Dealing with Procrastination

“How do you deal with procrastination?” I’ve been asked, and I ask them, “Well, what’s your reason for procrastinating?”  Usually I don’t get much of a response except for an indecisive, uncertain answer such as a shrug of the shoulder and, “I don’t know.” In order to tackle procrastination, you must first determine why you do it. It is a means to pass time, but pass time from what? For us writers, usually we’re procrastinating from working on our stories in one way or another. What are some ways and reasons we procrastinate? Here’s a list:

  • Distracted
  • Bored
  • Really just don’t want to do what you have to do
  • Not even sure what you’re supposed to do
  • Don’t know how to do what you’re supposed to do
  • Tired or beyond exhausted
  • Not feeling well
  • Can’t get your thoughts organized
  • Totally unmotivated to do anything
  • Lacking direction
  • Keep getting interrupted
  • Stressed out
  • Health issues
  • Reluctant to write
  • Lacking confidence in your abilities
  • Lack of time
  • Family/friend drama
  • Life issues
  • Have other things you’d rather do

And the list can go on. Now, there is no magic formula how to not procrastinate. Everyone is different, and there is different ways to combat this. Some people are more self-motivated while other people really struggle to get much done. You need to determine what kind of person you are and what your unique struggles are. If you realize you lack self-motivation but really want to change that, you need to start setting realistic goals for yourself. Let’s say you struggle with writing anything in your story, but you want to get better at that. Start by telling yourself to write at least 250-500 words a day. You have no excuses. You can do it. You simply need to make the time to do that. You can ask a friend to hold you accountable, but you don’t want to rely on that individual. You must become independent and self-driven.

As you do this, you will find that this new drive doesn’t only affect how you write, but it also touches upon the rest of your life and how you conduct yourself. You see, it takes time to get something time. If you can measure how much time each project takes, you can manage it accordingly. People have lost the sense of being accountable for how they spend their time. If you’re trying to become more self-motivated, start observing how you spend your time. One way to do this is to take a calendar at the end of the day and write the major things you accomplished during that day or what major things happened to you during that day. Having a blank day makes you feel like you totally wasted all that time, which cannot be redeemed.

Always try to have a short To-Do list every day of things that are within your ability to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be a long list but rather realistic. For instance, today I only have a few things on my list to do. It looks like this:

  1. Write new blog posts
  2. Proof/edit 15 chapters
  3. Post author interview
  4. Go to gym and swim

Of course that’s not including the everyday chores I have to do. These are things totally within the realm of possibility. Yes, the proofing and editing of fifteen chapters can be daunting, and I’m really not looking forward to that, but I did the math. If I do 15 chapters a day, I will have completed the book by Saturday. Once it’s completed, I can send it on to my proofreader and to my editor, and they can begin the process of proofing and editing it themselves. The sooner they get it, the sooner they’ll get it back to me, and the sooner I can publish it. That is the only thing pushing me. I’ve already completed #3 on that list, and I’m currently working on #1. Around 3PM today, I’ll be able to hit the gym. And that is how I’m able to accomplish things on my To-Do list. I don’t list every little thing I need to do (like cooking dinner or cleaning out the cat litter box or feeding the dog), but I list the things that I’d like to accomplish during the day.

So, as you contemplate procrastination, reflect on your life, your motives, and what motivates you. I can’t give you a checklist that will make you more productive. I can’t change who you are—only you can do that, but you can only do that once you realize who you really are, and that takes some self-reflection and being honest with yourself.

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Inspiration, Motivation, and Determination

The funny thing is as I write this I personally lack the inspiration and motivation to do write this post, but I am absolutely determined to get it written, and therefore words are being written. In other words, no one is immune from what I’m about to say in this post.

It is commonly said you must be inspired to write, but then that is debunked by the claim that you don’t need inspiration as long as you have the motivation to write.

Want to know the truth?

Some days you just lack both inspiration and motivation to write anything, and the only thing that will make you write is your pure determination to write. Some people have the determination to write every day. Others have already resolved to complete this chapter or that scene this day, and some people are just plain stubborn and absolutely set on writing something during the day.

