Ideas to Help You Get Unstuck in the Middle of a Manuscript Draft

If you follow me online on the social media places I frequent like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, you might already know that I'm currently in the process of writing a novel which is in the first draft stage. 

I love many of the stages of the writing process -- the innocence, curiosity and freedom of a first draft, to the eye opening wonder and layering of a second draft, to the depth and shaping when all the hard work starts to pay off in a third draft. I live for the moment of being able to actually "see" beyond those early drafts to the actual story itself. It's like wiping away a thick film of dust  on a grubby window pane to see the new world you have created expand before your eyes.


Writing a novel can be so exciting and absorbing but it can also be challenging keeping threads together, making sure your ending delivers on what you've promised in the beginning, and becoming aware of character motivations and actions, and so on. And so on. And so on!

I'm always a bit hesitant to give writing advice because I don't think there's any one way to write a book. As I've learned, the way I'm writing this particular book is different to how I wrote my first. Even I'm surprised at the process. What I've learned is that every creative piece is different and knowing how to allow your piece to unfold is one of the things that makes the process of writing beautiful.

So, rather than give you absolute advice on something where any absolute advice aside from "keep going" or "persevere" or "trust yourself, but still keep going!" isn't going to fit everyone, I'm going to share some of the things that have worked for me. So, if you reach the middle of your novel and feel a little stuck, here are some things that have helped me in my writing life. 

Learn when it's time to take a breather

It can sometimes be very hard to jump back into a manuscript after you've skipped a few consecutive days of writing. Sometimes though, it can be helpful if you  consciously allow yourself some distance from your work because it lets you come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. A little bit of distance can help with perspective. For me, the trick is to know when resistance is stopping me from producing words I'm happy with, versus genuinely needing to take a break. Sometimes, you need to write your way through a plot point to find a thread, and other times, you need space for more ideas to swirl around. With practice, you can come to learn the difference. Key here? Be honest with yourself. Tired and emotionally zapped? (Take a break.) Or feeling scared and uncomfortable? (Trust, and power ahead anyway.)

 Print Out Your Pages 

The experience of reading a manuscript online is very different to reading printed pages. I find the process of reading printed pages lends itself to really being able to see the bigger picture. There's also space to scribble notes and ideas. So, sometimes, I'll stop in the middle of a first draft to print things out and see what's actually happening, so I can identify threads and get a sense of how best to continue. Here are some of the things I have scrawled into the early chapters of my manuscript:  

Why does she say this? Would she really say it? What does this say about her? How do I bring this out more in future chapters?

You need to show the reader WHY she is thinking this.  

How is this relevant and how does it relate to the plot? 

Do we need to know this right now?  Delete? Move?



Way too much telling! 

Sentence structure. Fix!

Need to go deeper here with this point. 

Flat scene ending. 

More emotion here. 

Mention this earlier. Needs build up.

Better transition needed. 

Make this better!

Read a book

Sometimes the last thing I want to do is read while I'm working on a project, but if I get really stuck and know it's time to take a break, reading can sometimes be really helpful. There's something I find wonderfully inspiring about reading well-told stories (even better if they contain beautiful prose) and if I'm lucky it makes me yearn to go back to my own writing project to play around with my own words. Sometimes all it takes is a chapter or two and then I'm caught between that delicious push-pull of: do I write or do I keep on reading? 

Pick up a notebook

There's something comforting about being able to curl up on the couch with a cuppa and write as if the world isn't watching. Which it's not, but it feels like something a little sacred and special, to pick up a Leuchtturm or a Moleskine and pepper it with loopy handwriting without having doubts cross your mind as you stare back at a typed paragraph and question what you've written. What's a delete key? I find writing by hand to be a more personal, gentler way of writing, and while I couldn't write a whole novel this way, I often use this tool to experiment with scenes or pick up where I've left off if I don't quite know what to write next. It's said there's a heart to hand connection when you write this way and I'm shuffling to the side that believes this is probably true.

So, those are a handful of tips aside from "keep going," "persevere," and "trust yourself but still keep going." I hope you find them helpful and I'd love to hear how you help yourself to get unstuck!