Guest Editor Mary E. Pearson re: Help! I’ve Hit a Wall!

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I attended a week-long retreat a year ago. I hit a wall and have been lost in confusion about everything: my story and my ability to write. How can I get my confidence back? I seem paralyzed.

Sincerely,

Maureen

Dear Maureen…

I don’t know if misery loves company, but I do want to tell you that this is completely normal for every writer, and it seems to happen at some point with every book. I thought that once I was published that would give me the confidence to boldly move forward in my writing.  Unfortunately that doesn’t happen because every story presents its own unique challenges that can undermine your confidence. In other words, as I’m writing, I still frequently ask myself, What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into now?!  This story is hopeless! It will never make sense. I don’t even know what it’s about! Sound familiar?

I think the worst point is somewhere right around the middle where everything seems to be out of control.  When I get to that crazy spot where I feel like I can’t move forward, I will do all kinds of things to help me keep going, like:

  1. Print it out.
  2. Read and highlight key points or emerging themes.
  3. Force myself to write a one-liner (or several) that seem to describe the book.
  4. Force myself to write a short flap-jacket type synopsis so I can try to understand what the book is about.
  5. Look at emotional questions (inner plot) I have raised. Did I answer too soon and let the steam out of the story? Sometimes it’s simply the last chapter or two where I took a wrong turn and I need to rewrite in order to move forward.
  6. Remind myself it doesn’t have to be perfect in the first draft. Go ahead, Mary, write crap. That’s what revision is for.
  7. Share a partial with friends—every writer needs encouragement. (But be careful about sharing too much too soon. This can derail a lot of writers, especially if the vision for the story is fragile.)
  8. Picture myself a year from now with a finished book. I know the only way I will get there is writing a few words each day.
  9. Trick myself. I sit down to write and tell myself I only have to write ten words and then I can get up and do whatever I want guilt free. TEN. That’s all. But I have to do it every day. It’s amazing how quickly ten little words can grow into a whole page. And then the mind spins during downtime so that your story is always being written. But that daily jolt of writing keeps those ideas spinning.
  10. Reread one of my books about craft. These are like mini-conferences and are a good shot in the arm.
  11. Tell myself I’m just going to hurry and finish this mess so I can move on to something else. But I have to finish it because all my time invested up to that point would be a complete waste.
  12. Banish all the devils sitting on my shoulder whispering all the shoulds and shouldn’ts of writing.  I literally tell myself, “You will never please everyone, so when all is said and done, you damn well better please yourself.  Write the book that YOU want to write!” And I mean it.

I could go on and on with the many ways I’ve invented to help me beat doubt. The point is to keep going, Maureen. You are not alone. Writing is hard, uncertain work and stories have no clear pathways. Don’t beat yourself up when you hit one of those walls. Take a moment to catch your breath and find a way around it.  You can borrow one of my ways or invent your own (I am still inventing new ways) but I know you can do it.  Ten words. . . . It’s like digging a little hole under the wall and before you know it that wall is far behind you.

Best wishes,

Guest Editor for the Day Mary E. Pearson

Author of five award-winning teen novels, including the new The Miles Between

13 Comments

  1. Thanks, Mary. You have given me so many simple, effective ways to get past this…like throwing a wild tropical vine to someone sinking in quicksand…I will hang on and try some of the techniques. I will write the story I want to write for the sake of these sweet and complex characters that live in my heart and head. Thanks. Maureen

  2. This was just the shot in the arm I needed today. Thank you, Mary! This thorough and encouraging reply is wonderful. A craft book I rely on when I am frozen (that is to say, nearly every week) is Art and Fear, by Bayles and Orland. It’s slim and accessible and infinitely inspirational.

  3. This is great validation for me. I’m writing my first YA book and I remember being worried about where the book was going to go, how it was going to end. Continuing to write, just getting words on the page, led to my inner muse doing it’s job. I’m really amazed at how the book turned out. What I worried may be a lame ending, turned out pretty strong. Will someone want to publish it? Only time will tell, but I’m happy and proud of myself that I didn’t give up and I pulled it off–I’ve written a full novel and I don’t think it’s bad–neither do my test readers. Thanks for the confirmation Mary!

  4. Maureen, I’m so glad you’ll be getting back to your story. If your characters speak to your heart they will speak to other hearts as well.

    Kirby, I love Art and Fear too. It’s a classic and encourages me in so many ways.
    ~Mary

  5. What a great variety of tips you’ve shared, something for everyone—thank you so much! One strategy I rely on is “self-talk”, telling myself there’s no hole I’ve dug that I can’t dig out of, and no story problem I can’t solve. After repeatedly hitting myself over the head with that mantra, I now know it’s true! And it works (along with a little help from your friends)!

  6. Thank you so much for the pep talk, because I’ve been feeling the same way. I am at a block too and haven’t heard anything encouraging in awhile. I’m so glad that I read the answer to this question.

  7. Great advice, Mary! I get paralyzed when I’m waiting on something. I know I should be working on my WIP, but I stall and procrastinate. I like the TEN word rule! I also like #10! I’m rereading WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass. 🙂

  8. That’s what sites like this are for: http://www.mind-blitz.com !! Try going on your roof, climb a tree, lock yourself in the closet for half an hour, or just try some fun writing prompts that will jumpstart your creativity. I’ve found, for me, that a brisk walk just as the sun is rising provides the perfect atmosphere for creativity.

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