When you write, you might not like what you’ve written. You might write something else and also not like that, and then you write something else again, and still not like what you’ve written, and you feel like giving up, but don’t. By simply writing, you’ve accomplished a lot more than those who simply don’t write at all. Yes, sometimes you have to write a whole bunch of what you may think is junk, but here could a gem in the midst of all that which you can only uncover if you write everything else. That gem is then used for inspiration and gives you the motivation to write more, and next thing you know, you are thrilled about what you are writing.

Of course it’s not that simple. There are a whole bunch of factors in life that like to complicate everything, so lets break things down and discuss inspiration, motivation, and determination individually.

Now we’ve already discussed determination a bit, but let me say it simply: determination is your will to write regardless of how you’re feeling and what you encounter during the day. It may be 11:45PM and you still haven’t written, and determination is writing something before 12AM just so in your own mind you can tell yourself you’ve achieved a goal you set yourself, and you can be proud of that.

Motivation is closely linked to determination. This is because your determination is your motive to write. When you are resolved to do something, you set goals, you make a plan, and you can see the end in sight. All you have to do is do the hard work to reach it, and that is where motivation comes in. Determination is the light at the end of the tunnel. Motivation is the train on the tracks heading for that light.

It is so much easier to have motivation when it’s linked with determination as well. Imagine not having a goal in sight, and the only thing you have in your mind is, “Well, I’m a writer, so I know I should write, but…” And you can fill in the blank.

Now sometimes, you have to write even when you’re not motivated to write. This simply means you really don’t feel like writing, and you can think of so many other ways to spend your time, but no, that’s when determination will strap you to the chair and refuse to release you until you’ve done what you set out to do. It’s not easy to sit down and begin typing when you lack motivation, but as you write, you may find that motivation just comes—or maybe it won’t, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction in knowing you’ve written something.

Now let’s discuss inspiration. Inspiration is like the Holy Grail for writers. It often comes when it’s not summoned or expected, yet it demands you drop everything you’re doing (regardless of the time or place) to write. When inspiration hits you, it’s like being struck by literary lightning where you must jolt down everything lest you forget it. However, just as lightning is largely unpredictable and cannot be harvested, so you cannot rest all your dreams of becoming a writer on inspiration. When inspiration comes, USE IT, but don’t depend on it. Like determination, inspiration can produce motivation, but unlike determination, inspiration is undependable. It’s like that friend who never announces when he’s going to stop by for a visit and just shows up at your front door one day, but you don’t mind because this friend is awesome! However, just as abruptly and without forewarning, he has to leave, and nothing you say can or will make him stay, but you’re not worried. You know he’ll be back—eventually. In the meanwhile, you’re stuck with your roommate Determination, and that’s okay. At least he’s dependable.

In other words, while inspiration can motivate you to write, you cannot count on inspiration and depend on it to motivate you because you have no idea when it will strike. You can’t conjure inspiration because then it wouldn’t be inspiration, and you can’t trick yourself into believing that it is. However, you can rely on determination to motivate you to write since that is totally depended on you and whether you will to write.

Leaving Feedback

As writers, we like getting feedback on our stories. We’re excited about the worlds and characters we’ve created, and we can’t wait to share them with others. Many of us love reading other people’s works in order to provide feedback and encouragement, but the way we comment can have different affects on them as writers. Now, to determine the best kind of feedback to give, I presented 30 writers with the following questions:

Imagine you gave someone a piece of your writing (a chapter or so). You did not ask them to proofread or edit or critique you work—merely enjoy it, and you get three kinds of responses:

  1. Awesome! That was totally neat! LOVED IT! Check out my story here:…”
  2. Awesome action! A lot of stuff happening here. It was a bit hard to follow at times since so much was happening. For instance, were there four guards or three? Because I only saw them take down three guards, so what happened to the fourth? Other than that, really epic writing! I chuckled when Rex was shouting at the others, “Stop it! Stop it! You’re shooting the mummies!” “They’re already dead!” “They’re ARTIFACTS!” “Then come out, so we can shoot you without hitting anything else. It’s either you or the dead guys.” “Well, when you put it like that…” That was funny. Can’t wait to read more. And hey, if you’d check out my story, I’d really appreciate it. Would love to hear what you think! Anyway, looking forward to more of your story. Keep writing!”
  3. You forgot a period at the end of the sentence ‘He determined this was going to be a very long afternoon’, and you’re missing a word in this sentence, ‘he didn’t dare look up because the bullets were everywhere.’ Also, the action was too fast and unclear a lot of the time.”

