Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kay Kenyon on recovering enthusiasm for a story that's stalled

Leonid Pasternak, 19th C.
Kay Kenyon, who is one of my favorite writers-on-writing (as well as a fine novelist in her own right) describes a situation many of us have faced. I'd say "all," except there might be a lone exception somewhere out there in Writerland.

Sooner or later in your writing life you are going to run up against a novel that just won’t spark to life. Technically the story appears to have all the needed aspects, but as a whole, it is less than the sum of its parts. The characters don’t engage, the plot wanders, and your beta readers are unmoved.

She suggests that the best strategy might be to not work harder. I talk a lot about being tender with yourself, especially when it comes to creative endeavors. Continuing to push, to flog ourselves, keeps us locked with whatever is blocking us in the first place. We often do better when we step back, take a deep breath, refresh the creative well, work on something else. Kay says:

Trying to write when you’re discouraged or tired might seem like a brave thing to do–and if you are often discouraged or tired, it is brave to keep on–but in most cases it’s a bad idea to flog yourself until you get back at the project.

Sometimes taking a few week’s break is not only good for your mental health, it can do wonders for your novel rewrite. Work on a short story or an essay. Pile up some reserve blog posts. Don’t be idle, but don’t work on the problem project.

There is an almost magical power you can tap into when you let your manuscript sit for two weeks or a month. It is called perspective. Perspective is what you lose when you’ve been too close to your novel, especially if you’ve read the draft a number of times either aimlessly fussing with style or remodeling the story arc.

The rest of the article is well worth reading.

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