Well, let’s look on the bright side. At least you have one. Or part of one. Most would-be writers only think about writing a novel, but you’ve actually done it. Sort of. Which is why you’re freaking out right now? As in, “Where do I go from here?” As in, “I’m totally lost!” As in, “Nobody’s going to want to read this steaming mess!”
The first to do is step back. Just stop. You know, the old “If you’re in a hole, stop digging.” But “hole” is a stupid metaphor–you’re not in a “hole” at all, so let’s find a better metaphor. You’re building a house and suddenly you’ve lost the blueprint. Or maybe your never had one? Just a general size and shape and design in mind? That’s fine, too, because there are many ways to build a house, and many ways to write a novel. Accentuating the positive, therefore, is what you need to do. You’ve got some chapters, maybe a whole draft to work with, which is a fine achievement. The next step is get that sucker into publishable shape. Below are few bullet point problems–and some suggestions for solutions:
• Writer’s block. On the one hand, writer’s block may mean a lack of commitment–a dearth of being “all in” on your story. Which could mean the book is not right for you. It’s the wrong novel to be writing at this time in your life. However, there’s got to be a reason why you started in the first place, so let’s not bail on the novel until it’s totally clear that you should give up. As in, hardly ever give up! There are solutions! A simple one is to punch up the plot–add conflict even it seems melodramatic–just to get things moving again. What might seem melodramatic to us probably won’t to the reader who’s just looking for a good, exciting, continuous story. But don’t do any revision right now–remember, you’re taking a break.
• No Direction Home. You’ve got characters but no “through-line”, no end-game, no final destination. Here is doesn’t hurt to look around at basic advice on plotting, perhaps even with movie scripts rather than novels. A basic film script structure has three parts: Setup, Confrontation, Resolution. Each of these has sub-parts, but you start with “opportunity” and move through “complications” and “point of no return”, etc. Does your story at all fit this paradigm? It’s a novel so it doesn’t truly have to, but it should be laid out with such basic parts as Conflict, Crisis, and Resolution, probably in that order unless it’s totally postmodern. But prove the world wrong here–break the rules! Whatever works, yes? In short, you need to start your story with trouble, then make it Trouble with capital T, and then find some way to get your characters out of trouble–a coming together, a break-through, a new place from where your characters began.
But no writing please! Remember: you’re taking a break from your novel, and a well-deserved one!
Which means it’s time for important non-writing things that are still all about your novel. For example, go to a movie. Don’t sit at home and watch Netflix. Actually go to a theater, and sit in the dark before a big screen. Choose a feature that’s in the ballpark of your plot. Say you’re writing a “woman’s novel” of breakup and break-down, then go see Girl On a Train. If you’re writing realism, see realistic movies. If you’re writing sci-fi, see sci-fi films. That seems obvious, but not in your state of mind right now (hey, I’ve been there) you might now think of this. At the movies, you’ll see things in the film that will strike you, jog you, clear your head. If the movie ends up being all about your novel, that’s progress!
Read–but not other novels. How about poetry or nonfiction? Anything to break things loose in your head and get you going again. But for the moment you’re stopped. You’ve taken a step back. And that’s a good thing. For now, salute yourself for “having written.” Which is kind of a joke. Most people like to “have written,” but they hate doing the actual work of writing. That’s not you. You’ve been writing, which means you’re a writer. Writing is messy, but you’re doing it. Congrats!
We’ll talk soon about restarting your novel. I have some tips.