Out of the three which would you prefer to receive, and which one would get you to read the individual’s story?

The results:

No one chose #1.

2/30 people chose #3 as their preference of feedback.

28/30 people chose #2 as the feedback they would want to receive.

Those who chose #2 said they would be more likely to check out the other person’s story based on the comment they left behind. Although several people said they didn’t like the person plugging in their own story.

Those who chose #3 didn’t say much other than the fact that if they were going to look for a proofreader or so, they’d go to that individual.

However though, the comment examples I used above are imperfect. When I conversed with the 30 volunteers of the experiment, a few of them were torn between #2 and #3. They appreciated the specifics provided in #3, but in the end, if they were choosing to forever receive a single kind of feedback based on those three choices, they preferred #2. However, if given the choice, they really wanted a combination of #2 & #3.

Here is what I’ve determined:

If you’re only reading a chapter at a time or so, as you begin the story, find what you like about it—if anything really catches your attention. Focus on that. If something yanks you out of the story, make mention of it, but in the beginning stages of this procedure, don’t focus on every little error—not yet, at least.

Once you’re established an understanding with the author, and they ask you to give more detailed feedback, that’s when you can start looking for more specifics. Also, the courteous thing to do is to send that kind of feedback privately to the author rather than publicly. Would you like someone to publicly point out all the mistakes you’ve made, or would you rather the issues be handled quietly?

Even when you’ve established such an understanding with the writer, be sure to maintain a balance between the negative feedback and the positive feedback. Too much negativity can be draining and discouraging, and that can be devastating to a writer.

Another to keep in mind when it comes to some structures of sentences, the writer might not heed your advice. Don’t take it personally. Don’t think of them as stupid or a failure. They may very well have a precise purpose for that structure which you, being too close to it and viewing it as an editor, don’t see. Their decision might not work with traditional publishers, but they may be self-publishing, and it will work. All you can do is offer advice but then let them make their own decisions. This takes stress off of you.

In the end, remember, you’re not their editor—not unless you two agreed upon that and the author is likely paying you for your services. Otherwise, it isn’t your responsibility.

Now though, there is the aspect of leaving feedback and requesting someone read your own story. What is the best way to do this? Simple: don’t make the request—at least not at first. Rather, be encouraging to the author, allow for conversation to flourish, and then you may politely request they check out your story. Sometimes there simply won’t be a right time for that. However, if someone is leaving you the gracious comments, the kind thing to do is go and investigate their story without them having to make the request. That way you can leave similar positive feedback, and the two of you can encourage one another and slowly build a relationship where you can help one another grow as writers.

In the experiment someone pointed out to me a few things that I think are important to mention: caps lock & shorter sentences make things sound more malicious than intended. Also, using text writing (‘u’ instead of ‘you’, etc) when leaving comments greatly discredits you as a writer. The author, whose story you’re commenting on, will likely not check out your story or look to you for any editorial feedback because it appears that you are lacking the basic fundamentals of writing. I’m not saying you are lacking those, but you’re giving that impression when you use such writing. If you want to be taken seriously, then write in a more professional manner.

What happens if you read a story that is poorly structured, horribly written, and absolutely confusing? Should you be honest and tell the person? Or should you just smile and nod, “That’s nice…”? Well, put yourself in their shoes. How would you like to be approached if your writing was that horrible? Perhaps you should privately contact the individual and hint at some improvements they need to make. Don’t present them with a long list of errors on the outset because that could be overwhelming and so discouraging they may quit as a writer. You may make note of a few things and ask them if they would like some help to improve their writing. If they say ‘yes’, then you can begin helping them. If they’re not interested, leave them be. However, let me warn you, if they accept your help, then be ready to invest a lot of time and energy in their growth. If you don’t have the desire to invest that in the person, you can always point them in the direction of a writing mentor/coach.

