1. Miller0700
    Offline

    Miller0700 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2016
    Messages:
    578
    Likes Received:
    343
    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA

    How to keep going when you're running on empty

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Miller0700, Aug 22, 2016.

    My biggest problem when it comes to writing. I know most writers say to keep going, but it's hard when you don't have any creative sparks that often gave rise to your particular story. It's not to say you've given up on your goal, it's just that you don't have any nourishment to keep progressing. This is my predicament. I've been in a slump for weeks.
     
  2. Sparky19
    Offline

    Sparky19 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2016
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    California
    I totally understand that feeling. For weeks is brutal. Usually for me its a matter of days. It also might be a sign that you need a break from your current project. Have you tried switching it up to a different story? Even if its just for a break sometimes if I'm stuck with one plot I'll just write one a feel like, even if its a dumb short story that no one will see.

    I don't know if I agree with those that say to just keep going and push through because at least for me that ends me up with a couple of uninspired and forced pages that I usually have to do away with anyways, writing when the well is empty... as Hemingway said, "I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it."

    Also try changing up your setting, it seems weird but I can be stuck at home, just at a total dead end in my plot, then go to a new coffee shop with my laptop, sip a good coffee and people watch for 15 minutes, and suddenly I can write again.

    But if the whole period of being stuck is on one single piece of writing it may be time to reconsider that piece, or the direction its going in. Like your subconscious giving you little hints, because if you aren't inspired to write it your reader generally won't be thrilled to read it.

    Hope some of that helps, and good luck! I know thats a rotten feeling.
     
  3. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,681
    Likes Received:
    2,533
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    Sometimes you need to call timeout. It is helpful to have another creative outlet aside from writing. Mine are music (I'm a drummer) and cooking. Devoting time to these pursuits allows me to rest my writing chops while still being creative. Then, I can come back to my writing with a fresh perspective.

    When I've had difficulties with my writing, it's usually been because I'm not seeing something in the story that my mc should be seeing. Sometimes, this happens because I am trying to impose something on the story apart from what the characters would logically do (such as tidbits I've uncovered in my research that don't relate to the story), and sometimes it's because I've violated my Picnic Table Principle and planned too tightly.
     
    tonguetied, FireWater and minstrel like this.
  4. Sparky19
    Offline

    Sparky19 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2016
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    California
    Ed just out of curiosity what is the Picnic Table principle?
     
  5. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,681
    Likes Received:
    2,533
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    When you build a picnic table (or any piece of furniture), you leave all the nuts and bolts loose until everything is in place, then you tighten everything at once. Same with outlining.
     
    123456789, Sack-a-Doo! and Sparky19 like this.
  6. FireWater
    Offline

    FireWater Active Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2016
    Messages:
    248
    Likes Received:
    139
    Can you elaborate on what this specifically translates to from a writing/plotting perspective? I think it would be helpful to a lot of us.

    I understand that the general gist here is "you can't be too uptight," but would love to hear the more specific insights on the furniture-building metaphor and how it works.

    Like, in writing, if you leave most of the things loose, you might end up creating these huge random tangents that turn out to not fit into the main story at all, or similar. But also, if you're too uptight, you may end up imposing on the story as you said. So how do you create the proper balance in order to not lose steam?

    I'm having a similar problem as the OP.
     
  7. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,681
    Likes Received:
    2,533
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    My picnic table analogy refers to planning/outlining. In the course of writing your story, the flow of events will lead you to discover aspects of your characters that hadn't occurred to you when you first conceived of the character. At the same time, the newly discovered nuances in your characters will impact the flow of the story, either through new subplots or unanticipated directions of the story itself. If you have begun with a highly detailed, minutely planned outline and/or detailed character sketches, you will find it very difficult to incorporate these discovered changes in story and character into your writing unless you ditch the outline and sketches. So, it's better to begin with a very basic idea of the story and only roughly sketched characters, so that you can comfortably adjust as new ideas occur to you over the course of the writing. Just as, when building a picnic table, it is best not to tighten the first nuts and bolts too tightly before the rest of the table is assembled, because it will make it difficult to fit the last pieces of the assembly together.

    In the novel I am currently pitching - a historical spanning 500 years - I began with a detailed historical timeline and a corresponding detailed fictional timeline. When I got into the actual writing, and even moreso when editing, I trashed a great deal of the fictional outline because adhering too tightly to it strangled my characters and inhibited my story.

    I hope this helps.
     
