Uh oh. You write outside the scope of your current outline and don’t know what to do now. Writing is a journey and your characters can drag you off into uncharted territory before you know it. You begin over-analyzing the ramifications of several alternatives to get back on track and can’t decide which is the “right” choice. Or you wrote yourself in a corner and don’t know how to get out of it. So, you’re tempted to throw in the towel and stop writing. But don’t give up yet. Many writers struggle with this at some point! As a CS personality type, I wrestle with analysis paralysis frequently. I am the queen of overthinking.
When Analysis Paralysis Leaves you Spinning Your Wheels
Break Out of the Internal Argument Loop
So you wrote your main character into a deathtrap and aren’t sure how to extricate her short of deus ex machina. However, you can save her skin without resorting to cheap gimmicks that leave a foul after-taste in the reader’s mouth. There are several exercises you could try.
Google It (I’m not kidding)
If you’re feeling especially lucky, you could also do an online search if the problem is easily and succinctly definable. If employing the latter, beware of going down rabbit-holes. Take it from someone who knows: it’s easy to become distracted by all the shiny things on the interwebs.
Ask a few trusted friends what they would do in whatever sticky situation you crafted in your story. This can backfire if there are too many variations, but if there is a consensus, it can make your choice easier. I did this with Wyldling Snare. I was so stuck on keeping certain details mysterious I didn’t know how to make the narrative less convoluted and the ending more satisfying. One of my writer friends made suggestions about resolving a plot point and I ran with it. Now, I believe my book is better, and the changes opened up some interesting possibilities I hadn’t even considered.
Or if you’re part of a moderated social media writers’ group and not overly sensitive, you can try crowd-sourcing for a solution. Be forewarned: this could be a time-waster by generating a lot of silliness and unwarranted negative responses. Or you could strike a gold mine of ideas and make new friends willing to help you on your journey. Perhaps the risk of ridicule is worth the gains; only you can determine this.
Walkie-Talkie to Engage Your Creative Side
Another strategy is to switch things up to escape the perfectionism headspace! Change the venue and/or your medium. Go for a walk. Instead of staring with frustration at the blinking cursor, talk out loud about the problem. You can explore branching avenues in the storyline by treating it as an anecdote. Bust through the floor, ceiling, or wall if the villain cornered your hero and they can’t get to the door. The point is to keep moving the story forward. Record yourself on your audio device or app of choice so you can reference it later. Heck, make a video acting it out if visual media is your jam. You could even post it on TikTok or YouTube after your book is published for the entertainment of your fans. Sharing your writing process and helpful advice with readers and followers can also add value to your author platform.
Rather speak to a real person? Call up, Zoom, or meet with a friend—or your mom; whoever is most supportive—in person. Make sure up front they’re okay with you recording the conversation because you’ll want to go back and take notes when you’re done. Then tell the story to them, focusing on moving the plot along. They can be your sounding board or prompt you when you get stuck.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Let’s say you come up with several ways your character escapes from certain death–or doesn’t. Continue the story from that point. Map out each different scenario and see what happens next. Yes, you’ll end up writing more on the front end, but you’ll save yourself time and trouble in the long run. Perhaps you can repurpose the ideas you don’t use for another book or short story. Or compile a series of “alternate endings” you can share after you publish as a promotion for signing up for your newsletter or an bonus for your current fans and followers.
Let it Sit
Maybe you need a break. Go for a walk. Have fun with friends. Listen to some music. Meditate or pray. Sleep on it. And then, come back to your draft the next day refreshed and energized.
Stuck in the Muck of Self-Editing
You’ve finished that first draft. First, celebrate! This is quite an accomplishment. Now, it’s time to engage in some agonizing torture—I mean, self-editing. You move some scenes around, add a few transitions here and there, remove filter words, and change a handful of phrases to clarify your meaning. Okay… now what? Is it crap? You feel it still isn’t quite right but can’t put your finger on the problem. You don’t know how to improve it, so you sit on it, believing you’ll come back to it later. And then, something comes up and you never get around to it.
Or—if you’re like me—you produce endless, slightly different revisions of the same book and are never satisfied because you’re afraid of either rejection (which deflates our ego) or success (which usually means more work). However, there’s a point where you need to say “enough is enough” and “it is as good as I can make it on my own.” This is when you find outside help and relinquish your darling into the hands of others. If you don’t have a budget for professional developmental editors, then at least find several other writers willing to critique your work. Even those without formal training will point out issues with character development and find things that make little sense. Critiquers can tell you what they liked and didn’t like. As a courtesy, run your manuscript through a basic spelling and grammar check first, if you haven’t already. Most word processors are equipped with that much.
Where do you find other writers to critique your work? Look around for local writer’s groups or join one on social media (#WritingCommunity). This is how I found some of my writer friends… or they found me. Otherwise, there are online writing groups, forums or societies you can join either for free or pay a fee for critiquing services. Some of these are genre-specific, but others are more general, or cater to a certain demographic. All you need to do is look. Seek, find, decide, and then act on it. The point is to keep moving forward to avoid getting stuck again.
I hope my words have helped you. Have a wonderful Memorial Day, everyone!