When I’m working with people the problem that comes up time and time again is that they start loads of stories, even novels, go so far, then stop. They don’t know where to go next. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been told this. I used to suffer from the opposite problem. I couldn’t get started but once I did I was away. Once I mentally got around the fear of beginning by developing a variety of tactics I could write all day – well, most of the day unless some attractive interruption surfaced. I am getting better at that too!
By developing ways to avoid temptation. So for you fortunate people who are great at starting here’s a tactic to keep you moving forward. If you start and then stop it’s because you’re also avoiding something. Starting has that great adrenaline rush, the new page of a book ready to swallow your wonderful words. So you start full of enthusiasm and then like the come down after a sugar hit, plummet because you’ve run out of steam. So try this.
Ten minute exercise
Choose one piece of work and only one. It could be a scene, a chapter, short story, an article, an essay. Put everything else to one side, preferably under lock and key so that you’re not tempted to switch when the going gets tough. You are staying with this one piece of work until you have moved forward. You have to get into the habit of completion.
Rewrite your last paragraph, or a few sentences, whatever will get you back into the flow of what you were writing…and keep writing. It doesn’t have to make sense, just write whatever comes to you. You can write, for example – This is stupid, I have no idea what to write about next, the characters are wooden, what made me think this was a good idea but what if it is a good idea and what if i try this and what if the main character was a man instead of a woman and what if i made the dog a cat and what if …. and why … and when…
Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, syntax. Don’t worry if you write a list of things or if it’s incoherent. Keep asking yourself what if and why and how for ten minutes. Don’t stop, keep moving your hand across the page or your fingers across the keys. Don’t censor, just write. Ten minutes should be enough time to generate at least one way forward and give you something to play around with.
Get down from the high of starting and develop stamina that keeps you going steadily to the finish. That’s really something to celebrate. Give yourself small goals. Finish a scene, finish a chapter. Small goals will get you to the finish line.
It’s a marathon not a sprint and you have to learn to pace yourself. Let me know if this helps you get over that block. In the words of the wonderful Magnus Magnusson, ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’. Make sure you finish!