Monday, June 16, 2008

When the Well Runs Dry

Has your well ever run dry? I’m talking about the well of creativity. Have you ever felt like your mind was a total blank and that it would take more energy than you could muster to think one original thought?

Scenario one: You need to write your monthly post for a group blog. The blog has lots of great regular contributors—they’re funny, they’re original, they’re attractively bossy. And there have also been many amazing guest bloggers with lots of great information and experience. Then suddenly, it’s your turn to post, and you can’t think of a single thing to say that seems good enough.

Oh, wait. That’s not a scenario. That happened to me this past week! Let me start again…

Scenario One: You’re starting a new book, have this wonderful blank slate, even have an idea for a unique protagonist that you’re sure editors will love. But you can’t think of a single plot idea. You can’t even think what type hero would go with your heroine. And if you do finally come up with an idea, you realize it’s just been done in a book you read last month. Or is so clichéd you could imagine the editor’s eyes rolling as she marks it for her assistant to send a form rejection.

Scenario Two: You’ve written five chapters of a book that’s due to your publisher in a month. And so far, you’ve felt pretty good about where it’s going. Then all of a sudden, you hit a wall. You have no idea what needs to happen next. And you start to doubt every word you’ve written so far. Man, this stinks. What made me think I could ever write this story? What made me think I could ever write at all? Surely, they’ll never buy another book from me. My career is over already.

Scenario Three: You’ve written a great three chapters and synopsis, have polished it and polished it until your critique partners have declared it flawless. You package it up, pray over it, then send it to a contest with your dream editor as the final judge. Or you package it up and send it off to the editor or agent who requested it at a conference. Then months later you get the scores back from the contest you did not final in. One judge really liked it and wrote smiley faces all over it. The other told you not to quit your day job and that you need to read a book on basic grammar. Or if you sent it to an agent or editor, you get it back months later with a Dear Author letter.

I imagine that most of you have been in one of those scenarios at one time or another. So I thought we could all brainstorm ideas to help us get out of that dry well hell.

1. Try writing something creative that might jump-start you. Try journaling. Or write a letter, even if you don’t intend to mail it. (No, do NOT mail the irate letter to your mother-in-law!) A fun website my critique partner, Lindi Peterson, discovered is: You can go and click on a story starter idea--just to get your brain in gear. Or in the case of journaling, maybe you’ll get some of the junk out of the way before writing your manuscript.

2. If you’re stuck on plotting a new book, try using a how-to book such as my favorite, The Story Within Guidebook by Alicia Rasley. It basically starts from the beginning characterization and moves through to plotting scene ideas. I also love Carolyn Greene’s Prescription for Plotting notebook. And there are other great ones such as Deb Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Watching The Hero’s 2 Journeys (Vogler and Hauge) DVD’s can also give you a jump start on a story and can help you plan well-rounded characters.

3. If you’re stuck at Chapter four or five (I’ve heard so many people claim this is where they get stuck, so I don’t feel alone!), then try a method I created that has helped me. What I’ve found is that I’m usually stuck because I can’t decide which way to go in the story. I’m not sure what will work best, and I’m paralyzed by the fear that I’ll choose wrong. So I pull out index cards and jot down several ideas of things that can happen next. Then I tape those across the top of a piece of poster board. (I actually re-used one of the tri-fold boards my son had used on a science fair project.) Then under each idea, jot on more index cards the logical sequence of scenes that would follow (one scene per card). I usually end up with a tree of ideas, because sometimes I fork off with two more possibilities after each scene idea. Then when I get done, I choose the pathway that leads to the best story.

4. If you’re stalled by negative critique or contest feedback or rejection, then here’s my solution. You get one day to pout. Go take a bubble bath and eat chocolate (or your favorite carb splurge). Then you have to let it go. You can’t hold on to the hurt and disappointment. It’s all part of the business, and you’re sure to experience it again. You can’t allow it to stop you. And I know this because I’m guilty of letting it stop me for months at a time. I’ve since learned I can’t allow myself that luxury to wallow. For the last few years, I’ve been able push past it and let my stubborn streak lead me on. As Janet said the other day, it’s all in your attitude. Tell yourself that rejection is going to motivate you to keep trying. Come out on the other side even more motivated to prove that you have what it takes to succeed. Then jump right back in and start something new.

We CAN do this. Even when it seems there’s not a brain cell left in our heads. Even when it seems that every creative idea that exists has already been written. We can plow ahead and write the stories God has given us, despite the doubt, despite the fear, despite the temporary failures.

Is your well dry right now? Has it been recently? If so, share with us your ideas for refilling the creativity.


  1. The main reason my well runs dry is fatigue and there's not much I can do about that but take a break, rest and pray until it passes.

    Great post!

