Slogging Through The Trenches: Maintaining Enthusiasm

Slogging Through The Trenches:
 Maintaining Enthusiasm

By Vicki McElfresh
Young Writers Moderator

©2001, Vicki McElfresh 

Novels, like good wine, need to age a little.  They don't jump onto the computer screen fully formed and perfect.  They aren't written in a couple of hours of spare time.  Once under way, they consume an author's time and energy.  Yet many beginning writers believe writing a novel is simple, and once they discover how much time-consuming, thankless work is involved, they often lose enthusiasm and abandon the project.

Staying excited about a project that grows longer, yet seems to go nowhere, is tough. I have problems doing it, and I suspect every writer struggles at some point.  At these low points, things like ritual burnings and reformatting the hard drive seem like splendid ideas.  Other than supplying instant relief to nagging frustration, neither option is going to get the story written or get the writer past the bad part.  There are other options.

The simplest solution is to walk away.  Let the project sit for a few days, then go back and read over it.  Chances are, a little space will produce a flood of ideas and get the story rolling again.  However, if you sit down and the story still isn't moving, here are some other suggestions.

Have a chat with your main character.   Ask questions.  Find out how he feels about his current situation.  If he's bored, think of some way to liven up the situation.   If he's angry, then find a way to resolve the anger issues.  Talking to your characters helps work out problems without having to stare at the troublesome section of the novel.  If nothing else, you can tell your main character he's ruined your life with his stubborn refusal to behave.  I find this especially effective when I can't seem to get into the minds of my characters.  Once I understand why they aren't cooperating, torturing them with unexpected obstacles is so much easier. And I can always threaten to replace my main character with someone else.

Write something wildly different from your current work in progress.  This works well for me when I want to write, but I can't concentrate on my current work in progress.   If you are writing a fantasy, try writing the sappiest romance possible.  If you are a science fiction writer, try a spoof of your least favorite fantasy novel.   The change of gears will most likely obliterate the block on your writing.  Ideas will come easier.  You'll feel refreshed and excited, simply because you accomplished something.  I usually end up writing humorous short stories. 

Skip the problem section and go on.  I hate doing this one, but sometimes it's the only thing that will work.   When my ideas dry up and I find myself stuck in first gear, I mark my spot with something like, "return to this section at a later date."  Then I move on.  Whenever this happens to me, I've usually lost interest in my current scene and have another in mind for later on.  Getting to the next "candy bar" scene excites me, and just getting the story moving along will make me feel better about my writing.  Unfortunately, my characters don't seem to like this idea.  My gravy scenes are torture for them.  

Keep the writing fun.  This is the most important piece of advice I've ever heard.  If you aren't having fun writing the novel, the reader won't have fun reading it.   If fun means creating odd situations for characters to struggle out of, do it.  If fun means having a weekly chat with the characters, do it.  If fun means drawing a stick figure of a character and throwing darts at it, do it.   No one said writing a novel was easy.   It's often tedious and time consuming, but there is plenty of room for scenes that are a joy to write.

There is no secret formula for maintaining enthusiasm while working on a novel.  Finding a system to keep the creative juices flowing is just like finding the perfect wine vintage.  A little sample here, a taste there, a sniff of a cork somewhere else.  The method varies from writer to writer.   It takes time.  It takes practice.  And most of all, it requires a sense of humor.