Is Your Writing Project Stalled?

First Draft Rehab
a.k.a
when a promising early draft hits the skids

Blog Post by Annette Yourk, Sept 5, 2016

Your manuscript is tucked into its box. There’s more work ahead, but you’re feeling good. You’ve gone the extra mile; tidied some sloppy sections, tinkered with spelling, and punctuation. You’ve built this story with knowledge, the raw material of memory, and your own imagination and unique view of the world. You know your material by heart. The hard work is behind you now and you can see the summit; where the perfect convergence of idea, motivation, complication and conflict is about to carry your story to its finale…

But wait!

Working over manuscript flaws can be overwhelming.

Working over manuscript flaws can be overwhelming.

Someone told you about the middle section, right? The place where it gets sticky. Unbidden complications confuse the scene. Characters smack up against unplanned roadblocks. Timelines snarl, locations shift. Gravel roads become highways. Minor characters confuse the scene. Everything you expected would meet you here and carry your story to its end is now in question.

You have arrived at the difficult middle section. You’re disappointed, overwhelmed, and tearing your hair. You let things stew for a while; open a bottle of something, and remember to breathe. It will be okay. You’ll step in again when you have more time. BUT you are on a slippery slope and in danger of putting your work on hold at the middle section trailing frail promises of “later.”

More tips for manuscript recovery.

If you haven’t already, write and/or rewrite an outline of “what happens” in your narrative. Can you see holes, overwriting, misplaced scenes or characters. Are there too many minor characters? Are scenes out of context?

Get tough on adverbs that dilute rather than drive a strong narrative. Try removing all adverbs and you’ll see a tighter version of that section of prose – a quality you may want to adopt throughout your piece.

Explore the emotional arc of your protagonist and antagonists. This involves outlining what happens to each character and noting how they react to what happens. This can reveal distinct aspects of character and plot development you may not otherwise notice. This deeper information will advance reader engagement.

Carve out sacrosanct time for manuscript recovery. Plan your next day’s writing time before you go to bed. Set achievable goals. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge all of your hard work. This is a labour of love and significance, right? Stay committed.

Here’s some bracing words from Sparkle and Illuminate, Carol Shields on Writing: “I really only had about an hour or an hour and a half a day…. If I didn’t get to my two pages, I would get into bed at night with one of those thick yellow tablets of lined paper and I would do two quick pages then turn off the light. Always end your writing with the beginning of something and you’ll hit the page writing.

The days cannot be stretched, but they can be shaped.