A few weeks back, in the middle of a massive rewrite of my novel, I sat down to write the next scene and as soon as I started I knew it was horrible. The scene I had typed out on the page was nothing like the scene in my head. So I tried again. Reworked a word there, removed a paragraph here, and…still bad.
I didn’t get it. I’d done the work. I knew what needed to happen. I had an index card written for every scene, which as a self-proclaimed pantser was difficult to do, but they had helped me so far. Why now in the middle of my revision were they letting me down?
I stared at my computer screen, as if my intense eye contact would transmit my thoughts to the page, for longer than I’m proud of before I realized I needed a more productive way to break through this roadblock of a scene.
When you find yourself in a staring contest with your manuscript (and losing), tryout these strategies I found helpful to bash through the wall of your own difficult scene.
1) Make Sure the Scene is Necessary
This is the absolute first thing you must do when up against a difficult scene. No matter how meticulous you believe you’ve outlined your novel, if you hit a scene that never feels right make sure you actually need it before you put all your energy into fixing it. Take a step back and reevaluate your story line. Does this scene move the plot along? Does it aid character development? Ask yourself all the questions you’ve asked about each scene numerous times, and then ask why is this scene not working? There is nothing worse than spending days of writing on one particular scene only to realize it doesn’t belong in your story at all. Trust me. I know.
2) Skip Forward
Sometimes the scene you think you’re writing next is not really the scene you’re writing next. When you hit a difficult scene it is more productive to your time and your writing to skip forward in your story. If a scene will not be written now, don’t write it now. Move on to the next scene, or the next. Keep moving until you find the scene that’s begging you to write it right now. Then, a few written scenes later, head back to the one that refused to take shape, and write to whichever scene you skipped to. You’ll find it much easier to write a scene when you have a concrete scene ready and written as a guide post to head toward.
3) Refresh and Recharge
Take a writing break. Seriously do it. Even if you are one of the most prolific writers there will be days when words fail you. That’s when you take a step back from the novel, and do something else for a while. This can be writing related, but not related to the novel you’re working on or the scene that’s driving you crazy. Do a writing prompt, take a walk, or take a nap. Personally I like to clear my head and recharge my brain by writing random Fanfiction stories I call with the greatest affection, my adjective and adverb dump. Find whatever activity works best for you and recharge yourself. Make sure you set a time limit for these activities, though, because you’ll want to set that recharged and refreshed mind to your scene problem. I recommend no shorter than thirty minutes and no longer than a day.
4) Power Through
Yeah, sometimes there’s no way to avoid the wall. You have to take the words you come up with that day and just power through the scene. You can only skip around or rest for so long before that difficult scene needs to be written. When it comes to this the best way to succeed is to plant your backside in the chair and not get up or stop writing until the scene is done. It may not be the best thing you’ve ever written and filled with typos, but it will be words on the page. And words on the page can be revised
5) Be Patient
Do not try to force a scene. Powering through is all well and good, but if you’re just not clicking today set the novel aside and wait. Yes we all want to finish that novel, but sometimes the rush of desire to finish turns into impatience with our work and with ourselves. When that happens, more crippling negative feelings are not too far behind. If a scene is necessary, but gives you a giant headache when you try to write it, don’t force it. Wait. Take a deep breath. And always remember to be patient with yourself.
Try these strategies out for yourself, and hopefully soon that difficult scene you’ve been struggling with will be several chapters behind you. But above all remember number 5. Be patient. The story will come.
Marielle Orff is a freelance writer, audio editor, and podcast producer from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. She is the producer for DIY MFA Radio, as well as the Web Mistress for DIY MFA. In her free time she creates stories of science-fiction and fantasy for young adults while drinking mountains of coffee. To connect with Marielle check out her website at marielleorff.com.