I’ve recently started a new book. Well, when I say started, it was more like an involuntary evacuation (sorry, if that sounds a bit bowel-related) of words than a conscious decision. It’s always the case with me. That initial surge of excitement when I’ve thought of the concept or the main character or a tip top opening paragraph has popped fully formed into my brain while walking the dog, and I just can’t wait to open up a new Word document and go, usually carries me through the first ten thousand words. And after that, there’s generally enough momentum built up to carry me through the establishing of plot points, and the embedding of characters and perhaps the first big satisfying set-piece scene. But then it comes. The Stall.
Every writer is different, but for me The Stall usually comes when I’m a third of the way through the book. By this stage I’m too far in to give it up and start something new, but not far enough in to be unfazed by how much there still is left to go. I’m not a plotter. I usually have some idea how a book might end, but other than that I start at the beginning and let the story evolve where it seems to want to go. Which is all very lovely until I’m 30,000 words in, and where the story seems to want to go is either round in circles or down a big fat dead end.
What are all these characters I’ve introduced going to do for the next 60,000 words? How are the plots and subplots going to weave together, so they don’t keep plodding along in parallel lines that never the twain shall meet? And above all, what is going to keep readers interested for the next two hundred pages or so?
I’m a member of a crime writers’ support group on Facebook (yes there is such a thing and, amazingly, no alcohol is involved). Some of us, who have tight deadlines, have been trying to help each other along by logging our daily and weekly word counts (no, not so we can jeer when they’re miserably low, but so we can clap each other on the back if we make our targets and gee each other up to do better the next day if we don’t. We’re nice like that.). The other day I had to admit that, after a blistering start, I’ve now well and truly stalled. ‘Are you at 30,000 words?’ someone asked. ‘Yep’. ‘Well that’s it then, you’re at the 30K stall mark’. Who knew that was an actual thing? Not me, but turns out lots of us experience it.
If it’s that common, it stands to reason there’s quick-fix solution, right? Wrong. Some people in the group recommended taking a day or two off and doing something completely non work-related to recharge my batteries. Others suggested writing something that isn’t the book – a short story, perhaps. Or a blog post (why yes, this is a displacement activity, what of it?). In short, anything that might give me a fresh perspective. But the general advice was to keep going, putting one word after the other, even if I think the story is terrible, even if I can’t see where it’s heading, even if each word is like pulling a splinter out with a needle.
To paraphrase an old platitude, the only way past The Stall, is through it. One painful word at a time.
So if you see me on here again in the next few days, please chuck me off. I have a book to write.