Sometimes though, the story is honestly so horrible, and you don’t have the time to even open a conversation with the writer to help them improve, so what’s the best thing to do? Don’t comment. As the common proverb states, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Of course, it is entirely up to you.

Now though, I asked the participants of the survey a second question, and it was this:

What do those comments tell you about the people who wrote them? (shy, confident, encouraging, intimidating, arrogant, etc)

Here is what they said about each person. Disclaimer: this is not based on a real individual. This is the views of multiple people according to the comments. Remember, in this scenario, only a chapter or so was read like on Wattpad where many others have their stories online too, and the author did not ask for proofreading, editing, or critiquing.

Comment #1:

Shy

Advertising

Self-centered

Has agenda

Doesn’t care

Uninvested

Not as helpful

Wants you to read them but not read you

Busy

Encouraging

Narcissistic

Arrogant

Didn’t even read

Bubbly

Fishing

Insecure

Clueless

New reader/writer

Not sure how to write good review

Skims

Not comfortable giving feedback/critique

Not into the story

Rushed

Friend/family

Excited but not well thought-out

Didn’t pay attention

 

Comment #2

Balanced

Approachable

Friendly

Constructive criticism

Positive

Encouraging

Genuinely nice

Honestly attentive

Detailed

Eager to help

Engaged

Interested

Cares

Actual reader

Knowledgeable

Conversational

Heartwarming

A bit vague

Excitable

Confident

Thoughtful

Happy

Practical/useful info

Mature reader

Not overly critical

Not editor

Wants what’s best

Valid criticism

Praised author with specific details

Genuinely interested

Helpful

 

Comment #3

Negative

Arrogant

Nit-picky

Looking for something wrong

Hyper-critical

Perfectionist

Close-minded

Uptight

Stiff

Cold

Terse

Standoffish

Quick, to the point

Confident

Helpful

Task oriented

Bad day

naïve

Unfriendly

Discouraging

No one is good enough

Useful info

Proofreader

Disinterested

Determined to give useful info

Didn’t read but rather analyzed

Editor

Critical thinker

Can’t turn off inner editor

Aggravating

Picky

Not encouraging to helpful in the long run

Bitter critic

Grammar nazi

Critical of each error

Intimidating

Now, some of these may be contradictory, but that’s what happens when you get the opinions of 30 different people. However, this is an overarching view of what people think of those individuals behind the such comments.

So, what kind of feedback do you find yourself leaving? And what impression does that kind of feedback give others? Do you like that impression? If not, change the way you comment. Take a moment to make the extra effort, and everyone will benefit.

Why is it important to leave feedback on others’ writing—especially positive feedback? Because that writer might be going through a difficult time in their life, and they’re extremely discouraged, but one kind remark from a stranger can completely change the outlook of their day. If you become acquainted enough with the writer to help them strengthen their weaknesses, it will definitely impact their life—and yours.

There’s enough cruelty out in the world and on the Internet. Why not try to be a bit of kindness for someone today?

Sharing Others’ Works

Sharing the works of others—it’s the courteous thing to do in order to support one another, but it is one thing to share someone else’s work and another thing to get that writer new readers. So how do you do it? First off, you have multiple platforms on which you can promote others. Any social media outlet (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, etc) offers unique opportunities, but how do you share? What do you say?

Most of the time people simply say, “Read this awesome story!” or there might be a little more like, “Be sure to check out this fantastic fantasy story!” or such. It tends to be short and relatively vague, and it works…sometimes, but personally with me, such blurbs really don’t get my attention. It gives me no motivation to click on the link because it doesn’t speak to me.

However, I ran an experiment. I wrote up two random blurbs for a story and sent them to ten different people. Here is what I sent:

  1. “Hey, you should totally check out this awesome fantasy book! Lots of twists and turns. Very intriguing.”

