Lost the Plot?

J. L. Harland • August 30th, 2020

Do you start writing full of enthusiasm and then get stuck quarter of the way through? We can relate to that. We are on the third attempt at writing a sequel to Elin’s story.

In the first attempt we were twenty-eight thousand words in when we realised it just wasn’t working. The story had ceased to belong to our protagonist and was peopled by characters who just seemed to be taking over. We’ve used some of that work in other ways though. A short story from the first eleven chapters after fourteen drafts and the plan for a mystery story set in Sweden which we hope to get around to somewhere along the line.

The second attempt was a trying to integrate two stories into one, combining past and present, and that did not go well either. So, several short stories, a novella and a novelette later we are on the third attempt. Older and we hope wiser in vision. These are five ways that we think might help if you have lost the plot too.

1. Go and get lost in writing something else. Choose a different genre or style or length. Write a piece of flash fiction, a poem, an essay. Write in the style of Jane Austen or James Joyce. Anything that is different and will give your brain time to unscramble. It may give you different writing challenges but that could help.

2. Talk to your characters. If they are not doing what you expected them to do ask them why not? You should know your characters as if they are your best friends. One of the upsides of lockdown and socially distanced walks was the ability to talk to imaginary people while walking. Thinking aloud helps clear the brain fog.

3. Go back to your plan and see if there is something missing. If you haven’t got a plan then maybe you should think about that. It can be simple notes on the steps you intend to take along the journey or mind maps. Check through to see if you can identify any gaps.

4. Find a writer friend and discuss the problems with them. Sometimes just talking about what you are having trouble with can unlock a solution. We work together as we find two heads are better than one when it comes to generating ideas and solutions. Our conversations are frequently punctuated with, ‘Maybe…’ or ‘what if…’.

5. Unless you have a deadline looming, in which case you just have to keep writing and hope for the best, try putting the piece you are struggling with to one side for a week, or a month. Your brain will be feverishly working away while you are busy with other things and you will come back refreshed and ready to find your way back.

It helps to know that this is a common problem. All writers will get stuck at times or lose momentum in their work. Sometimes it helps just to relax and wait for the fog to clear but at others you need a map. We hope these hints and tips help. Keep writing.