5 ways to fix a stalled writing project


If you have a writing project that you’re having trouble finishing, the best solution is to look at your material with “fresh eyes”.

Here are some things that work for me:

1) Break it up into smaller parts

When I find myself stuck on a project, one of the first things I consider doing is breaking up long chapters or sections into smaller parts. I can then re-arrange those parts, again and again if necessary, until I find the best places for them, whether that’s another part of the chapters they came from or another chapter entirely.

In time management, it’s called “The Salami Technique”– breaking up big projects or tasks into smaller slices which are easier to handle. It works the same way with writing.

In Word, you can cut and paste parts of your chapters into separate documents. I use Scrivener, which makes this much easier. At a glance, I can see all of the parts, without having to scroll through long chapters, and it’s easy to move those parts to anywhere in the document.

2) Write a new outline

Outlines are meant to be a starting point, not a rigid mold into which you must pour your words. If your original outline isn’t working for you, write a new one.

You can “re-write” the outline you started with, or, as I often do, put everything out of sight and write a new outline from scratch.

I often do this on paper because it gives me a different perspective. I might go in another room with a legal pad, think about my project, and quickly write a list of the subjects I want to cover in the order I want to cover them. I’ll usually start with the subjects I’m certain about, then come back and fill in the others.

I might do a mind-map, on paper or on the computer. This gives me a visual overview, making it easier to see where I might be going off track.

Sometimes, I re-write my mind-map or outline several times, until it feels right to me. I might do it again later in the project if a particular chapter or subject is giving me trouble.

3) Put it away

If you don’t have a deadline for your writing project, put it away and come back to it later. Give it a few days or weeks, or even months, and work on other things. When you pick it up again, you will be able to be more objective.

When I do this, I often see entire pages and even chapters that don’t belong. I also see gaps I need to fill in, with unanswered questions I need to address.

Things jump out at me–paragraphs that don’t make sense (“What did I mean, here?”), repeated ideas, and ideas that need to be fleshed out. As a result, problems that had once plagued me are easily fixed.

4) Get someone else involved

When I’m stuck, sometimes I sit my wife down and “explain” to her what the project is about. She gives me feedback and asks questions that allow me to clarify what I mean. Explaining it to her also allows me to “hear” if what I’m saying makes sense, and gives me clues about what I need to do to finish the project.

5) Read it out loud

If I’m on the third or fourth edit and something is still bothering me (i.e., something’s missing, something doesn’t make sense, I’ve got too much of one thing and not enough of another), reading the document out loud helps me to see what I couldn’t see before.

So that’s what I do to fix a stalled writing project.

One more thing. Sometimes I find that despite my best efforts, I can’t make the project work and the best solution is to abandon it.

I find that my best writing doesn’t “fight me,” it flows smoothly and I finish it quickly. If the current project doesn’t, I have no problem moving onto greener pastures.

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