There are many reasons writers experience bad writing sessions. In their own words:
- My characters won’t do what I want them to do.
- My writing is just boring.
- I don’t know what to write.
Any one of these roadblocks can keep you from completing a successful writing session, or even worse, can keep you from completing your book.
Not good at all.
That’s why this week’s post offers concrete strategies that will help you break through a bad writing session. If you have one of the above problems, I’ve got the answers!
My characters won’t do what I want them to do!
I’ve talked about the concept of the sentient character elsewhere. You know the sentient character if you’ve ever said something like, “my characters talk to me and tell me what they want to do.”
This little phrase is a pet peeve of mine because, frankly, characters don’t talk to you and saying so diminishes your own hard work as a writer. If you want to know more about why I feel this way, you can read my article linked in the previous paragraph.
Because today my focus is on bad writing sessions, and believing characters tell us what they want to do can be a reason you’re experiencing them. If you’re waiting around for them to speak, act, feel, then you’ll never get a word on the page. As author, it’s your job to figure out what your characters do, feel, and say in any given situation.
That means you must develop a hefty character profile. Never done that before? See how I use Microsoft One Note to create detailed and fun character profiles here.
If you can’t write because you don’t know what you’re character’s going to do next, spend the rest of your writing session answering these questions about your character:
- What does she value most? Why?
- What scares her most? Why?
- What her greatest desire? Why?
- What does she hate doing? Why?
- What does she love doing? Why?
- Who is her favorite person? Why?
- What is her favorite childhood memory? Why?
- What is her least favorite childhood memory? Why?
These are just a few of the questions you can answer to learn about your characters. Answering them will help you decide, based on the answers to these questions, how that character would act in any given situation.
As you write, keep your character profiles close by so you can use them to help you beat back a bad writing session.
The writing is just boring!
When even you are bored by your own writing, it’s bad. It’s really bad.
It’s a frustrating problem that, happily, has a pretty straight forward answer.
If your writing is boring even you, it may mean your current scene or chapter, or the book in general, lacks one of these major elements:
All stories require conflict. And the author must stretch that conflict across every scene and chapter, creating tension by illustrating how the conflict impacts the characters internal and external lives as well as the plot.
Conflict Keeps Us reading.
However, if the stakes aren’t high enough, readers won’t care about the outcome of the conflict. So if the writing is boring, odds are you’re not paying enough attention to the conflict, tension, or stakes of the story.
To improve these crucial aspects of your story, answer these questions:
- What is the protagonist fighting against?
- What is the protagonist’s goal?
- What keeps the protagonist from achieving her goals?
- What will the protagonist lose if she does not achieve her goal?
If that loss isn’t big enough, your stakes aren’t high enough. For example, Harry Potter doesn’t just risk a bad grade on an exam, he risks losing his very life and the lives of all the good inhabitants of the wizarding world to Voldemort’s control.
Your stakes don’t have to be this high, but they have to be high for the character. Both the character and the reader need to feel the sorrow and tragedy of the potential loss. If that potential loss is not reverberating throughout the narrative, odds are you’re bored and so is your reader.
But I don’t know what to write!
Otherwise known as writer’s block, this particular problem stems from the idea that writing is a product of inspiration. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, it’s not. Thinking that it is undermines all the hard work that you put into your writing.
Writing is a product of hard work. If you are sitting around waiting for ideas to come to you, you’ll be waiting forever. How do I know? Because I’ve made that very same mistake and wasted years, not kidding, years of my writing life.
There was a time when I thought writing occurred through inspiration, flashes of insight in which ideas would drop into my lap like some sort of succulent low-hanging fruit.
I was stupid. Don’t be like me.
It was only after I started writing seriously and started mining my everyday experiences, the research that I had conducted in the past, the books I was reading, the things that I knew, the questions I had, that I began to find and create ideas. I began searching everywhere for story stuff and writing down every thought I had that would make a good story. I began writing outlines of stories and researching the genres I wanted to write in to see what kinds of stories readers got most excited about.
Only by doing all this hard work was I able to come to my current state. And I’ll tell you what my current state is: I have one finished draft of a middle grade novel and another middle grade novel halfway outlined. I have two completed drafts of full-length romance novels, two completed romance novellas, a completed draft of a romance short story, outlines for two more full-length romance novels, and a premise for one more romance novella.
And absolutely no fear that I’ll run out of ideas.
When I relied on inspiration to strike, I had bits and pieces of ideas that had come to me in dreams. But I didn’t do anything with those ideas. They remained dormant. And I remained in constant fear that my subconscious would someday stop throwing me even those crumbs.
However, after doing all the hard work I’ve done to produce the amount of writing that I’ve produced in the last two years, I’m confident I can take those ideas and turn them into fully realized drafts. And I know that more ideas are just waiting for me to discover.
Make every writing session a productive one!
By recognizing writing as hard work, by paying attention to the conflict, tension, and stakes at the heart of your story, and by developing detailed character outlines, you can ensure every writing session is a productive one.
No more staring at a blank screen for you, my friend! Get writing, and let me know how these tips help the productivity level of your writing sessions.
Want another neat trick to get the ideas rollings and increase the productivity of your writing sessions? Try reading other books in your genre! But, here’s the trick, read as a writer, not as a reader. Not sure how? Download my quick guide to reading like a writer here!