  2. Great ideas for refilling our well, Missy!

    I love your third idea for deciding which way to go with the story. Next time I'm stuck, I'll give that a try. I also find it helps to go back and read the book from the beginning. That gives me the big picture and I usually regain my confidence and love for the story.

    Your post is an excellent reminder that when writing doesn't come easy, we must persevere. We must let nothing stop us from finishing the book.


  3. I have a pattern of getting about half to two-thirds of the way through then thinking the end is going to fizzle. It won't be like the grand finale of a fireworks show, it will be like the one that misfires and sputters across the grass.

    I guess getting something down is better than letting all that time and pile of bytes go to waste.

  4. I remember reading a story once about a famous writer (whose name escapes me). His muse was gone so he headed to a tropical island to find her.
    Instead he swam and sunbathed. The muse remained elusive.

    When his accountant appeared on the edge of the beach to say the writer's bank account was dangerously low, the writer splashed to shore and immediatley found his muse.

  5. Last month-ish, I finally got around to listening to the Michael Hauge workshop on the RWA conference cds. Oh. My.

    Anyhoo, one of the many things he said that such out to me was this...

    Have your character fill in the blanks:

    I will do anything it takes to [put goal here] except [???] because that's just not me.

    Well, after jabbering on about characters, goals, and fears, he directed the question to the audience.

    I will do anything it takes to [become a published author/sell another book/reach the best-seller list/etc] except [????] because that's just not me.

    My answer?

    I'll do anything it takes to become a published author except fill out character worksheets and pre-plot a novel because that's not who I am.

    Today is my characterization worksheet filling out day. I've been trying to figure out an interesting way to challenge me to plot and I think the science fair board or cork board thing with note cards is the way I'll try first. :-)

    Thanks, Missy, for the suggestion.

  6. "You're going to be unemployed if you really think you just have to sit around and wait for the muse to land on your shoulder. That's not the way I work. I build a story. I think the muse would be an awfully fickle character to depend on for your livelihood." ~Nora Roberts

  7. Nice post! I get stuck a lot. On my wip, I wrote a Beautiful first chapter (lol, my high opinion), then realized I had no clue what kind of plot the story would have. So for three weeks I did revisions on an older manuscript and now I'm up and running with my wip.
    Also, for the contest I bombed, in which my hero was a villain :-), I glanced over an earlier contest crit in which the judge liked my hero.
    It helped chase away the blues and got me to focus on why the hero seemed so rotten to others.
    Thanks Missy. I loved your WITTY post.

  8. Oh, boy, Missy, do I need this post right now!!! Have hit a wall on plotting for my next book and am printing off your plotting book suggestions!! Thank you sooo much ... your blog today is a "wellsrping" in the desert for me.


  9. Pam, I agree. Sometimes you just need to rest. It's hard to be creative when you're sleep deprived. I find I go off on weird tangents if I'm half crazy from no sleep! LOL

    Janet, I, too, find reading straight through really helps! I just did that the other day (reading through the first section I had just revised).

    What I've usually done once I finish the book is to ask my hubby for a day away. I go to a coffee shop and read straight through. Even with the commotion of people coming and going, I can focus really well at Starbuck's! And the caffeine in the air seems to keep me awake. :)


  10. LOL, Ann! Yeah, we don't want a fizzler! :)

    One thing I learned in one of Deb Dixon's excellent workshops (Climbing the Slippery Slope) is that your opening of the book and everything you write after that is leading up to your ending. You set up the character for the big black moment. It's really helped me in deciding what's going to happen at the end. I know the hero/heroine have to face their biggest fear or have the worst thing happen to them.

    Is her biggest fear that she'll be deserted again? Well, the hero has to choose to leave. Is her biggest fear that she's not good enough? Then the hero rejects her at the BBM (big black moment). Is her biggest fear that she's going to be used again? Then the hero does something that makes her think he's using her.

    Take a look at your character's goals and fears again, then you can create those fireworks at the end!

    May your sparks fly and not fizzle. :) (A new blessing, Ruthy!)


  11. Tina, I love that!!

    You know, I don't usually ever think about having a muse. Like I said in my post, that's a luxury we can't really afford. Sure it's fun to consider. But only if she's present and working hard at all times!


  12. Gina, I loved it when Hauge turned that statement on us writers! :) And I love how you took your statement and are working against your nature right now. Good luck with the note cards!

    Also, I love that Nora quote. :)


  13. Jessica, I just cracked up when you mentioned your hero who is a villian!! I've had one of those, too. :)

    And I had to do what you're doing--look at why he's acting so badly. The poor guy had an awful past, and his dad bordered on abusive. My hero was very bitter. I ended up making him a little less angsty and troubled. And I made sure to show his insecurities by having some scenes with his sister where she could bring up their troubled childhood. Scenes where I showed him doubting his actions.

