Learning to embrace “slow” writing: Sunday ROW80 check-in

original image by Myndi Shafer, accessed at WANA Commons

original image by Myndi Shafer, accessed at WANA Commons

A few weeks ago, I suddenly found myself stuck on the project I was working on, revisions on a novella. I was, of course, incredibly frustrated with myself for my lack of progress. Now that the wheels are turning, my perspective has changed. I see I actually made quite a bit of progress during that time. It just wasn’t easily measured.

I suspect many writers have these “slow periods,” and that they are, in fact, a healthy part of the writing process. When we’re stuck on one project, there are plenty of ways to keep our momentum:

1.) Read a book about the craft of writing. This can help us understand why we’re stuck and helps us keep growing in our craft.

2.) “Morning pages”: In her book “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron recommends three handwritten pages of free-writing or journaling every morning. These pages allow us to sweep the cobwebs from our minds. I’ve even found some story ideas in mine.

3.) The Ping-Pong method: When I realized I was stuck, I went into planning mode on another story. I did some plotting and some character work for a story I want to work on later this year. That meant I was still working, even if I didn’t have any progress on my WIP to report.

4.) Remember that thinking is part of the process: It’s hard to see thinking as writing, but thinking about our stories is vital to the creative process. Since I’m in revision mode with this story, I was mentally examining my story for weak points. I realized the dialogue needs to be strengthened. I realized the grand finale scene goes too smoothly for the good guys. And I realized there are places in the middle where the tension can be upped. During my so-called slow period, I was in fact mapping out potential solutions in my head. I see now that I came up with some solid solutions over the last few weeks, and now that the wheels are turning again, it’s time to put those ideas into action.

In short, I’ve learned that just because we can’t always measure our progress, that doesn’t mean we’re not making any. These times can serve as a sort of incubator for ideas. When we slow down, we discover solutions and possibilities that might not have occurred to us when we were zooming along. Now, I can approach these times with a sense of gratitude and patience.

ROW80 check-in:

1.) Writing:

  • Goal: To finish the second draft of the novella I finished in Round 1, “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Revised two chapters this week and planned out additional changes.

2.) Read 4 books on the craft/business of writing.

  • 4 of 4 books read. Goal met for this round.

3.) Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. Met for every day except Wednesday.
  • Comment on 3-5 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Goal met.
  • Blog 2 times a week. Goal met.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

When you find yourself spinning your wheels on a story, what do you do? Your comments brighten my day. I’d love to hear from you.

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18 thoughts on “Learning to embrace “slow” writing: Sunday ROW80 check-in

  1. One thing I’ve learned is that if this happens to me, there’s either something I’m missing or something “happening” in my subconscious that I’m not aware of yet. The best thing for me is to just work as I can and then let it be stuck. There are other projects I can move on to for a while, but keep coming back to the thing I’m stuck on periodically and keep running scenes or bits of dialogue through my mind every so often.

    • I think you have a good approach. I prefer to focus on one project until it’s completed, but if I get stuck, working on a new project can help me see my WIP in a fresh way, helping me see solutions I didn’t see before.

    • That’s a great idea! I like the idea of word association games or free-writing to help us envision new possibilities. I never thought about it, but I sometimes jot down lists onto a yellow legal pad, and that does help keep the creative juices flowing. Thanks, Annette!

  2. I do what you do: if I get stuck on something, I move on to something else. I also find that writing the story from another point of view, or change from first person to third, or vice versa.

    Great progress this week!

    • Those are all good ideas, John. I’ve heard other writers say changing the POV of a scene helps them when they’re stuck. Sometimes I’ll skip ahead and work on a scene that occurs later in the story if I’m stuck. That can help me overcome a block. I’m used to working on one project at a time, but I’m finding that working on multiple projects at once just might be the way to go!

    • John,

      Story A Day included a week of varying POV. A suggestion was to rewrite the same story each day – it was amazing the difference it made, just making that one shift. Some of the stories bear very little relation to one another, other than the base incident they involve. It’s a great idea to use this as a means of getting unstuck.

