I deleted a scene in my novella, that was really for my benefit. This scene is mentioned from the perspective of another character. So, you get James’ reaction at the start of the story and then in act two you see the other person and see how they felt and reasoning behind their actions. In order to, write the scene in the second act, I needed to write the scene in the first act as it happened.
After that, I started reading and making minor proofreading edits to the previous scenes in Missing. In regards, to the edits, I couldn’t help myself. The read-through helped me to reconnect with my characters and the story. As a result, I created a list of scene notes to help me write the twenty-fourth scene.
The very next day, I repeated the same process. I decided to read through the entire second act of my novella. It was during this session that I realised another scene in the second act was a better midpoint than the original scene. So, I moved the scene to the middle of the story. And, structurally speaking the story makes a bit more sense.
Before I share the before and after wordcounts for Missing. I want to point out, at this time it was more important for me to break the habit of procrastinating and get back into writing. Instead of contributing to my word count in a meaningful way.
So, before the writing slump, my word count was 17,229 words. After, the proofreading edits and deleting filler and crutch words, plus removing a short scene of four hundred words, and writing scenes, the word count is now at a little under eighteen thousand words. Even though this increase to my word count is nothing spectacular, it bears another level of significance. It’s evidence of hours spent improving my novella. I now have a better story than I did forty-one days ago.
My Two Biggest Struggles
Part of the reason why I spent so long in the writing slump was I was too much in my head and asking questions. Yes, I got analytical about it. I kept asking questions. Am I doing too much too soon? Why am I resisting my workload? Is this a symptom of a much-needed vacation? The problem with getting analytical is, it doesn’t get words written and allows me to stay in my head and not on the page.
The second reason is, there is a group of scenes where two of my characters go on a thriller-novel-style treasure hunt, and I had no idea where the characters needed to go. Now, that I’ve found one location, it was easier to get ideas for the rest of the treasure hunt. Thus one writing problem solved.
7 Tips on How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Out of that Writing Slump
So, that’s my very long-winded experience with getting out of a writing slump. Part of the reason why I wanted to share so much detail with you is I wanted you to understand that I get what it’s like to feel stuck and in a writing slump. And secondly, I didn’t just want to create a list of seven tips that I pulled out of the deep crevices of google and share them with you. These tips are first tried and tested by moi. Well, I reverse engineered what I did and put it together in a more concise fashion.
So, let’s dive straight into the seven tips.
Tip # 1 – Read-through What You’ve Already Written
Yes, you need to start with the dreaded read-through. No one likes to hear their work being read out loud, especially by themselves. If you don’t like the sound of your voice as I do, then get your computer to read back the scenes to you. It’s not going to sound perfect, the computer voice will get things wrong, but that’s not the point. The point of the read-through is to re-connect with your characters and the plot.
As you listen to or read the scenes you’ve written, avoid using your critical mind and enjoy the story. Pay attention to the plot and characters. Sure, you will notice mistakes like telling, filtering, and overuse of filler words, but remember why you are doing this. You’re reading or listening to connect. Sure, you could make a few minor edits to make the reading or playback easier but dismiss the other edits unless it’s a major plot hole. You’ll see these same mistakes when you read-through your entire manuscript during the revision phase.
If it’s been way too long since you last contributed to your first draft, then you can’t afford to skip this step. This reading is what made me fall in love with my story, the protagonist, James Lalonde, and the world I created.
Tip # 2 – Create an Outline
If you’re a Pantser, you’re probably rolling your eyes at the sound of those words. However, you need to get a sense of what you’ve written so far. And, this outline will come in handy during the revision phase.
This outline doesn’t have to be a proper fully fledged outline. It’s just a list of scenes that you’ve written so far. You don’t have to get as detailed as the outlines I create in excel. All you need to do is write one or two lines about each scene in your novel. If you’re that way inclined, you might want to add extra columns for your point of view character, location, or scene number. Keep in mind that all you need is a general gist of what has happened in the story so far, so you can figure out where to go from here.
If you already have an outline, go through your manuscript and make any necessary changes to your outline. After that, you need to pay attention to where your story goes from where you stopped writing.
Tip # 3 – Start Small
One of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn in regards to getting back into writing after a slump is lowering my expectations. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of setting my sight on the number of words I have left to write, and setting a deadline and forcing myself to write to that date. When in reality what I needed to do was break the bad writing habit that I had formed. So set yourself a small goal to read-through the previous scene and start writing the next scene. Even, if it’s a few hundred words. Just get back on that writing horse.
Tip # 4 – Write Every Day
When I say write every day, I don’t mean, write five thousand words or even one thousand words. Start out by writing in short writing bursts in your downtime. Spoiler alert, you probably won’t want to do this. The fact is, no one wants to do things in his or her downtime. But, commit to doing it anyway. Bribe yourself or do whatever it takes within reason. Got a spare fifteen minutes? Great, write a small section in your current work in progress. You need to focus on time spent on your novel and not how many words got written that day.
Tip # 5 – Throw Away that Deadline
I realise this tip sounds counterintuitive, but bear with me for a second. Think about what you’re trying to achieve. You’re trying to get back into writing and break the habit you’ve created with the writing slump, not finish your first draft. The goal of finishing your first draft is a goal you should set after you’ve broken the habit of avoiding writing. So, forget about writing and for the next ten days focus on ‘writing’ or contributing to your manuscript each day.
Tip # 6 – Writing Sprints
If you’re struggling to write, then one hour will seem like a long time. So, set yourself a timer of fifteen or twenty minutes and start writing a short beat within a scene. And continue to work in these short increments.
The truth is, writing for fifteen minutes is much easier than writing one thousand words in the next hour. We’ve all heard that saying. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I know that’s cliche, but you need to make getting back into writing as easy as possible.
Tip # 7 – Don’t Write in Order
One of the benefits of having an outline is you don’t have to write in order. If you’re struggling with a scene and feel stuck, then you can skip ahead to another scene and come back at a later time and tackle your initial writing problem. When I was writing the first draft of Immunity, which is the third novel in my James Lalonde series, I felt stuck around the midpoint. What can I say? I’m a slow learner.
One morning after an embarrassingly long writing slump, I started to write the villain’s speech from the Hero at the Mercy of the Villain scene in the climax of the third act. I got so into writing the scene that I sat down at my desk, flipped open my MacBook and continued to write the scene. As a result, I fell in love with that story again and could wait to finish the novel.
I’m sure it was mid-September, and by the end of October, I had finished writing the first draft of Immunity. And, that’s when I got the idea for Silence, which is now the second book in the series. I dived straight into National Novel Writing Month and wrote the first draft.
A Quick Recap
The seven tips on how to stop procrastinating and get out of that writing slump are as follows.
- Read-through what you’ve already written,
- Create an outline,
- Start small,
- Write every day,
- Throw away that deadline,
- Write in sprints,
- And, don’t write in order.
Have you been stuck in a writing slump? Or, have you recently got out of a writing slump? I want to hear from you. Let me know by coming over to the blog post and share your tips or experience with writing slumps.
Thank you for listening, and happy reading and writing, everybody.
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