Mileage varies on what it takes to get a story from conception to the end. Some people need to plot for weeks and weeks and others can start running right out of the gate. Some people, like myself, are consistently inconsistent, but it largely takes me a year or two to have something ready to go. This isn’t problematic as I have dozens of stories in various stages in my head. I’m never going to not have anything to poke at, you know. Unless I just wake up one day and flush everything.
Regardless of how your brain works, it will sometimes freeze up completely. You’ll have a new idea, and it’s going well, and suddenly, you’ll just have no idea what to do. Where to go. What’s happening next! What can you do to get the proverbial wheels spinning again?
The first thing you can do is wait. That’s right. Just wait. I fix problems with stories at the most random times. I fixed “The Puppet Box” by flicking through the ideas on my phone and talking about them (to myself, in my head, like a completely cool and sane person). I fixed problems with “No Rest for the Wicked” by waiting several months and then reading over what I had.
Another thing you can do is talk it out. Sometimes trying to explain the plot to yourself or someone else helps you figure out what’s missing or where you made a wrong turn or whatever the problem is. I fixed problems in “Whisper” by trying to explain the plot to a family member. I fixed problems in “I, Nemesis” in two ways. One, just by talking about the things I didn’t like in the first version and why I didn’t like those things. And two, by blogging about world building, which is a kind of talking. It wasn’t intentional. It just came up, so I went with it.
Do something else for a while. Sometimes when we’re hyper-focused on something, it wears our brain out. When I was in college, the first psychology test I took I got a D on because I studied for hours and exhausted myself. The next times, I simply read over my notes a few days before and filled the rest of the hours with fun stuff like reading. I ended up with a B in the class. It seems counterproductive, but when you give your brain a chance to relax, perhaps by browsing weird hashtags on Instagram, it can work out issues in the background. It will then hit you with a solution when you’re least prepared for it, like in the shower, right after you turn the lights off, or while you’re driving. This has actually never failed to help me.
Puzzles! Puzzles are a great way to distract your brain. In this same vein, shift your focus to another project. It doesn’t have to be another story. It can be guitar. It can be cleaning the house. It can be sewing. Painting. As long as it’s engaging your brain enough to get your mind off the stalled story and it’s something you enjoy. And, should you feel the need, you can totally shift your focus to another story if you want. The only rule here is hands off the problem. 🙂 When I went through a period of time where every single one of my ideas were falling apart, I turned to sewing for a few weeks. Made a really cool costume from scratch, something I wasn’t even aware I was capable of. It was a good confidence builder. ^_^
If you feel so inclined, you can interview your characters. I used to do this a lot with stories that weren’t ready yet. Sometimes the problem is that you don’t know them well enough, so you gather them up in a comfy circle in the brain-cafe and have a chat. This is also a productive way to procrastinate. 😉
Then there is my least favorite option: research. Sometimes we’re stuck because we just don’t have enough information about this thing or another. I don’t tend to attract ideas that need too much research, but this is another productive thing you can do that isn’t drafting. When I was working on “No Rest for the Wicked,” I tracked down a map of the cemetery I mention in the story. I’m not a super accurate person in general, but it was a productive and fun use of my time.
Speaking of, NO REST FOR THE WICKED comes out in less than 30 days!! I guess it’s too late to change my mind and crawl into a hole?