When Your Work in Progress is Not Making Progress

I got used to the incessant drone of crickets around here.

Not the ones chirping outside our bedroom window. Those I like.

No, it’s the crickets inside my head that bedeviled me. The crickets that invaded the space where my writing inspiration should be.

When Your Work in Progress Is Not Making Progress

Writing a novel has been a lifelong dream, one that has eluded me thus far. Ten months ago I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and banged out 50,000 words of my novel. It was actually a stress-free, even pleasant experience. I let my creativity flow and I sat back and watched what happened.

The outcome surprised me. My characters, with flaws and desires I hadn’t predicted, made choices I hadn’t foreseen. Major characters switched places with minor characters. My setting evolved from blurry to crystal clear, vivid and colorful, the way Oz looked when Dorothy’s house plunked down in it.

I felt like I was on the sidelines observing the action in a lively football game.

I kept at it, several hours a day. In the end, I proudly tacked the NaNoWriMo certificate of completion on my office wall. I did it! It would be smooth sailing now.

On a roll of self-confidence, I didn’t let the momentum subside. I continued to work on the draft, writing more chapters, editing, and finally in March, submitting the work in progress to a developmental editor. I wanted a professional to take an overview of what I had done so far.

Nervous to hear her say I would never be a writer get her feedback, I was relieved to get thoughtful, helpful notes of ways to improve my story.  She pointed out where the holes were, alerted me to inconsistencies in the timeline and, since I am writing historical fiction, suggested ways to give the reader a fuller context of the time period.

Charged with energy, I dove into the second draft, certain that 2015 would be my year. The year I finally finished the novel.

That’s what I thought.

Welp. It’s not happening.

Why? Well, life kind of got in the way. My son got married. My daughter got engaged. My dog got sick.

Maybe I should not have let these interruptions derail me, but I did. I was distracted. I couldn’t get back into my novel.

Chagrined, I started to feel like a failure. Would this novel never get completed? I had come so far, done so much work. Invested so much love in this project.

I sat myself down and did some soul searching. Some DIY psycho therapy. I resisted the inclination to slip into self-doubt. What could I do to get back on track if I couldn’t muster the energy to work on my draft?

I did three things.

  1. I gave myself a pep talk. Instead of my normal refrain — I can’t, I won’t, I’ll never — I told that inner voice to shut the hell up. I gave myself permission to extend my deadline. It’s my deadline, no one else’s.
  2. I continued to write, blogging at least once a week on topics of interest to me. This gave my writing muscles a regular workout.
  3. I kept reading. The hours that were not spent writing were devoted to the stack of books next to my bed. There’s nothing quite like reading brilliant writing to inspire your own.

The upshot?

I’m back. The juices are once again flowing, the wheels are turning. I’m happy to say that my work in progress is again progressing.

And I’ve kicked those crickets out of my head.

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63 Thoughts on “When Your Work in Progress is Not Making Progress

  1. Robin (Masshole Mommy) on September 29, 2015 at 11:18 am said:

    Glad you are working on it again. I know life gets in the way sometimes, but glad you are not completely letting it go.

  2. I’m so happy to hear that Helene. It is your novel, and you control the process. Whatever the timeline you will produce a work that you are proud to put your name on–and I can’t wait to read it!

  3. So happy you are writing again. This is inspiring especially to me who has had a file full of poetry just collecting dust.

  4. I’m so glad you’re back! You’re my hero, finishing 50,000 words last year. I hope to be no more than a year behind you!

  5. I can relate to your struggle. As a travel writer, I need to travel — well, I could write canned work but that’s not very authentic or interesting. Anyway, with a son graduating from college and getting married this year and another son graduating from high school and going to college, I’m busy being a mom. This year, the big trips can wait. Life can’t. I hope your creative juices stay for good!

  6. A much needed pep talk! I loved so much about this post and the crickets image at the top made me laugh out loud. Too funny. Thanks for this. I think it is excellent advice for tackling any big, hairy, audacious goal.