  8. Caveriver
    Offline

    Caveriver Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2016
    Messages:
    124
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    Missouri
    It really may not be the healthiest way to handle this situatuation, but I simply can't "muscle through" a dry spell. I've done it before, and the result is always garbage. Many say that's ok... that's it better to write garbage than nothing, and the trash can always be taken out later. That may very well be. For me though... it's just been more and more crap until I take a break from it completely, and come back when things feel right again (or some new ideas come to me, whether as a result of editing past pages, or finding a fresh idea elsewhere). In the mean time, I'll read, or do my art thing, and spend a lot of time thinking about my characters/story line. This is probably also what makes me such a slow writer, but it's what works for me.
     
  9. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,681
    Likes Received:
    2,533
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    If by "muscling through", you mean simply writing on, even if the results are unsatisfactory, I completely agree. I think it's much better to stop and understand what isn't working. Go back and read through what you've written so far. Do things flow logically? Believably? Are you trying to force an agenda on your writing? Adhering to a predetermined plan that's inhibiting your writing? Forcing a "message"? Focusing on being "literary" rather than telling a good story?
     
    Caveriver likes this.
  10. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    It's a horrible feeling, for sure. Having the desire and urge to write, but not the inspiration or ideas.

    Thing is you will do what you do. You'll either force it (not always helpful as you've already discovered), or you'll take a break. Whichever you choose you've just got to ride it out. You'll be depressed and beat yourself up if you're anything like me, but what happens happens.

    The next time this happens to me, I've promised myself I'm going to try something. Try it yourself now, see what happens. I'm going to forget about my WiP and open a new document. Then I'm just going to let fly with complete abandonment. Free of the constraints imposed by your current characters and plot, you may just find the cog's loosening up.

    There may be other answers and methods which fix this problem, but I'm yet to find any.
     
  11. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,586
    Likes Received:
    5,072
    If the tank is empty, take some time to fill the tank.

    Read something in a style or genre you don't usually read. Watch a movie in the genre of your book and try to get really caught up in the characters and events. Listen to evocative music, look at beautiful art... whatever.

    If you're more of an extrovert (certainly a challenge for a writer) try to meet with some people who are excited about the same things you get excited about, and get excited! Bounce ideas around, talk about favourite books... I don't know, do whatever extroverts do when they're being extroverted!

    Feed your imagination.
     
  12. Sack-a-Doo!
    Offline

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2015
    Messages:
    2,231
    Likes Received:
    1,511
    Location:
    [unspecified]
    That's where outlining and planning come in handy. That's what gets me in the chair when creative sparks refuse to do so.
     
  13. big soft moose
    Online

    big soft moose Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2016
    Messages:
    1,314
    Likes Received:
    930
    Personally I don't believe in forcing it - if its not working its not working and 'muscling through' will - for me at least - result in writing a load of crap.

    if the novel isnt working I either take a complete break or go write something else - short stories / flash/ non fiction or whatever , quite often i then find that what i'm writing can then become part of the novel (or part of the ideas file for the future)

    Also in my case the metaphorical 'empty tank' can often be linked to a litteral empty tank in terms of not getting enough food, water, sleep , coffee .... laudnum (no not really) etc
     
    I.A. By the Barn likes this.
  14. FireWater
    Offline

    FireWater Active Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2016
    Messages:
    248
    Likes Received:
    139
    Hi Ed,

    I'm really glad you made these posts, because it really helps me diagnose the problem I've been having with my own WIP.

    In my book, my first 4 chapters of setup are great. I have areas marked for revision, but that's for smaller detail -- on the large scale, I can read over the printout and be generally pumped and excited about what I've created and where it can go. I'm very proud of these first 4 chapters, excited about the world I've built, the mysteries I've set up are intriguing, etc. If I were a reader, I would be hooked on my first 4 chapters.

    But after the "turning point" so to speak, once the big "adventure" has launched, I find that I'm less into writing at that point. Which is a paradox, because the landscapes and encounters and plot-related things are even more interesting from this point on. But I find that I feel like I'm sort of forcing myself to write, and it's not that fun to me, like I'm making myself write a thesis or something. It ends up being exactly what Sparky19 posted.

    I did some reflection on the problem, and I think it really boils down to not caring about the other characters as people. It kind of feels like they're chess pieces or something and I'm just hauling them along.

    How do you create the nuances of the characters that impact the story, without writing the novel twice? Are there other exercises to make you care about your characters as people, and also figure out things about them that would help drive the story?
     
