When You’re Stuck: WIP Staying Power

Hi, SEers. Mae here today for my first post of 2021! I hope all of you had a spectacular New Year. Let’s hope 2021 is going to be FAR BETTER than the wretched mess that was 2020.

I’m going to start this post with a question, and it may seem like a strange one given we’re talking about new beginnings, but—how long do you stick with a problem WIP before abandoning it for greener pastures?

We’re all acquainted with the first flush of love for a new project—the excitement of jotting notes, working up character profiles, and choosing our setting. If you’re a plotter, you’ve worked out all, or most of, the details. If you a panster or planster, you have a general idea of where your novel is headed. Either way, you start with a bang like a racehorse bursting from the starting gate.

And… you’re off!

Riderless horse with racing saddle in full gallop

For a time, you write like a speed demon and life is good. Even when you hit your first plot hurdle, the gloss of your WIP only dims slightly. But then—grimace!­—more hurdles pop up, followed by problem scenes, and ultimately, the messy middle. This is the place where some writers abandon their WIP for the one waiting in the wings. Because—let’s face it—there is always another idea ready to slide into place.

I learned long ago that writing isn’t just about creativity. It requires discipline in equal or greater measure. When it comes to problem WIPs, we need staying power. If you’ve hit a snag (especially for the pantsers and plansters out there) how do you rediscover that flush of first love? Below are a few ideas to help you climb from the tree of “stuck.”

Tabby cat meowing, stuck in a leafy treeRead Your Last Scene or Chapter
Reacquaint yourself with what has gone before. Not all of us write every day, and sometimes it can be a week or more between writing sessions. Rereading what you wrote is a good launch point.

Read Your WIP from the Beginning
Odds are you’re at (or close to) the messy middle. That means you have numerous pages and chapters in which to fall in love with your characters and plot all over again.

Have Someone Else Read Your WIP
At this point, you don’t necessarily need critique just excitement, so this could be a friend or a family member. Having someone else jazzed about what you wrote is guaranteed to make you want to get back to work and finish.

Brainstorm 
We do a lot of this on our own, but if you’re stuck, kick around ideas with your CP(s), a friend, or family member. Sometimes just talking out the problem areas opens the gate to clear vision.

Do a Writing Exercise
Engage in something short unrelated to your WIP—a fiction prompt or free writing. Let your muse play outside the restraints of your WIP. Completing a writing project helps you realize what you’re capable of achieving. Consider it an ego boost. Now go back and tackle that WIP!

Have you tried any of these tricks to jumpstart a stalled book? Do you have tricks of your own that you’ve used with success? I’d love to hear what you think about today’s post. Please share below.

Ready, set, go!

Bio box for author, Mae Clair

77 thoughts on “When You’re Stuck: WIP Staying Power

    • Hi, Cynthia! Thanks for popping in to share your thoughts. I’m one of those who rereads too. It does wonders for putting me back into the thick of the story and the mindset of my characters.
      Happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I always start by reading what I last wrote. Often, I’ll find myself end a writing stint when I have no idea what to write next, but after a night (or a week, sometimes, due to the day job), and that critical read-through, I almost invariably find I know exactly what to write next.
    I’ve only given up on two WIPs, one when I was 8 years old (my first attempt at writing a book) and then my next attempt while at Uni, when I realised I was simply writing Star Trek with renamed characters!
    Since then, I’ve completed every book I’ve begun, and I don’t see that changing. I had a wobble with book #2 of my Five Kingdoms series, when I realised that left over plot threads from book #1 were actually going to require some thought and plotting, but I learned to do it, and to trust my subconscious to come up with the necessary ideas.
    I think as I learn about the writing process, I’ve realised I need to know where the plot is going to some degree (I’ve graduated from pantser to plantser), to be able to write quicker, and not disappear off down a blind alley. I don’t ever want to be a detailed plotter, because for me, that takes out much of the enjoyment of writing, but a vague outline really helps.
    On the rare occasion I feel a bit stuck, I head off and write non-fiction, because that requires no creativity but keeps me writing (I have non-fiction books published, and a blog to upkeep). When I find a plotting problem I now discuss it with crit partners, and they have yet to fail me!
    Oh, and Mae, I want to thank you so much for your wonderful review of THE PRINCE’S MAN – you absolutely made my week!