  7. Glad to hear it. You are the boss over those damn head crickets and negative Nellies! Go Helene, Go!

  8. Good for you Helene. Not everyone could use self-talk to pep themselves back into writing again. So give yourself a healthy pat on the back. I know your book will be a winner. And I will be first in line to read it. Okay, after your parents. And husband. And kids. Then me!! 🙂

  9. I’m so excited for you! Maybe you and your novel needed some time apart so you could look at it with fresh eyes. It does sound like you’ve had a busy year – now you can really buckle down and focus.

  10. Glad to hear you are back at it! Maybe you can use all the “distractions” as inspiration for your novel? Sometimes real is much better than fiction 😉

  11. Sounds like you are in a good mindset and ready to nail out your novel! Good luck!

  12. You by no means are a failure. Sometimes we need to step back and take a break and allow the creative juices to flow! Cannot wait to hear more about your novel.

  13. I’m so glad to read that you’re back! I feel like a lot of us have been there and have been distracted at one point or another. Great job getting yourself on track!

  14. I think we all go through that “cricket chirping” stage but you have accomplished so much. 50,000 words is a lot

  15. Good for you!! Kick them out of your head. Darn crickets.
    That’s my life dream too – to write a book. Although mine wouldn’t be a novel, I don’t think, since I’m terrible at fiction and I bow to people who can write it.

  16. I think victory for you will be so much sweeter because it took awhile to get there. I do know life brings us delays sometimes.

  17. Everyday life can certainly derail us from our passions and our goals. I think it’s impressive that you had the clarity to refocus and give yourself some slack. An extended deadline is simply that. The best of luck with your novel! 🙂

  18. Woo! Back on track! This is wonderful news. I hope your own writing surprises you even more this time.

  19. Aunesty Reikofski on September 29, 2015 at 10:46 pm said:

    Good for you kicking those crickets out and getting your groove back! I can’t wait to read your final novel! You got this, the hardest part was starting, you did that, flew through it, now all you have left is to cross the finish line. You CAN do this!

  20. I love telling the inner voice to shut the hell up. I can so relate – we doubt ourselves and the time passes by – and now with 90 days left til end of the year, I have a few resolutions to fulfill!

  21. You will finish and it will be wonderful!

  22. Life definitely gets in the way of our plans at times. Just do the best you can and get back on track as you can is what I say. 🙂

  23. Elizabeth Towns on September 30, 2015 at 1:47 am said:

    I definitely identify with having writers block, and then having life throw itself right in the way, blocking my writing progress. I like how you turned that around and turned it into a power session. Good luck on your writing!

  24. One of the bedt things we can do is find a way to silence the negative voices inside our heads and find a wsy to get things done.

  25. All things in good time. Be kind to yourself. What does it matter if you finish the 2nd draft this year or next? or never? You rock, regardless!

  26. I love this happy ending! We all get derailed…but the important thing is not to be hard on ourselves (I know, easy to say…). Glad the creative juices have found their way back to you, Helene. Happy writing to you 🙂

  27. Reading your words was a very needful and spot on pick me up. I totally get it. At times, for whatever reasons, we find ourselves down in the dumps and plagued with the doldrums. It can be depressing when we fail to complete the things we always said we’d do. But with the proper mindset we can forge ahead and get a little bit closer to that brass ring we working so hard to obtain. Love this! Thank you.

  28. I am so happy to hear that you are back and better than ever with your writing! Keep that creative mind going!

  29. What a great post. Sometimes things take longer than expected. I am working on a book currently, it took me 1 year to publish my first ebook, and I have a second ebook that I still have to get ready to publish.

  30. If you aren’t in the right space, being creative can seem impossible…Great to hear you got your mojo back!

  31. Great post! Keep up the good work.

  32. Hmm. I think I could use a little of that DIY therapy before I’m consumed by Seasonal Affective Disorder. Congratulations on getting your creativity mojo back!

    • hbludman on October 5, 2015 at 3:18 pm said:

      Thanks, Suzanne, and I hear you about the S.A.D. I get it really bad in the winter.

  33. Thanks for posting this, Helene. I am so reassured knowing that I am not the only one “bedeviled by those crickets in my head.”

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