      • I’m on the Story A Day mailing list, and I have the PDF with all the exercises. I would have joined y’all but I was coming off the A to Z Challenge, but I’ll likely do the exercises in the near future. I did SAD last year and it was definitely a positive experience. (August, maybe?)

      • John,

        I know what you mean. I did both, this year, and followed up with JuNoWriMo. Next month, I’ll be doing July CampNaNo…

        It’s been delightful – and exhausting. I’m not sorry – but a part of me is looking forward to August-October, which will be planning and revising months.

        I think doing the exercises in August is a brilliant idea. If you do, I’ll cheer you on!

  3. I am definitely a ping-pong artist. Though even that I try to tamp down in places, or I end up with 10 unfinished projects stuck in some form. I am currently at 4 I think, but only really 2 are serious.

    I also go to the gym with my book in my head. Somehow the 30 minutes with music on the treadmill gives me plenty of free space to think and turn the story over in my head. I often find gym days produce a lot of good work.

    • I’m not a ping-pong artist yet, but I’m trying to be. 🙂

      I bet the gym is a great place to mull over a story and brainstorm solutions to problems that arise during the writing process. I love going for long walks, and I’ve come up with story ideas or scenes while walking. I also like going to the symphony. Classical music is a great inspiration for me, as much as walking is.

      Thanks for stopping by, Andrew!

  4. I love your list of things to do to feed the muse during the slow times. With only 15 minutes or so in the morning, I’m finding my short version of morning pages is helping enormousky to waylay any feelings of frustration. I write about my wip in the writing journal and that seems to gear me up for later in the evening when I might have more time to sit down.

    Pingponging is something I used to do too. Working on one project while dabbling in another seemed to jumpstart the muse.

    So, slow times or not, you’re doing really well with your goals. Have a great week, and thanks for dropping by my blog. 🙂

    • It’s amazing how a simple exercise like the morning pages can really fuel our writing. They keep us writing even when our progress feels slow. The title for my current WIP actually came from my morning pages, so they definitely help me stay productive.

      You’re welcome, Lisa! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I love this post. It’s especially poignant for me because I am coming out of a lull after an intensely creative surge, and the “slow writing” (some of my slowest in quite some time, as a matter of fact), is very fresh in mind.

    I tend to be a wide-angle person with a passion for diverse projects, anyway, so I’ve known for a while that even things as seemingly different as Enterprise fan fiction and primitive shape-shifter fantasy can be connected and feed one another.

    I deeply believe that I have a rhythm to my creativity; something like tides. There are high, low, and slack tides, and I try not to force anything. I’ve come to see that the deepening and widening tends to happen in those “low” places, and that feeds the upswell of the writing “high tide”…and that energy can’t be sustained forever, so there’ll always be the “resting places”, too, where I do things other than writing.

    I think the best thing any of us can do is to know and trust the way we are, and the way we write.

    Soon, I’m off to grab a hot shower, then one more writing session before sleep. Hot water on my head tends to loosen my imagination! =D

    • I think you’re right that we each need to understand our process. There’s an ebb and flow to creativity for many of us.

      I’m coming to realize that even when I don’t have a daily word count, I’m still being creative in other ways–doing character exercises, free-writing in my journal, reading, and other things that fill the well. I’m a big believer in filling the well, actually–that if we don’t do anything to nurture our creative side, we lose touch with it. The “slow writing” suggestions I mentioned in this post are just some of the ways to fill the well.

      Thanks for commenting, Shan Jeniah. 🙂

      • That second paragraph – YES! For me, this time, it was reading a LOT of Trip and T’Pol fan fiction. Some was horrid, some was brilliant, and there was a lot of middle ground. It helped me to connect with what worked and what didn’t, and stirred up lots of ideas while my subconscious simmered with the story I would have been struggling to write if i weren’t reading instead. And, when the dam broke, the words poured out in a flood.

        You may have given me an idea with this post….

  6. Hi, Denise.
    This morning, I really appreciated this post of yours. I’m very much stuck in low gear for my next book. The challenge is that the protagonist is a character completely unlike me. Also, still sore from publishing my last book. I appreciate your suggestions on how to move forward, even when I feel like I’m slogging my way through molasses.

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