  2. “Hey, you should totally check out this awesome fantasy book! It has me constantly doubting the motives of each characters, so I don’t trust any of them, but it’s a lot of fun. Plus! There’s a character who ABSOLUTELY reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin from ‘Once Upon a Time’, so if you like that character from that show, you’d like this book.”

(The story I wrote the blurbs about is ‘The Magician: Book One in the Rogue Portal Series by Courtney Herz’ in case anyone was wondering.)

I asked them which one did they prefer better? Which one would likely convince them to check out the story. The results?

7/10 chose #2

2/10 chose #1

1/10 was absolutely indecisive

The people who chose #1 said short was best, but they didn’t really give much more reason other than that.

Those who chose #2 said it was much more personalized, and it spoke to them more individually. The impression they got with #1 was the person was sharing the story only out of obligation—not because they really want to or believed in the story.

One person who chose #2 said if it were an official promotion of a story, they would choose #1 instead, but if it was coming from someone they knew and trusted who was helping out a fellow writer friend and sharing their work in a more informal way, they would choose #2.

And the indecisive person? Still hasn’t given me a reason one way or another.

So what is the verdict?

If you are sharing to help someone out in an informal manner, and if you really want to get that author more readers and help them reach their audience, take an extra moment to craft your message. Find something in the story that truly catches and keeps your attention, something that you find unique because more stories don’t do it (e.g. a vampire that cares for his pet cat even though he’s chasing down possible end-of-the-world threats (this story is ‘Shadows of Glenhill’ by Raven Blackburn on Wattpad)). Don’t make it a long blurb or have too many examples of things you really like in the story. Just one should do. Craft it so it’s more personable.

However, if you are sharing someone’s work in a more formal manner (perhaps as a blog post, or maybe your Facebook Page is about promoting others’ stories), then shorter is better, but still try to make it unique. Don’t settle for, “Great story!” Add something more like #1 had where it said, “…lots of twists and turns. Very intriguing!” —this tells you that the story will be one that will make you think as you try to get ahead of the characters and even the author. Every little bit helps, but keep it short. And, of course, always supply the link where the story may be found.

So, go ahead. Share fellow writers’ works. They may do the same in return, and both of you could be helping out one another. That is what a supportive community is all about.

Determine Your Writing Goals

Schedule your writing. Do I mean select a specific time of day to write? Yes and no. Yes, but only in the case that you can write that way, but no, in case you prefer more flexibility regarding your writing. So what do I mean? There are twelve months in a year. January is almost complete, but what would you like to see yourself accomplish regarding your writing goals in the month of February? What about March? How long does it take you to complete writing the first draft of your novel?

Most people just write. Sure, they have a goal in mind—finish this story and publish it…someday. Then Writer’s Block hits, and it really delays the writing process. However, if you lay your goals out for the year, you’ll have more of an incentive to press on and meet your deadlines. You’ll know if you don’t finish this story by this specific month, then you won’t be able to start on revising and editing it, and if you don’t get through that by this other date, you won’t be able to send out query letters or self-publish your work at the appointed time.

But how do you know when you’ll be finished writing the book? Well, everyone is different. Some people write daily while others don’t. You will have to determine the best way for you to write. The important thing is to set realistic goals and keep them. One way you can do this is by knowing how much you write in certain increments such as the following:

  • How much can you write in 15 minutes?
  • How much can you write in an hour?
  • How long does it take you to complete the first draft of a novel?
  • How long does it take you to revise a draft?
  • How long does it take you to edit a draft?
  • How long does it take you to proofread a draft?
  • How many revisions must you complete before being satisfied with your novel? (This question will likely not have a fixed number because each novel will be different. However, it is still something you should keep in mind.)
  • If you’re seeking traditional publishing or an agent, what is the common waiting time to get a response?
  • If you’re self-publishing and formatting your own work, how long does it take you to format a book?
  • If you’re having other people beta read, proof, or edit your novel, how long does it take them to get back to you?