    I'm glad you're back on your wip. Sometimes we just need to take a little break and look at something else and let the story "stew" in the background.


  14. Oh, and Jessica, thanks for using the word "witty"! I feel a little more secure about posting among such funny women! LOL


  15. Julie, I'm glad it helped! Good luck with your plotting. I'm sure something will hit you soon, and you'll be off and running once again.

    Maybe something sweet would help. Something chocolate?? ;)

    Mmm. I think I'm going to have to bake brownies today.


  16. Missy.

    Good job, kid.

    Where's Mary's succinct post about all you need to do is shoot someone and the action suddenly takes off again? Her answer for everything: a bullet. Preferably one that's well-aimed and delivers blood...

    Pooling blood.

    Great ideas gals, and I love Nora's frank and common sense demeanor about things like that. Good heavens, she keeps it simple and I love that.

    So Gina's doing a character page, huh?

    Someone get me drugs. Quick.

    Good ones, too. Nothing OTC or namby-pamby. I must be on my deathbed to hear such things out of Gina's mouth.

    Although I just this morning finished something for her and wrote...

    (Mind me sharing, Gina-kins???? Hope not... Too late, anyway)

    "...the writing is stellar, fun and quick-paced but the plot and characters need to be better thought out and well-rounded..."

    So if making a (gasp!!!) worksheet helps that goal, go to it.

    When I plot one of my (now) well-written and thought-provoking dust gathering manuscripts, I think of opposites, polar reactions, scientific theory... for every action there's a equal and opposite reaction.

    That's a convoluted way of saying that if girl breaks guy's heart and humiliates strong, macho, to-die-for-good-looking guy in front of the whole town, what on earth would he see in her nearly a decade later when she shows up again???? If the original premise seems highly unlikely if not totally impossible, then you've got oodles of room to play with your story because each scene builds to that climax naturally. Kind of like stepping stones up a mountain.

    With no guardrail.

    Guardrails spoil the sense of adventure.

    Missy, you got me thinking and I like that. It's a rare commodity around 3 yr. olds...



  17. Tina, that was a-muse-ing :o)

    What doth I do when the well runneth dry?

    I force myself to step away from the computer.

    I grab my hubby and (no, I am NOT going to say that on this forum. Shame on you! *snickers*) go explore North Carolina or Richmond, Va now that we know it's only 2 1/2 hours away.

    I watch a good movie: Key Largo, The Mummy, Gone With the Wind, You've Got Mail, Jurassic Park, etc

    I read a chapter of something.

    I sleep. And while I sleep, my mind, which has become unloosed, works out the sticky point that stopped me in the first place.

    And if that doesn't work, I have, on an occasion or two, rested my weary head on y'alls shoulder. Your encouragement is a great reviver.

  18. Ruthy, I'm glad I inspired your brain to kick out of nose-wiping gear and into book-writing gear. :)

    Great point about the premise. And isn't coming up with the premise the fun part?? I love that. The big "what if".

    Hey! You didn't bring food! I always count on you to make our mouths water.


  19. Hey, I am doing a character page.

    Actually 22 of them.

    Ai yi yi.

    I'm stuck at the moment becuase I'm on the questions that ask about the heroine's apartment. She doesn't have much personal touches and I'm not sure why. She's a huge sports fan so logic says she'd have sports paraphenalia around. Nope. So why not?

    I keep wanting to change my answer, but my muse keeps slapping me on the head, saying, "Her walls are bare, her bedding basic."

    And I just figured out why.


    Who needs a muse when you have Seekers. Thanks ffor the suggestions, Ruthy.

  20. Kimberli, your ideas remind me of the book The Artist's Way by Julie Cameron. How many of you have read it or have done the online class?

    I did it years ago, and one of the activities she suggests is to take an artist date each week. At the time, I had small children, so you better bet I arranged to take those dates! LOL I lined up my husband to watch the kids on his day off and spent a few hours by myself doing something fun that would feed my creativity.

    Actually, I started the morning by attendig Weight Watchers, then would go eat! LOL (You know, AFTER the weigh-in). Then my artist date would start. I would go to the bookstore to browse, or go to Michael's to paint pottery, or would go to a movie, or would spend time at a coffee shop reading. I can't remember what all I did, but I went each and every week while I took that online class (10-12 weeks maybe). For an over-worked stay-at-home mom with mushy mommy brain, it worked wonders! I highly recommend it if you have trouble taking time off for yourself. The book will help you give yourself permission to do so.


  21. Okay, Gina! Excellent work. Now, I'm dying to know why her walls are bare and her bedding is basic! You must share.


  22. Her walls are bare, bedding basic, for the same reason she doesn't own a pet.

    She's afraid of growing attached and losing. All four of her grandparents died before she reached 20, and now her mom has cancer.

