So you’re planning your first novel, and suddenly it seems like you’ve chewed all the sugar out of the gum. You felt so excited about this novel, but after taking several shots at the opening scenes, the whole thing seems to have run out of steam. What do you do?
Bailee posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I think I have a story that I want to write. This would be my first time writing a book, and I’m at a pretty big loss for words. I find myself wrestling with multiple opening chapters and losing steam when trying to plan it out. It’s unbelievably frustrating to me. Would you say its best to dive right into a novel or should I have a solid outline before beginning?
Randy sez: There are a couple of possible reasons that I can think of for why your novel is losing steam, Bailee. I can’t tell which is the reason, so I’ll cover them both and hope that one of them rings a bell for you.
You might be losing steam because:
- You’ve gotten stuck on rewriting the first few scenes over and over again.
- You’ve tried to plan out your whole novel, when your brain isn’t wired that way.
Let’s look at those two possibilities in more depth.
Writer sometimes talk about “revision hell”—a bad place where you can get stuck forever.
Note that there is also a “revision heaven” where you put the pot on simmer for a good long time and keep doing revisions over and over while the story turns into soup. I’ve done that for a project that needed it, and I didn’t mind it a bit, because I thought it made the story better.
You can tell whether you’re in revision heaven or revision hell by asking whether the story is getting better. (And also, whether you’re enjoying it.)
Bailee, it’s possible you’re in revision hell. New writers often get caught in revision hell by writing a few scenes, then getting them critiqued, then rewriting the scenes, then getting them critiqued again, and doing that over and over forever.
That way lies eternal torment. That road guarantees to make your novel lose steam.
If you’re in revision hell, then here’s how to escape. Write your scenes and take them in for critique, but then leave the scenes alone while you write the next scenes in your novel, applying what you just learned from the critique to the new scenes. Promise yourself not to revise any scenes until you finish the first draft of the novel.
When you do this, you make forward progress in your story, and you become a better writer, both at the same time. And your novel doesn’t lose steam.
Planning for Pantsers
Some writers just naturally write by the seat of their pants, without any kind of outline or character preparation. We call these writers “seat-of-the-pants” writers (SOTPs for short), or sometimes just “pantsers.” Their brains are wired to write without planning. Many, many great novelists write this way. If that’s the way your brain is wired, then write that way.
Other writers just naturally need to plan out the story before they write it. Knowing where they’re going gives them the feeling of security they need in order to write the next scene, and the next, and the next. Many, many great novelists write this way. If that’s the way your brain is wired, then write that way. My wildly popular Snowflake Method is one variation on this theme, but there are others.
But what happens if a pantser tries to plan their novel?
Bad things happen. I’ve seen it numerous times.
The pantser will quickly get bored trying to plan their novel. They feel like the story isn’t fun anymore. And they’re right. Planning isn’t fun for pantsers. Planning is loads of fun for planners.
Bailee, it’s possible you’re a pantser trying to be a planner. That will take the steam out of your novel every time.
If that’s the case, then the solution is simple. Stop planning and just type the novel.
Here’s one indicator that can help you decide if you’re a planner or a pantser. Imagine that some authority figure tells you: “Throw away all your plans and just type the novel.”
How do you feel when you hear those words?
- If that feels liberating to you, then you’re probably a pantser.
- If that feels terrifying to you, then you’re probably a planner.
Other Possible Causes
There are probably other possible reasons why Bailee might be losing steam. I can’t think of any right now, but I’m sure my Loyal Blog Readers can. If you’ve got some ideas on what’s causing Bailee’s problem, leave a comment here.
Writing fiction should be fun. If it’s not fun, then something’s wrong.
Got a Question for My Blog?
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.