Recently, while writing my third novel, I reached a bit of a standstill. I was following the outline that I had written but it felt a little like painting by numbers, and I didn’t have the enthusiasm that I had for A Gangster’s Grip. In fact, because of this situation I had put off writing for a few days.
With my first two books I was so enthusiastic that the ideas were spilling out of me. I would wake up with an idea for a scene later on in the book or it would form while I was out at the shops or taking a shower. However, with my third novel things were different. 18,000 words in and this still wasn’t happening. To complicate matters, I needed to do some primary research but I didn’t want it to halt my flow while I was waiting for the answers.
In my search for inspiration I started reading a James Patterson novel and going over some of the notes from my writing course, but it still wasn’t happening. So, I put the books to one side, lay down on my bed, shut my eyes and thought about the plot so far.
What had happened up to now? What direction was the novel heading in? How could I inject some suspense and excitement on the way to reaching my final destination (as I already had the ending worked out)? How could I write my way around the scenes requiring research while I awaited answers to my research questions?
N.B. You’ll note that I refer to ‘scenes’ rather than ‘chapters’ because I like to think of ‘scenes’ while I am writing. This helps me to visualise what is taking place. I haven’t yet allocated chapters but I will come to that later. With my first two books I divided them into chapters as I went along but then found that I had to make some alterations at the end, so I’m trying a slightly different approach this time.
Whilst lying on my bed I went over the scenes I had already written in my mind. Then I started thinking about the scenes that were to follow. I decided to write the next scene based on assumptions but highlight it so that I could easily make changes once I had received the answers to my research questions. Once I had decided how to go forward with that scene, I found that the rest fell into place, and ideas started to form for subsequent scenes. I picked up my small notepad and within a half hour I had several pages of notes.
That half hour or so was worth so much more than hours spent at a computer keyboard willing the ideas to come. It’s great to be able to sit at the computer and hammer away on the keys when you already have a few pages of notes to guide you along. The notes should keep me going for a few more thousand words but if I come unstuck again, I’ll try employing the same tactic.
I’d love to hear from other authors regarding this topic. Have you ever come across a similar problem and, if so, how have you tackled it?
18 thoughts on “Why Thinking Time is Important for Authors”
Hi Heather, loved your post and yes I have had similar problems. Although I tend to leave it to one side and normally end up writing a poem or the start of another story and more often than not this distraction rejuvenates my cogwheels to start turning again for the story I had previously been working on. Because of this I have quite a few new stories started all waiting to take shape and yes majority of them to already have an ending.
I tend to come up with a title and an ending and only then fill in the details.
Thank you for visiting my blog Phoenix, and for your feedback. You’ve just reminded me that my original intention was to write a short story whenever I came to a full stop with the novel, but I think I overlooked that in my eagerness to push ahead with the novel. I’m glad you’ve found a system that works for you. 🙂
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Thank you for sharing, Samantha. 🙂
I’ve also often found that sticking too closely to an outline can feel like pulling teeth. Sometimes it’s better to let your imagination wander freely, and to let the story progress naturally instead of trying to force it in a certain direction. I also like to think in “scenes” instead of chapters; something about chapters feels too rigid to me when I’m writing a first draft. I prefer to just write everything down and figure out how to split it up later! 🙂
Btw I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a Liebster award! https://brigidrgh.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/liebster-award/
Thanks for visiting my blog Brigid, and for your feedback. It’s interesting how we both picture scenes when we are writing – I think it’s a more visual approach than breaking things up into chapters at the outset.
Thanks also for your nomination – I’m very pleased and flattered, and I’d love to take part. I’ll check out your post. 🙂
Ahh this is where dog walking is so useful Heather. I have found tramping across muddy fields to be the answer to work as well as writing issues. The only downside is not being able to a note take but I have started recording my thoughts/solutions to whatever thorny problem I am faced with on my phone to jog my memory when I get back.
Good to hear you have found a way round the problem though 🙂
Thanks for your feedback, Georgia. I like the phone idea. I often get ideas when I go out for walks but this didn’t happen for a few weeks. Thankfully it’s now happening again. I have a little notepad that fits nicely into my handbag (I claim them from the Christmas crackers every year). I’m that eccentric woman who stops in the street to make notes in her dinky sized pad because I will have forgotten the details by the time I get home. 🙂
It can be difficult starting a book after you’ve just finished one. Lying in bed is a good tactic Heather. A good night’s sleep is the best solution in my experience.
Thanks for your feedback Guy. Yes, I think a rested mind is definitely a more productive one. 🙂
Totally agree, Heather, thinking time is essential. Though perhaps mine drags a little longer than yours: I’ve been trying since the beginning of November to revisit the rough first draft of my third novel but haven’t got any further than a read through – it needs plotting and then a total rewrite, but I think what’s holding me back is that one of the three point of view characters hasn’t yet got under my skin. I’m going to need a lot of long walks to get there, I’m sure I will when the time is right.
Thanks for your feedback Anne. I sympathise with you and totally get where you’re coming from. I need to get into the characters too. Have you tried drawing up a character profile for that character listing personality traits, likes and dislikes etc. as well as physical characteristics? I find that helps. 🙂
Had to laugh as I had a visceral experience to your reply! My stomach is saying: no no no!
I can use character profile only when the person is pretty well-established in my head, more for checking for inconsistencies in what I’ve already written, and even then it’s mostly in my head. I can’t write it out in advance – the person has to emerge through the story. And this character has done to a degree – I know, for example, she’s rather naive and idealistic – I can’t make up my mind where that comes from in her past, I do have ideas but they don’t quite scream out at me, whereas the other two POV characters have been real right from the beginning. I’d cut her out if I could, but I need her to link the other two together. I’m sure I’ll get there, and plenty to keep me busy until I do!
Fair point Anne. I usually start off with a few characteristics and add onto them as the plot, and the character, develops. Like you say, some characters are more rounded from the start whereas others develop as the plot moves along. I imagine it will probably hit you in a flash of inspiration when you are working on something else. 🙂
Great piece – I’ve certainly faced this problem many times. I find the subconscious weaves its magic if you stop stressing about word count etc!
Thanks for your feedback, Rose. Thankfully I’m now back ‘in the zone’, which is a much better place to be. 🙂
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Thanks Judith, much appreciated. 🙂