    Like

    • Hi, Debbie! You have quite an impressive record with only ever having abandoned two WIPs. And you attempted your first book at eight? That’s amazing. That’s when I wrote my first short story, but I didn’t write a novel until I was fifteen. (BTW, I loved Stark Trek!)

      I’m like you in that I’ve developed from pantster to planster because I’ve recognized the need to have some idea where the story is going–especially when writing a series, I don’t think I’ll ever become a detailed plotter. It’s just not in me no matter how hard I try. I’ve never written nonfiction, but my day job requires a fair amount of copy writing. Crit partners are great for working out problem areas. And like you, I rely on my subconscious a LOT to figure how problems when I hit a snag.

      I am so glad you liked my review of The Prince’s Man. I finished the Prince’s Son and have posted that as well. I’m looking forward to seeing how everything wraps up in the Prince’s Protege. I’m still catching up, sharing reviews on my blog, but they’ll appear there as well. I love Rustam and Risada!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the new review! Another great one – I’m so glad you are enjoying my world.
        Just so you know, book 3 doesn’t wrap it up – I had to split a story line out of The Prince’s Son as it was ending up at over 200K words, so I turned it into a separate book (never fear, Rustam and Risada still feature). I’m working on the wrap up, book 4, The Prince’s Heir, right now with a release date of later this year.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Mae and a timely topic for me. I’ve been stuck on my WIP for most of 2020 and now it’s like trying to start a car that’s been sitting idle in the garage for several years. The engine just won’t turn over and I’ve found every excuse to stop turning the key. This post gave me some great ideas. Thank you. I’m going to share it over on my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a good topic. I find reading back helps, but forcing myself to write also helps. I’ve only given up on one project. It is noveloid length and has everything going for it. I just don’t like the characters and fell out of love with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you don’t like the characters, I fully get why you fell out of love with it. They’re the heart of everything for me. Who knows…maybe someday you’ll tackle the idea again with a different set of characters. I feel like I never abandon any idea completely.
      Reading back is a HUGE help for me. It’s my number one method to sink into my WIP again. Forced writing is good too. I just wish I did more of it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Mae! I have had to set aside a WIP at 70k into the story, and on rereading it recently I discovered what had been missing, and I know it will need a major rewrite. But I haven’t yet abandoned it completely. When I hit that brick wall almost a year ago, my muse abandoned ship, and I was left floundering around with no real purpose and very little sense of direction. I decided to create a Flash Fiction Prompt on my blog, to force myself to commit to writing a flash fiction story every week. A couple of the shorts caught my muses further attention, and both are currently progressing slowly but surely. The muse has decided to rejoin the party for now. It’s been fascinating reading the comments and discovering how other authors deal with the situation. Thanks again for such an informative post, Mae. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Soooz. Your Flash Fiction Prompts have snagged the attention of my muse as well. I’ve developed several story ideas as a result, one of which is currently competing with an old trunk novel for my next project. Thank you for inspiring so many of us with those.
      I’m delighted to hear you have stories in progress from them as well. I fell in love with several of your flash pieces.

      70K–it must have been so hard to walk away from that. I’m thrilled to hear you discovered what was missing. Even if it does require a major rewrite, you’ve got a great head start. I’m facing the same thing (a major rewrite) with the trunk novel that’s been demanding my attention.

      Thanks so much for sharing. I’m glad you found the post informative and have enjoyed the variety of comments today. It IS interesting see others tackle this problem!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Mae, an interesting question. I have three books that I have never finished writing. The first, There’s no return to sender, is a memoir about my children’s terrible health problems and the far reaching consequences these had on all of our lives, even up until today with this pandemic. I set it aside because it was upsetting me to much to delve into the memories. Another is a sci fi I was quite far with when C-19 hit. It will require a lot of re-writing now to update it for the impact of C-19 and I’ve just lost interest. The last book is a middle school book called Silly Willy goes to England which I still want to finish but it’s in the queue. I like your ideas for getting re-started.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Robbie. I’ve heard a number of authors who work on memoirs say how difficult it can be to write them, and they often have to distance themselves. Given yours involves your children and their health, I can see how it would be doubly hard.
      Regarding the scifi novel, I’m curious….is it possible to ignore COVID-19 in the scope of your fictional world, or is that something that has to be included?
      I’m glad you found my ideas for getting restarted helpful, and I’m wishing you progress on all three books . It took me almost two years to finish my current WIP,. Maybe a few of yours will just take longer than planned 🙂

      Like

  6. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Mae Clair has a wonderful post on Story Empire today, entitled “When You’re Stuck: WIP Staying Power,” and I’m sure it will be of interest to many of you. Check it out to see some of Mae’s ideas, then join the conversation to let others know how you handle this sort of thing. (And of course, don’t forget to share far and wide afterward, too, thanks!) Also, my thanks to Mae, for such a super post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, Mae, and sure to be helpful to many.