    I have to say filling out these questions isn't as torturous as I first though. Yes, I've skippd a few because I wasn't sure. And some were not applicable.

    Yesterday I tried to write chapter four, but I knew I needed to know what her goal throughtout the scene would be. So I asked myself, "Self, what would be the worst thing to happen to her?"

    Cool thing is I answered. "Someone she knows will be there and she doesn't want her boss to meet him becuase she doesn't trust her friend not to leak secrets to her boss. So she has to work the night keeping the two men apart."

  23. Missy said: Then all of a sudden, you hit a wall. You have no idea what needs to happen next. And you start to doubt every word you’ve written so far. Man, this stinks.

    This has happened to me on a small scale before, but it happened on a major scale last fall. It was a combination of rejections, doomsday-type reports about the market for what I was writing, and personal stuff going on at the time. Like Pam T said, I think all I could do was take a break and pray through it. I never really doubted that it would pass. I believed in my stories and that God wanted me to write, so I believed that one day things would turn around and my creativity would come back. I guess that faith kept me from quitting.

  24. H'mm, what would this character never do ...

    Well, she just did it ... OK ... OH! possibilities ... while trying to think I did a tub of laundry as MIL would say and am going to go weed the garden. It's a jungle out there!

    This WV looks an awful lot like 'kissin' -- ksiin

  25. I've spent the weekend knowing I need to put the hero's mother in jeopardy.

    Strange business writing.
    Do I have her get shot? Shot AT? knocked of a cliff? Bucked off a horse? Whacked over the head and tossed over a cliff.

    I just kept coming back to scenarios and flipping the possiblities she out alone? Has she gone riding with the heroine? Is the heroine kidnapped after the mother is assaulted?

    I've come up with something I like now. So I'm good but I just find it amazingly entertaining to flip ideas through my head about harming an elderly lady.

    And to be absolutely clear, I have NO mother issues. I adore my mother. She's a sweetheart.

  26. Mental note: stay on Mary's good side.

    Mental note note: find out if Mary has a good side.

  27. Hey Missy, thanks for the info and the interesting ideas.

    I've also found that when I 'lag' in a book it's because I'm not sure which way to take it. I know how it's going to end, but there's always choices on how to get there.

    Oh...and prayer helps. :-)

  28. On a side note, my library had book 2 in a inspy 4-book series. While the 20-pg prologue was a bit much, the opening was a bit slow, the romance took forever to develop, the story wasn't too bad.

    Another library in the county had book 3 so I requested an intra-library transfer. This book made book 2 look like a first draft. So I figured maybe the author just had a bad book two. Surely book 1 and 4 were good.

    Cool thing with my library is when you request a book, if no library has it, they'll buy it. I've already increased the inspy fiction by close to 20 books. Yay, me.

    Thus the library bought book 1 and 4. I read the last one a couple days ago.

    Okay, I didn't read it. I skimmed after reading the firs 20 pages and realizing NOTHING happened in those first 20 pages. Well, the hero did thank God for keeping him alive through the Civil War.

    I haven't read book 1 yet. Can you blame me for not being overly excited?

    Too bad that author's muse slept during her writing of books 2 and 4.

    I know the author has a huge fan base so she's less of a gamble than an unpublished author, but reading awfully written inspys like that kill my muse.

    A rough crit, a low-point scoresheet, a rejection from an editor are far easier to overcome, at least for me, than reading an inspy that makes one's muse say "Why are you even trying?"

  29. did I mention I'm still trying to name the villainous woman in my book? Gina maybe????

  30. Gina, I love that motivation for the bare walls! And that will affect every relationship in the book. Nice work!

    Ann, enjoy the garden. :)

    Melanie, thanks for the reminder about faith! That can definitely see you thorough a dry spell.


  31. Mary, I love how your devious mind works. Such a nice person to be dreaming up all this stuff!

    Anita Mae, again, another one I don't think I inluded: prayer! Thanks for the reminder!


  32. Missy I had this happen just this week. What a timely post.

    What finally worked was to jot down a scanty scene index. It helped because it gave me a direction.

    Pushing through it is so important and I'm glad you posted this.

    Thanks for sharing your tips!



  33. Now I have a list to take with me to the bookstore--more books for my To Be Read pile!
    Great timing for this post--I am a bit stuck on my WIP. Just brainstormed scenes with my crit group yesterday. Now it's time to pull out the index cards and find my kiddos' old science fair posters!

  34. Beth, I'm glad the list was helpful. But a couple of them are ordered online only, I think,(at the author's site). I inluded links for you.

    Have fun with the poster board! Mine had book brainstorming on one side and the info on how long different brands of batteries last on the other side. LOL (By the way, the store brand lasted the longest!) :)