Now, the answer to every question listed above is subject to change due to numerous circumstances (what you’re working on, who you’re working with, and just plain Real Life getting in the way). Nevertheless, if you can list a tentative answer, it will give you a general idea of how long it’ll take you to reach your goal. With that in mind, you can set your goals.

For example, here are my answers to some of the questions:

How much can you write in 15 minutes? 500 words.

How much can you write in an hour? 2,000 words.

How long does it take you to complete the first draft of a novel? 3-6 months.

How long does it take you to revise a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How long does it take you to edit a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How long does it take you to proofread a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How many revisions must you complete before being satisfied with your novel? (This question will likely not have a fixed number because each novel will be different. However, it is still something you should keep in mind.) At least 5 revisions.

If you’re having other people beta read, proof, or edit your novel, how long does it take them to get back to you? At least two weeks but maybe month.

Knowing this information, I can plot my approach to the writing year. I’m the kind of person who must write daily, and in my mind revision, editing, proofreading, and researching the market doesn’t qualify as ‘writing’. Revision might be the only exception especially if there are major revisions necessary where I have to add an entirely new chapter or section to a chapter. In that case, I am writing. However, with that aside, I like to write in addition to all my other work. Why? So I can constantly have something to publish. In my mind, it looks something like this:

Write Book 1

Write Book 2, revise/edit/proof Book 1

Write Book 3, revise/edit/proof Book 2, publish Book 1

And so forth.

Is this a perfect system? No, because you can’t predict the exact timing of everything, and Real Life just happens, but this is how I work.

In other words, if you really want to become a published author, you have to plan for it. Not only do you have to set the goals, but you also have to determine the necessary steps to reach that goal. Anyone can say, “I want to publish a book one day!” Yet it takes a disciplined writer to say, “I’m going to publish my book at this date, and this is how I’m going to do it…and here’s Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D if Plan A doesn’t work.” So try to plan your writing year.

Also, if you feel as if you’re nowhere near being ready to be published because you’re not confident in your skills handling different elements of writing, it might be a good idea to schedule your year by month and what elements you want to master. For instance, you could say, “In February, I really want to focus on writing good descriptions.” And in March you could say, “I want to focus on dialogue.” Or it could be plot, strong characterization, pacing of a story—whatever you want. Now, not every element requires a month to master it. It may take less than a month or more than a month. You would have to measure the time according to your own pace.

Sometimes a writing mentor can help keep you lay out your goals and keep you on track. If you’re interested in such a mentor, feel free to join my Facebook group and let me know: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AuthorKellyBlanchard/ I mentor writers beyond blog posts and would love to interact with more of my readers and help you reach your writing goals.

Deleted Scene File

I’ve mentioned the Deleted Scene file a few times, but what is it? There is a general rule in writing: NEVER ERASE ANYTHING YOU WROTE! Okay, so yes, this can be broken every now and then, but this rule is mainly focused on paragraphs or scenes you’ve written—or maybe a really cool line. You don’t want to lose it because you did after all put all that time and thought and energy into it to write it, so what do you do?

  • Create New File
  • Name File: Deleted Scenes
  • Create New Document
  • Name Document: Deleted Scenes from _____________ (whatever your current story may be)
  • Select the section set for deletion in your story
  • Copy
  • Paste into the Deleted Scene document
  • Leave it

No need for explanation. No need for formal markings to remind you where that part came from in the story—unless you want to remember those details.

So what do you put in such a file? The writing contained in it is not necessarily bad writing. It’s simply writing that doesn’t quite fit the story. Sure, you might be writing exactly what you planned for that scene, but something just feels awkward. The characters aren’t necessarily picking a fight with you or protesting at all, but they’re inching along hesitantly. It’s like they know something’s wrong, but they can’t quite put their finger on it. They do what they’re supposed to be doing, but they’re hoping you will catch on, halt the process, retrace the steps, and take the story a different direction.

