Has this ever happened to you? You’re in the midst of a piece of writing, and you’re trying to maintain your momentum by working on it each day. Then the day comes when you realize you’re stuck. You can’t go on. You sit and stare out the window. You check your email. You get up for that second or third cup of coffee. You play with the cat. You do everything but write. Maybe it’s because you don’t know where to go next with your manuscript, or maybe you just don’t feel like working. Don’t despair. There are things you can do to get yourself and your manuscript back in stride.
You can rewrite a sentence. Often tinkering with a sentence can lead you to tinker with another and another until you find yourself writing new sentences.
You can rewrite dialogue. Take a scene that has dialogue and see if you can use subtext to open up things that you may have not considered. What do your characters talk about to avoid confronting their real issues? How can what they say contain what they really want to say?
You can pressure a character. Our characters always have things they’re trying to keep themselves from doing, or maybe they aren’t even aware of the actions they want to take. Put more pressure on them until they find themselves doing the things they never imagined doing.
You can add description. Find a passage that seems a bit flat or general. What sensory details can you add to more fully immerse you and your readers in that passage? Sometimes our writing grinds to a halt because we’re not fully engaged with its world. Use your senses to make it come alive.
You can read a poem. For prose writers, poetry can often unlock a manuscript. A poem’s language, imagery, or atmosphere can provide a spark of inspiration. Maybe it’s like a call and response. We “hear” the poem, and we want to answer it.
You can work on something else. There’s nothing wrong with laying a piece of writing aside and looking at something else. Maybe you start something new. Maybe you return to another piece that’s been waiting for you. Whatever it takes to keep you in the game.
You can stop. There’s no law that says you have to write. You can take a break from writing altogether. Maybe you need time away to recharge. Remember you’re a person and not a machine. Cast all guilt aside. Pay attention to your life and odds are you’ll eventually return to the writing.
I hope these tips help you with manuscripts that seem to be floundering. Sometimes paying attention to something small like a sentence or a scene can re-engage you and propel your work to its end. Sometimes rest can do the same thing. Whatever your approach, I hope you’ll keep doing the good work.