Season of mists and manuscripts

People often talk about writer’s block, but sometimes a rough patch along the creative journey feels like facing a nebulous invisible barrier, mysterious as autumn mist. This often strikes writers who’ve embarked on a novel – typically 100,000 words – or a Young Adult or Middle Grade work, which may be up to 60,000 words.

Tackling a project of this scale, even if you’ve done so before, is an immense task on many levels – emotional, practical, creative. Even in a ‘normal’ year without all the anxiety and uncertainty arising from the pandemic, a writer may face a ‘misty patch’ that gets in the way of finishing that all-important first full draft. Often, it seems to arise around 35,000 to 40,000 words in – a huge investment for any writer, but perhaps only a third to half way through the eventual book.

“If you’re stuck in the middle, try writing the ending next.”

Here are three tips to help you find your way through the mist:

1.Write in patchwork form

There’s no law that says you must start at the beginning and write in linear fashion until you reach the end. Pick a chapter further along in the narrative – or maybe the very last scene – and write for enjoyment without worrying about where it is leading. You can stitch it all together later. If you’ve written a synopsis or treatment for the project, you’ll know exactly where each scene goes. If not, you have the joy of finding out!

2. Write the hardest scene

Sometimes there can be a fear of a particular step in the story that is acting as a brake. Author Louise Tondeur recommends writing the hardest chapter. What would help you tackle it? Imagine how you’ll feel once it’s written. Relieved? Happy? Encouraged? Possibly all three. Mapping out a rough but robust summary of the chapter before starting to write can also help, Lou says.

3. Give yourself permission

Novelist Laura Wilkinson describes an early, complete manuscript as a ‘dirty first draft’ whilst acknowledging how important it is to write the whole story, rather than polishing early chapters or sections (or, as it’s otherwise known, procrastinating!). Getting the whole story down is vital, since without this the process of editing and refining cannot begin. Sometimes the thing we need most is to give ourselves permission to ‘just write’, without the pressure of perfectionism.

“Look on your writing project as a glorious patchwork.”

If your manuscript seems lost in the mist, think about the extra clarity that comes once the weather clears, try a few practical techniques – and award yourself an autumn-themed treat once you’re back in your stride. A nutmeg-scented candle, a morning off to kick about in the leaves, or a socially distanced coffee with a like-minded friend looking over water, drinking in the ebbs, flows and sparkle and the bright clear light.

Good for the soul, and for the work in progress.