    I’m the odd (wo)man out here, in that I never have more than one story in my head at a time. (I think my brain capacity is so miniscule, it won’t allow it! 😀 ) I’m so wrapped up in the story I’m telling, I never even consider any other tales until well after I type “The End.” Maybe because I’m always thinking each book will be the last I want to write. (As if.)

    I DO get bogged down in the middle at times, but not too long, as invariably, my characters tell me where they are heading next. My job, as they see it, is just to write down the story as it happens to them. I definitely have days when I can, shall we say, HEAR them better than on others, so on those days when they ain’t talkin’, I just go do something non-writing related until they speak up loudly enough that I can can’t ignore them. But those other “ideas ready to slide into place?” Nope. They just don’t show up until I finish the current WIP. (And now I’m feeling a bit short-changed about that, too, I must say. 😀 )

    I do think not having a single partially written story is probably not the typical writerly way, and that most will have experienced exactly what you describe. And who knows? Maybe if I keep at it long enough, I will stop plodding along one slow book at a time, and have a stack of other possible tales awaiting my attention, too. In the meantime, I’m passing this along so others can consider how to handle this dilemma. I know they’ll enjoy it. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Marcia, I think the way you write is just fine. It’s actually the way I write, too. It’s just sometimes that WIP sits for quite a while with me until I can get “unstuck.” I did take a detour and write a novella plus a short story while my WIP languished for almost two years, but I did go back and finish it. In my younger days, I was more apt to abandon a WIP. Now, I’m pretty determined that once I start something I finish it.

      I do, however, ALWAYS get a demanding story idea when I’m in the last quarter of my WIP. Never, ever fails. And then I have to put that idea off until I finish. I have two such ideas clamoring for my attention now. At least I’m up to the editing stage on my WIP and the draft is done.

      I wish you happy writing, my friend. I hope your characters do a lot of talking to you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Mae. I never get any good ideas for my “next” projects while I’m working on a current one. (I think that’s what’s known as a one-track mind.) But then, I haven’t been writing very long. If I had years ahead of me, I might eventually start piling up all kinds of story plots. Still, I’ll be very happy to get back to my current WIP, a Riverbend novella, featuring one of the Painter brothers and a relatively “unknown” secondary character. But all I know about what comes after that is that it will feature Rabbit and a new friend. (See, this is why I only buy 2 days’ worth of groceries at a time, too. I just can’t think that far ahead. 😯 Pathetic! )

        I do know I can’t wait to read your next book, and then all the ones you’re already planning ahead for. However you do it, it works!! You rock, my friend! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • A Riverbend novella, AND a Rabbit story? I’d say those will make your fans very happy, including this one 🙂
        I’ll say the same back to you that you said to me–“However you do it, it works!” I’ll be looking forward to your stuff, too!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I start the day’s writing by reading what I wrote the day before. When/if I get stuck, I go back farther than the day before’s writing to really sink into the story. If that doesn’t work, I go back to page one. I never abandon a WIP. Once I put in the time to meticulously plan the novel, I’m in it to win it no matter how much of my blood spills. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, ha! I love the way you describe it, Sue with being in it to win. I have to say that since I started publishing I’ve never abandoned a WIP (with the exception of a disastrous NaNoWriMo in 2019). It’s just taking me longer to finish then before. In my younger days, I often left a project unfinished. One that still haunts me is a 3 book epic fantasy series of which I wrote 2.5 books before abandoning it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Takes me longer now, too, but I’ve got a theory about that. When we first begin our writing journey, we write up a storm. We don’t know what we don’t know. The longer we’re in this biz, the more we know, so any minor flaws pop out like neon signs. Our story sensibilities don’t allow us to push forward when something feels “off.” It’s a good thing, but it can feel like torture at times.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I love that explanation! It’s so true. When I look back, I just wrote and wrote and wrote when I was younger. Now I agonize over every sentence and word. Growth as a writer is great, but it does come with a price, too. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything! 🙂

