By Ellen MeisterIf you’ve ever started a novel, chances are you know this feeling: You hit the ground running with a great idea. You’re in love with your concept, your main characters, your minor characters, your setting and the direction of your story arc. Everything is go go go.
And then one day … it stops.
It’s not even a screeching halt, but a soft, quiet nothing. You stare at the page—okay, screen—waiting. Your cursor blinks in mute judgment. But your mojo is a no-show. What’s a writer to do?
It’s not the time to give up, but to change gears. Here are five tips to restart your engine.
1. Make notes
This is my secret weapon for defeating writer’s block, which I believe is nothing more than reaching a point in your story where you need to make some new decisions. Indeed, I think writer’s block is simply the mistake of believing the answers are going to be handed down to you from some magical benevolent muse. Trust me, it doesn’t happen like that. At least not for most of us.
2. Set weekly goals
3. Set deadlines
There’s nothing like the pressure of a looming deadline to force you past your writer’s block. So if you’re not writing under contract with a do-or-die date hanging over you, create your own. Using the method above, decide on a realistic date for finishing the book and mark it on your calendar with a fat red pen. Go to sleep each night thinking about that date, and how glorious it will be to have a finished book by then.
4. Get a critique pal
If you can find another writer whose judgment you trust, trading chapters for critique can be helpful not just for feedback, but for keeping you on track. You and your partner will be eager to send off those pages for feedback. There’s a lot to be said for having someone to answer to.
Nothing opens your mind to inspiration like reading. And yes, I believe you should be reading even while you’re in the middle of working on your own book. Maybe even especially when you’re working on your own book. Your mind will be so receptive to learning that you’ll get something out of every book you read. It might be a small lesson, like how to handle a certain kind of transition in time, or a major epiphany, like realizing you need a significant turning point in the middle of your book. Reading is your best teacher.
Ellen Meister is the author of four novels, including Farewell, Dorothy Parker and The Other Life. She teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, and runs a popular Dorothy Parker page on Facebook. For more information visit her website at www.ellenmeister.com.