Tuesday, May 8, 2012

When Your WIP Isn't Working (A Very Sad & True Tale of Ignoring the Clues)

I've been writing Hotboyalicious (not real title) for a few months now. One chilly weekend in February I only had 10k--and now on this chilly day in May I have 50k. But for months now (seriously, months) I've been stuck. (That should have been a clue.) I would write a chapter or half a chapter and be so completely stuck. The idea that was so warm and loud in my head, suddenly chilled. That's not to say this doesn't happen--because it does--but when it does you have to ask why. (This is a clue also.) But I didn't ask why. I didn't stop to figure out what was going on beneath the surface of my story. I kept writing. 

I would write until I got stuck, then complain about being stuck for days, then take action (which usually consisted of brainstorming my problem with my roommate, Derrick) and then I'd have a miraculous breakthrough and bust out 3k and then another chapter and then...I'd be stuck again. And repeat the cycle. I knew, I knew, something was wrong with the story--but I had NO IDEA what it was.  (Sidenote: I think sometimes I did know the problem, but I didn't want to admit it. This should've also been a clue.)

It wasn't until this weekend I got an objective party (not one of my CPs) to read the story. She gave me some feedback and asked some really hard questions. Questions that I should've been able to answer--and couldn't. So after spending hours redrawing my plot with markers and paper--and then a whole day of thinking--I figured out three basic questions. Three questions that I asked my CPs. Three questions that I couldn't answer. And after a couple hours of phone calls, gchats and text messages--I had the answer to those three questions. Unfortunately for me, the answers (which all deal with my MC's motivation) aren't ones that I can fix. They can only be fixed by re-writing the story.

Now, of course, I can see how her motivation is the problem. I think I knew was her all along, even if I didn't know what to call it. There was something wrong. And, in hindsight, I look at the last three months and see all the ways my WIP felt off. All the clues were there, I just ignored them. I plead with you now: do not ignore them.

(Some) Clues that your WIP may not be working: 
  • When you are constantly getting stuck
  • When you don't want to write it (which is different than being lazy because not wanting to write is literally dreading it)
  • When the story gets quiet/cold/feels distant
  • When you can't answer simple questions about your MC 
  • When the MC's voice changes dramatically from the beginning to the end (which is different than character growth)
  • When someone asks what the main conflict is you don't know the answer
  • When you don't know the MC's motivation
  • When you have no idea where your story is set and you're halfway finished
  • When you dislike your MC or a love interest 
  • When you feel like you have to write this chapter in order to get to the next chapter where things don't suck as bad
  • When your reader doesn't understand how something is working/why something is happening
  • When you don't know how your character would respond to a situation
  • When you are bored
  • When it feels wrong
Now that last one pretty much summarizes everything on the list. When something is wrong with your WIP you know it. You can tell yourself it's okay, that it's all in your head, that it's not as bad as you think, that if you just pour out the words you can fix them later. And sometimes, all those thoughts are valid. 

Sometimes the problem is merely pouring the story out on the page and then seeing where it's wrong. Or it really is all in your head because you're scared or too close to the story or stressed. And other times you know, for a fact, that you are going the wrong way--but maybe you don't know how to fix it. But it's important to look at your story. 

If you are in your WIP and you're stuck, and you can answer or agree with any of the things on our short list, then maybe you should step away and take a good look at what's really going on in your WIP. Don't be afraid of admitting that's something not working. As much as it sucks to write 50k and have to start over, it sucks more to write 150k and then spend two years revising. (Trust me. I did that once. Blerg.) 

We've ALL been there. So much of writing is re-writing.  That said, I am not very excited about having to start over. BUT I know that this is what the story needs. It feels right where nothing has ever felt right. So, tonight, I start over with a new motivation, and a new direction. Hopefully this time, if something isn't working, I won't ignore the clues.


  1. This is exactly what i'm feeling with my current work in progess. I've been putting off continuing it for at least a week. I'm at 13,000 words at first i loved the story and under it all i still do, it just i dont want to write it because i have huge gaps in the story i need to fill. Hmm, a very annoying sitiuation.

    Thanks for the great post though!

    1. Annabelle, mine started the same way. I started filling in the gaps, but that's when things didn't feel right and I got all hung up. it's a VERY annoying situation. I would totally suggest a) writing it out (I like big paper and markers and plot points by chapter) and b) letting someone else read it. It makes a difference! Best of luck to you and thanks :)