Why even have a deleted scene file? How is it different from all the countless of drafts of your novel? This comes in handy mainly when you’re writing the first draft. The story isn’t unfolding the way you were hoping. You can’t keep this material in the same document because it’s taking the story the wrong direction, but you don’t want to lose what you’ve written because it was good writing. This is when you select all the troublesome material and put it in the deleted scene file. Once it’s moved over there, you can delete it from your original manuscript and resume the course you want to take without feeling terrible for erasing all those words.

Will you ever look back at everything in that file? Probably not. However, it becomes a gold mine for story ideas and times when you find yourself writing a similar scene, and you think to yourself, “I know I wrote this before.” You can find it in that file, adjust it to your story, and save yourself the time of having to rewrite the entire scene from scratch.

You might not call it ‘Deleted Scene File’ but rather something else, and that’s all right. This is basically a catch-all file for orphaned scenes or displaced paragraphs/sentences. Is it a requirement? No, but it is an alternative to absolutely erasing anything you’ve written.

To Finish or Not?

One of my students is a young writer—just beginning to get serious about the craft. She has never finished a story before, but then again she hasn’t written much. However, she already has the impression in her mind, “Finish what you start.” That is an excellent notion, but at times it can be detrimental. Sometimes what you started wasn’t a good idea, or maybe you didn’t think it through before beginning. Sometimes you need to stop and ask yourself if it’s worth it.

If you’re working on something, and you no longer feel any love for it, and you’re writing it out of a sense of duty—stop. The idea isn’t going anywhere. The story won’t write itself, and it also won’t walk away. It’ll still be there—in your ‘unfinished’ file in your computer. Put it in the back burner and let it simmer. Some ideas are like wine—they need to be put in a dark place and left alone for a while to become really good. You might discover later on as you pocket away ideas that a story will come along and use all those great ideas in one impressive story, and it’ll be better than you could have ever imagined.

However, say you have a story in mind—you’ve outlined everything, and you know exactly what you have to do, but you find yourself staring at a scene you really don’t want to write. Maybe it’s a talking scene—not much action, and it’s boring. You’d prefer to skip to the exciting part, but you’re heard the warning against that, so you’re stuck. What do you do? Do you skip or press on through it? If you skip, you’ll only have to write it later, and it still won’t be any more exciting. However, if you press on through this difficult scene knowing what happens next will be an epic scene, you have something to look forward to. It’s like crossing a stream. You want to get on the other side, but first you have to wade through water. You can’t run through it because it’s up to your thighs, so you take one step at a time. As soon as you reach the other side, you can run again. Take it one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, and before you know it the scene will be finished, and you’ll be on your way to that exciting part.

There are times when you’re writing a scene and nothing feels right about it. You just getting discouraged more and more, and you don’t see how it’s going to work out, so pause (not full stop, but pause). Look at the scene and think: is there any other way this scene can unfold? Explore the possibilities, different characters’ POV, maybe change the setting or the approach. Once you get a clearer idea, then copy and paste what you had written and put it in a ‘deleted scene’ file. You never want to absolutely delete something you’ve written because there might be a sentence or a paragraph that you’ve written that you can use later. Once you’re removed the text from your original manuscript, you can now rewrite the scene.

This happens because characters are very stubborn. This is their story you’re showing, and they want you to get it right. If you get any detail wrong, they’ll cringe and wince and then complain and kick and scream. You need to be aware of their discomfort immediately and figure out what the problem is. Once you do that, it will be easier to follow the story, and the characters will behave.

So, if you’re struggling with a story and have genuinely lost all interest in it, let me tell you a secret: you’re not going to like it more once you finish it. On the contrary, you likely won’t want to look at it any time soon—if ever. It’s okay to stop writing a story that no longer captivates you.

Am I encouraging uncompleted stories? No. There will come a part in every story where you won’t want to write it, and you will have to determine if it’s because the story itself has no direction, or if you’re just plain bored with it, or there’s some other interesting idea you would much rather to explore. There are times to press on and write it to completion, and there are times to stop and let the story simmer while you take on another challenge. The dangerous potential with this is writing so much but leaving a trail of unfinished stories, so you will have to challenge yourself to complete something so the sake and satisfaction of completing it.

No matter what, always be writing.