When your relationship with your manuscript goes stale, try these tips to kickstart that spark.
You’ve stared at the same pages, the same words, for weeks or months. You write one line but end up two lines back. The ideas that excited you and the characters that intrigued you have lost their luster. You feel like your endeavor to write this story is less like a hero’s journey and more like an exercise in futility.
To put it simply, you’ve got writer’s block. It’s hard to admit, but your relationship with your story is suffering and the love you feel for it is waning. You’re not getting out of it what you’re putting into it. It’s not a reciprocal relationship anymore.
Sound like you? Then, you’re in the right place.
To be clear, I don’t have a magic cure. After all, relationships—even relationships between writer and manuscript—take work. But I do have a few ideas to spice things up with your characters, plot, and writing in general.
1. See your characters in a new light.
Sometimes characters carry the story, and sometimes they get lost in the plot. If you are feeling disconnected from your characters, try fleshing them out both literally and figuratively. Take them out for a night on the town, if you will. Remember and reconnect to what made you love these characters in the first place.
Think outside the box. Complete some online personality quizzes the way your characters would. Let me make the case for doing a silly exercise like this. If you are losing connection with your characters, forcing the writing won’t solve the problem. You’ve been staring at the same pages for ages already, right? Doing something fresh and out of the box with your characters will not only rejuvenate you but also your characters.
Make your characters come alive. A fun way to add life is to literally create them. Draw them yourself, pay someone to draw them for you, or make a collage of celebrity faces and the items important to your characters.
See your characters in a new light. If art isn’t your thing, write a short scene about a pivotal moment in one of your characters’ lives before the events of the book. Write a scene from your novel from a different character’s perspective. Or put your characters in a new universe altogether. This is your chance to connect with your characters outside the framework set up in your story. You may learn something new about them–or maybe even your story itself.
2. Get input on your plot.
As the adage goes: love makes you blind. Plot is tricky to revive on your own. You’ve been so enmeshed in your story that you likely feel blind to holes that need filling or plot points that need following up with. Spending time away from your story can help, but I find getting outside feedback to be crucial to a story’s development. Hearing the opinions of those who are unattached and unbiased will make a big difference.
Friends, family, or reading clubs are good places to look for help and an outside perspective. These are the people who have both you and your story’s best interests at heart. You can get great insight from both your literary critic aunt and your friend who hasn’t picked up a book in years. And remember, there’s no such thing as perfect relationship advice; take everything in and make the edits and changes you feel serve your story best.
Professional editors can make a big difference. Editors are trained to not only find the issues and the solutions but also to communicate those solutions to you. Many editors love to engage with and discuss plot points with their authors throughout the editing process. It’s probably the biggest reason why we became editors in the first place. We want to help you get your story published.
If sharing your story with anyone gives you extreme anxiety (don’t worry; we’ve all been there), storyboard your plot. Break up your plot into one-sentence points written on cards and lay your whole story out. (Find a cork board, pins, red string, and a detective’s cap to make this process more exciting.) Seeing the bones of your story laid out in a visual way can be extremely helpful because those problems with plot can be seen much more clearly.
3. Rejuvenate Stale Writing.
When writing becomes a mild to severe form of torture and all your ideas have turned stale, that may be your cue to put down the laptop and turn your focus onto your own needs. Take some time to improve your relationship with yourself and your writing—you can’t expect your manuscript to be your only source of validation.
Take a break from investing your all into your story, and instead invest in yourself for a while. Go on your own adventures outside, take up a new hobby, go to local events and meet new people. The point of this break is to build your confidence and refresh your mind.
Read a new book. If it turns out not to be a great book, you might feel better about your own writing. If it is an amazing book, take some notes. It’s a win-win either way.
When you are ready to write again but still feel some trepidation about returning to your manuscript right away, ease into it by writing something fun and new. I recommend checking out the WritingPrompts subreddit on Reddit. As the name suggests, this subreddit is filled daily with the most random prompts that will definitely challenge your creativity, adaptability, and courage. If you feel up to it, you can post your response to a prompt for everyone to read. You keep your anonymity and receive feedback in return.
As any writer will tell you, writing and finishing a novel is hard, and you often should push through periods of discouragement. But just remember that pushing through that discouragement doesn’t always mean typing through tortuous writing sessions. Instead, try some of the ideas mentioned above to help you rebuild your love of your work and writing in general. It’ll take time, but you’ll be glad you put in the effort.