We’ve all been there: Sometimes even the most promising of projects stalls — or rather, we stall when it comes to pushing through to the end. When this happens, more often than not, we set that piece of writing aside and it languishes. Now and then, we feel a flash of regret or even longing to continue, but this is easily overwhelmed by other demands.
How can we shift into gear and get back to those pages yearning to be written? In a book-and-coffee chat with my friend Carl, one of the founders of the Write Group, he told me about a strategy that worked for him. Since it sounds simple and doable, I thought I’d pass it on, just in case any of us are in the same boat.
Carl has been working on a historical novel for a while. A few key chapters were missing. When NaNoWriMo rolled around in November, he was debating whether to work on it or not. Although he encountered some internal resistance, he decided to use some structured time that month to push through some major barriers he’d hit. Here’s what he did: There were four Friday programs hosted by our local library in support of NaNoWriMo participants. Each event was followed by a group writing session in which people worked on their individual projects.
Instead of going for the whole nine yards and spinning out 50,000 words over a month for a new novel, Carl opted to create his own personal NaNoWriMo agenda and used the structured writing sessions to complete two key chapters of his novel that he’d been thinking about for quite a while, but had never set down on paper. When he started working on the first one, that little voice in his head tried to distract him and encourage him to go back and tinker with the chapter opening.
But, inspired by advice from John Steinbeck (see Steinbeck’s Six), Carl forced himself to keep writing until he finished the chapter. When holes cropped up, he just made note of them and kept going. At the end of the session, he had a workable draft of a chapter that had been hanging fire for a long time. Carl took the same approach with the last chapter in his book. This time around, the little voice in his head kept quiet and he just wrote on to the end.
What a simple, but effective strategy: create a series of structured writing sessions for yourself and focus on getting high-priority work completed. If this sounds appealing, you might join a community like the Write Group or schedule weekly sessions with a writing buddy or two and concentrate on making real headway with a project that’s stalled. Bravo, Carl — write on!