In the doldrums?

Lately I’ve been having very vivid dreams. This morning I dreamt I was floating on a surfboard or boogie board in the sea near Hawaii. I could still see land, but just barely. The waves kept swamping the board. Not choppy, not big kahuna waves, just enough to keep me cool as I floated along.

Oddly, I didn’t feel worried. I knew I needed to get back to land, but no matter what I did, I never got any closer. Drifting along in the doldrums…

Sometimes we find ourself in the doldrums of our stories. Ever had one of those days where you write and write and write – and then realize none of it actually moves your story forward?

No development of character, no action for the plot, not even a great setting.

Yep, that’s the doldrums. Sometimes it’s pages of description and sometimes it’s pages of dialogue. Either way, your story is drifting. Going nowhere.

For your first – or zero – draft, you might want to just keep going. Pantsers often need to write themselves into the story, producing lots of pages they know won’t be used, but that give them great backstory.

Or perhaps it’s a matter of B.I.C: Butt In Chair. You’re writing, trying to meet your page or word goal. Doesn’t matter that you’ll end up cutting most of it; your rear is firmly in gear and you’re keeping it that way.

Maybe you need a break. No shame in taking a timeout from your story to digest what needs digesting in order to produce better quality pages. I often find that if I’m writing in circles, it’s because I need more time to consider the story or the character.

Meditation – Laurie Calkhoven’s workshops are great – can be helpful. Plenty of writers swear by a good walk, with or without your dog. This time of year, a retreat is always appealing, too.

What do you do if your schedule doesn’t allow for a retreat – or even a quick break? I sneak some long peeks at my outline. Even though I tend to the pantser side of the pantser/plotter spectrum, I do create a plot summary and brief outline to give me a map. Many times I’m stuck in the doldrums, it’s because I’ve given up on my map and am just rambling along a dusty byway.

Don’t be afraid – you can always get back. Recently I got up from my chair KNOWING the 1,200 words I’d written were useless. Not bad, just useless.

I gave myself permission to stop writing. Spent a little time meditating and some more time getting chores done.

And you know what? The next morning, I woke up, cut the chapters – and wrote more words. Enough words to replace what I’d written and then some.

This time, the pages were getting my protagonists where they needed to be. Things were happening. Characters were revealing themselves. I knew where I was in the story.

What do you do when you’re drifting?



4 thoughts on “In the doldrums?

  1. I make what-might-happen-next-and-next-and-next lists. Then I ponder the ideas that provide exciting possibilities. I also let characters journal when they’re not pulling their weight. I’ve discovered amazing plot through new character insight.

  2. I experienced this recently. I made a bunch of changes then realized I didn’t improve anything, didn’t make it worse either. I was overthinking it. So I set it aside for a few days and let it percolate in my subconscious. Now I can go back in with fresh eyes.

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