It’s one of the most frustrating things about writing: you’ve carved out the time to sit at your computer, you’re feeling motivated, but no matter how hard you try, the words won’t come.
You keep trying to drag the words out, one at a time, painstakingly slowly. But it’s no good. The words you do manage to force onto the page are terrible.
You feel like a failure.
This is especially hard to deal with when your writing time is limited and you know that it will be a few days before you have another chance to make any progress.
But there are ways that you can use the otherwise dead time to be productive, even if you aren’t adding to your overall word count.
Plan your next scene
Sometimes you will struggle to write a scene if you’re not clear on what should be happening.
The best way to deal with this is to take a step back and do some planning. Don’t just think about the main aspect of the scene e.g. character learns his wife has had an affair. Instead go into more detail. Think about how you want the characters to feel, how their relationships should develop and change, how this scene will bring them closer or further away from their goals.
What smaller actions should happen? Maybe the man checks his wife’s phone after she gets a text and learns her secret. Then he confronts her and they argue, so intensely he might hit her. Then you have the emotional fallout to deal with.
Take baby steps through your scene and flesh them out as much as you can so that they’ll be easier to write.
Discard your laptop and grab a notebook if you can, as focusing on a fresh medium can really help.
Do your research
If you’ve been worrying that there are gaps in your background knowledge, now is the time to squeeze in some extra research.
You don’t have to feel guilty about taking time away from your manuscript, because the research is only going to make your story more accurate and realistic.
And you never know, the research might actually help you solve whatever problem is blocking your writing.
Go back and edit
A lot of people advise writers not to edit as they go along and that can be good advice. But if you’re really stuck and can’t get any fresh words onto the page, it could be a good time to go back and polish up those you’ve already written.
Get rid of any obvious errors and cut out sentences that don’t work, or add extra bits as you need them.
Write a plot overview
I have a spreadsheet with every scene in my novel listed in order, along with the main details and character arcs. It’s been a really useful tool during the editing process, especially as the story tends to jump around and it can be time consuming to find a particular scene or to decide on the best location for a new scene.
But creating a plot overview is one of those slightly annoying admin tasks that seem like more of a chore than anything (unless you’re the sort of person who enjoys spending time with a spreadsheet – I wish I could have such a positive relationship with Excel). It took me several hours to put mine together, and it does need updating as I fiddle with the order of my chapters and add and delete scenes.
Usually I prioritise the actual writing, so a lull in the writing process is as a good a time as any to tackle this kind of outstanding admin.
Find and remove
If you’re going to be staring blankly at the computer trying to write, but failing, you may as well do whatever you can to improve your manuscript and feel productive. That could be something as simple as running a search for any phrases you know you overuse, or unnecessary words.
For example, it’s enough to say ‘he sat beside me’ rather than ‘he sat down beside me’. There are bound to be plenty of examples of small changes that will make your writing better.
What are your strategies for dealing with a slow writing day? I’d love to read your tips in the comments!