This post was written by Mez Blume.
Writing is like running in a race. I’m sure you’ve heard that metaphor before. But only when I buckled down to write my first full-length novel did that idea really hit home for me.
It’s no exaggeration or pity party to say that writing isn’t like running a race. It’s like running a marathon. And just like running a marathon (so I’m told), writing a novel stretches you the writer beyond your limitations. I don’t need to tell you, that hurts. Sometimes the pain, the self-doubt, the grueling monotony will make you want to quit.
DON’T GIVE IN!
Countless other writers have been where you are, and I’m here to tell you that if you will stay the course, you will reap the benefits: eventually, you’ll find your rhythm, your voice, and you’ll discover that the limits of your creativity have stretched beyond what you dreamed possible. So read on, be encouraged, and keep writing!
Starting is half the battle won
Most people will never run a marathon. Why? Because they’ll never sign up to one. You’ve got to put on running shoes and step up to the start before you can breach the task of running the race.
That’s where most people fail at the writing business as well. Fear of failure keeps writing that novel in the realm of Someday. We all know in reality, Someday is another word for Never.
But if you are one of the brave few, you’ve already shown up & accepted the challenge to simply start, congratulations! The sheer fact that you are writing–whether you love what you’re writing or not–means you are a writer! It’s the act of writing that sets the Writers apart from the Wanna-be writers. That’s the first hurdle done!
Now there’s a new challenge: Sticking it out to the finish line.
How to keep up your momentum
At first, you and your novel may have enjoyed a ‘honeymoon phase.’ Ideas flowed like milk and honey, your imaginative mind was fired up, and inspiration seemed just to step out and introduce itself at every turn…
But now a little time has past and the word count is getting smaller as your stamina wanes. You fret about sitting down to that sticky scene that seems to go nowhere. You tell yourself through gritted teeth “Why did I sign up to this? I just want to be done with this hateful thing!”
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Every successful writer out there has walked through the valleys before reaching their peaks. Don’t believe me? Pick up a copy of Writers & Artists Handbook and read through the author bios. Successful authors are marathon runners, people who understand that writing requires pacing yourself. Sometimes it’s easy sailing, sure. Other times, every foot forward costs everything you’ve got. It’s not always graceful, not always pretty. You may find yourself utterly stuck in the mud! But pushing through it all, getting to the end no matter the setbacks, that’s what counts.
Every successful writer out there has walked through the valleys before reaching their peaks… Successful authors are marathon runners.
5 Tricks for Getting Unstuck & Back On Track
1. Keep moving, even if you don’t like what you’re writing.
I recently wrote a post about the dance between our brains’ two hemispheres when we’re creating. The key is to tell your critical mind to kindly “shut up!” while you’re writing a first draft. Give your creative mind the space to play, knowing that you can come back & clean up later. Author Jodi Picoult sums this up pretty well:
“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
2. Write a one-liner pitch for your book
The one-line “elevator pitch” is the bare essence of what your book is about. You may be getting stuck because you don’t actually know what it’s about. That’s ok. Take out a blank page and describe your book. Now melt that down to a paragraph, then five sentences, then finally one to two lines. From now on, every time you feel off-track, you can return to that line for clarity. This is your finish line. Are you moving towards it? If not, where did you get off track?
3. Relax, Recharge & Revisit
It’s easy to get worked up by knots in your story. Liken it to cramps in a runner’s legs. If you keep running on a cramp, it will result in an injury. Likewise, if you work yourself into a stressful frenzy over writing, your creativity will suffer.
How to treat “Writer’s Cramp”: Get comfy. Lie back, close your eyes, put on a piece of music that expresses the feel of your story, and try to remember what you loved about that first idea. Take a breather if you need. Go for a walk. Writing is hard work, but it’s not meant to cause a hernia. Know when to step away.
4. Employ the Buddy System
As author/writing coach Jeff Goins argues in his book Real Artists Don’t Starve, the best art is produced in collaboration. Not least because collaboration = accountability. Find one friend to keep you accountable on deadlines & word counts, or simply to listen as you work through your story’s kinks out loud. Don’t run the race alone!
5. BE OPTIMISTIC!
Easier said than done. But if 90% of finishing a marathon happens in your head, I bet 99.9% of writing a novel comes down to how you talk to yourself. Writing can be a lonely job. You have to show up for yourself; become your own coach. Take those negative “I’m never gonna ___” thoughts and choose to think positively. Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for progression.
Writers are not a higher race of beings who produce masterpieces every time they set pen to paper. Writers are simply people who write, no matter the discouragements or the setbacks. So keep your eye on the prize, and stride on (or crawl if you must) with pride. You are on your way to crossing that finish line and joining the ranks of writers on the other side!