        Like

  9. These are excellent tips, Mae. Inevitably, every writer will face this at some point. I am dealing with one such dilemma in my current WIP and look forward to talking it out with my critique partners. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. When I first started writing, I ran out of ideas after the first wonderful flush of writing, but instead of tossing the WIP, I finished it as something a lot shorter. That’s why I started plotting. I don’t trust myself to come up with enough ideas while I’m writing. I need all the help I can get to have enough material to come up with a book with no padding. Even then, when I have enough, I get sick of a novel somewhere in the messy middle, and that’s when I usually write a short story about something else:) The only thing that makes me finish the book is discipline, and the joy of just writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I could plot the way you do, Judi. I’ve gotten better—moving from pantser to planster, but it’s so easy to write myself into a corner that way. This past year, I did break from my WIP to write a novella and a short story. That’s something I never did before, and for a while I felt like I was abandoning my WIP but I did eventually work my way back to it.
      I think the messy middle is bane to most writers. That’s where discipline really kicks in.
      I know you have deadlines and contracts to me. I admire the way you can put your nose to the grindstone and “get ‘er done!” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I only abondoned one WIP and it was after 120,000 words. It was so crashingly awful I couldn’t save it. It still sits in the garage in a MS printed form and comes in handy to hold the back door open in a breeze. Your advice is perfect for those times when there are some sticking points that need thought time. I used to write short stories but now find my blog to give me the rest I need to carry on. Excellent post, Mae.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a lot of words to abandon, John. Maybe someday you’ll want to tackle the idea again. I’ve done that with a few of my “doorstops” over time. When originally written, my ideas were good, but the execution was bad.
      When the pandemic hit I really got stuck on my WIP and couldn’t find the motivation to write. It took me a long time to rediscover that flush of first love again.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and my ideas for getting “unstuck.” Blogging is a great addition to the list!

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I’m probably in the minority on this one. I’ve never abandoned a WIP. It may take me a while to get through it, but unlike most writers, I don’t have an overflowing file of ideas to turn to. I tend to get one big idea at a time and stick with it. When I get stuck somewhere, I take a break and let my characters fill me in on where we’re going. Like I said, sometimes it takes too long for them to get back to me, lol. Fantastic post, Mae!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Congratulations, Teri, for never abandoning a WIP. That’s certainly an achievement. I’ve done so with a few (although it has been many years).
      I do think taking a break and letting your characters dance around in your head is a good way to get back on track. I agree that sometimes they’re more talkative than others and occasionally have to be coaxed. 🙂
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

    • HI, Pat. Messy middles are the worst, and the easiest place to get bogged down. You’re definitely doing the right thing by rereading the chapters prior to it. I’m sending you wishes for lots of inspiration and progress!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I write at least five days a week (if not all seven), and I still go back and read prior scenes before beginning work. I’d never remember everything going on otherwise, even with my scene notes (beats, outline, whatever you want to call it) open on the screen. That’s an excellent tip and the one I rely on the most. I’ve also been known to talk over problems with writers I trust. I don’t usually read through the whole document until the first edit, though. I’m more likely to just search out certain scenes that I think will unlock my memory or might solve a problem I’m having.

    I’ve never tried an unrelated writing exercise (though I might work on another project; I always have those). And I never ask people to read my unfinished work in its entirety. (It’s far too long.) Though I’ll share a scene and ask for help. I can see where these can be useful to getting past the messy middle.

    I never really have time to walk away from my work because I’m on tight deadlines, but when I wasn’t, I know walking away for a while, especially to do something else creative (playing music or sketching) or something physical (swimming or walking or yoga) sometimes unlocked my muddled brain.

    I do have to admit to throwing away 42,000 words of a single WIP last year. I also scrapped two outlines that took weeks to develop. Maybe it was 2020. Maybe it was me. But I’m pretty sure they were simply unsalvageable.

    Great post, Mae.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know it had to be excruciating for throw away that many words and the outlines. Sometimes no matter how much you wrangle something, it just doesn’t work (I had that happen with my NaNoWriMo project in 2019).

      I only write on weekends (usually just Sunday) but I always reread my last chapter before I start working. It helps me to settle into the story again.I enjoy doing writing exercises, but will only do them if I’m not actively engaged in my WIP. When I am, and the words our flowing, I’d rather add them there.
      You had a great tip about doing something different……another creative outlet, meditating, exercise, etc. Those are excellent additions to the list, Staci.