  15. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,681
    Likes Received:
    2,533
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    I don't think it's a matter of exercises. I think you have to think of them as people. And it takes time to get to know them. If you think about it, when you meet a new friend, you don't know them instantly. It takes time. You need to see them in different situations, how they react. Over time, you get to know what their values are; what their quirks are; what they like and what they don't like. Same with characters. You don't know everything about them when you start your story, but as the story evolves, you fill in the blanks, both for you and the reader. You show how the events of the story change them. How specific scenes change them. Also, how they impact the events of the story.

    In his book Story Trumps Structure, Steven James calls this process "organic writing".
     
  16. MarcT
    Offline

    MarcT Member

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2016
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    57
    Location:
    Buenos Aires, Argentina.
    This one sentence jumps off the page and demands attention because telling a good story is not only interesting to read, it's even more interesting to write.
    That's the aspect of writing that keeps me going and more so in my current book and as Ed says, the characters become three dimensional as the story develops.
    If I'm bogged down and feel as if I've hit a brick wall, I look at the characters again and ask myself if they have shape and personality. Are they likeable? Do I want them to be likeable? etc etc
    Like others, I've gone for weeks on end without writing and more recently returned with a vengeance by putting my mind in the world that the main character inhabits and asking myself 'What would he do, given this/that situation?'
    Mind you, what I'm currently writing is parody, so there's plenty of scope.
     
  17. Cave Troll
    Online

    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    3,764
    Likes Received:
    2,396
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    I like to find all sorts of things to rekindle the flame. One is learning new stuff, even if it is random. Sometimes those new things help you to better be able to apply nuance to better flesh out a character. Or I draw or doodle. Take the sticks out for a good set, and good cardio. Watch shows and movies that are entertaining and let me not have to overwork my own creativity for a while. And I get short bursts when it comes down to it, writing a page or two at a time. Sometimes it is every few days up to a week or more before I get the words on the page. Not an easy feat all the time.
     
  18. tonguetied
    Offline

    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 23, 2014
    Messages:
    547
    Likes Received:
    218
    Location:
    Near Atlanta
    While I agree with all the suggestions posted I wonder if there is also an alternative? What if you take a short detour and write your characters and story in a way you didn't want it to go for example. Could that allow you to refocus on what or why you had your story written the way it is written so you can continue with what you originally planned. Sort of a step back to see the big picture. Of course you might stumble upon a different direction that has more appeal which is fine too I would think.

    Sit at the wobbly picnic table and think: dig deeper.

    BTW I have it on good authority* that Ed builds all his picnic tables with peg and tenon joints, self tightening with a wooden mallet.

    * okay just my imagination, I do have a few screws loose
     
  19. big soft moose
    Online

    big soft moose Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2016
    Messages:
    1,314
    Likes Received:
    930
    Thats certainly an option - I sometimes do silly shit like writing something else from my protags point of few which is never going to make it into the book but helps me create a more rounded character , like what would a kids story sound like if it was written by my protag (bearing in mind that hes a recon soldier and not in the least given to writing childrens stories)
     
    tonguetied likes this.
  20. Lyrical
    Offline

    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2015
    Messages:
    376
    Likes Received:
    257
    I experience this "empty tank" frequently. I have 3 novels I'm working on more or less consecutively because when I lose inspiration for one, I can usually go to one of the other two and start working again, returning to the one I abandoned when I hit a rut with the others. It's not a very productive way to work, I admit. I've been experimenting with other options too - like what @big soft moose mentioned about writing random things that will never make it into the book - like a scene from another character whose point of view I don't take in the novel.
     
  21. Miller0700
    Offline

    Miller0700 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2016
    Messages:
    578
    Likes Received:
    343
    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA
    I think some it comes down to mood. If I'm in a bad mood or had a bad day then I'm not interested in writing much.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2016
  22. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,681
    Likes Received:
    2,533
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    not(?)
     
  23. Miller0700
    Offline

    Miller0700 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2016
    Messages:
    578
    Likes Received:
    343
    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA
    Sorry about that. Changed it.
     
    EdFromNY likes this.
  24. pen10
    Offline

    pen10 New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2016
    Messages:
    6
    Likes Received:
    3
    Just breathe. Take a break,sometimes trying too hard is not a good idea. Go to some short stories. well.... this is what works for me.
    Hope it helps.
     
  25. AASmith
    Offline

    AASmith Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2015
    Messages:
    290
    Likes Received:
    119
    I know what you mean OP. From my experience writing Draft 1a of my current WIP, I am not sure "plowing through" was the best idea. I ended up just writing to write and later on not even liking what I put down. I am no saying to stop writing but take a break and take a step back and really think about your story before you begin. Ask yourself different questions, play out different story paths in your head and see where they end up. Read a book maybe.
     

Share This Page