      I’m glad you enjoyed today’s post. Wishing you happy writing and all the best for meeting your deadlines!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. My current WIP has been 3 years in the making, and most of that time has been spent avoiding it. Lol! I’m not giving up on it, though. I recently blew the dust of the journal I am using for my notes, and I’m writing again. It’s a story I really want to tell. I’m just struggling with the telling of it. I’m hoping to finish it this year. Fingers crossed. 🙂

    Like

    • Discipline is a huge part of it. When I was younger, I wrote when creativity struck. Now I force myself to write whether I feel like it or not. Sometimes getting words down is excruciating, but I know we all have bad writing days. I guess it comes with the territory, LOL!

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Joan!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a terrific topic, Mae. Your comment about writing being about discipline is so true. As painful as it can be, when writing under contracts there’s no option to abandon the project. All of your tips can be helpful, especially rereading previous pages. Listening to music while working on a jigsaw puzzle works for me also.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jill, my dad used to love doing jigsaw puzzles. I never discovered the knack though I have tried several times. All those colors and pieces just go together for me! But that’s a great tip to add to the list.

      And yes, publishing deadlines don’t give you the luxury of writing only when the words are flowing. I remember my last deadline nearly did me in. Deadlines, are a great teacher, however, when it comes to discipline.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts today!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: When You’re Stuck: WIP Staying Power | Legends of Windemere

  17. What a great topic, Mae, and with great images! My WIP sits patiently on my desktop. I abandoned it a month or so because the story became too real. With all that is going on, I opted for a deep pause. It’s there, I’m here, and time holds us both. I take walks, weather permitting, and simply welcome the nourishment nature provides. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Taking walks and surrounding yourself with nature are excellent ways to rejuvenate the spirit, Gwen. I enjoy doing those as well, and find my creativity falling into place when I do. It doesn’t sound like you’re having a problem making words flow, as much as needing some distance from your project. A deep pause can be ideal when the situation calls for it.. When you’re ready to tackle your WIP again, I wish you happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Great tips and points, Mae. However, I might be careful about who I let read my unfinished WIP because if they’re anything but excited, that will kill it dead for sure, lols.
    Before I started writing my book again after a lengthy break from last year, I sat and re-read the whole thing and–as you said–I realised how much I love it 🙂

    Reblogged this on: https://harmonykent.co.uk/when-youre-stuck-wip-staying-power-story-empire/

    Liked by 3 people

    • Rereading the whole book is an excellent way to recapture the flush of first love for it, Harmony. Especially after a lengthy break. I did that with the WIP I just finished because I stepped away from it for so long.

      You definitely have to be careful who you share unfinished work with. It’s not something I ever do–mostly because I’m a planster and the story may change–but I’ve known several writers who will share with trusted friends or family members. I guess it comes down to comfort level.

      So glad to hear you are back to writing again! Wishing you lots of inspiration and productivity.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. This is a time when so many of us are having problems and not just with our writing. Discipline only helps if you can see a way around the problem, but this rotten virus has robbed most of us of our sanity, never mind our muses. But I know we will continue to try, probably because we must…

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think my muse is self-isolating. I’m completely stuck with one of my works. I have the beginning written, and the end, but have no idea how to get from one to the other. I have a couple of other projects on the go, so I can keep writing, but it’s frustrating. This one has been on the back boiler for over a year.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Never give up! It took me almost two years to finish the WIP I just completed. I’ve never had a project sit that long. It became a vicious cycle—the more I thought about it languishing, the more difficulty I had in picking it back up, but eventually I plowed through the mental block (thank you, NaNoWriMo).

        It’s great that you have other projects to focus on. Sometimes we need a break from a specific project. It sounds like you’re determined to finish yours eventually. Wishing you luck and sending lots of positive energy your way for creativity!

        Liked by 1 person

    • The pandemic sucked the life out of my creativity for months, Jaye. It took NaNoWriMo for me to find the spark again. I’ve never had a WIP languish as long as the one I just finished, During that down time I was not disciplined with my writing. Now that I’ve found my way back, I’m focused again. Fingers crossed that your muse inspires you with fresh ideas, rejuvenation for old ones, and time for writing! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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