Your Great Idea, Take Two!
So you’ve started a writing project and now it’s not working for you. It started with a great idea for an article or piece of content, but now, for one reason or another, you can’t seem to get it done.
While it can be frustrating to feel stuck in the middle of a project with no easy way out, it’s totally normal. Don’t let the writing process get you down.
Rewrites (and complete re-dos) are part of the creative process.
Don’t let them stop you cold. Good writers and content producers keep moving, even if it means temporarily shelving a project that won’t seem to budge.
Stay Busy While You Re-evaluate
Look at the bright side. You probably have other things you could be doing to keep things humming. Maybe you have some ideas that have been on the back burner and you’ve been looking for a good excuse to do them. Well, now is your time. Don’t stop everything!
Find something else to work on for a while when your current project seems to have stalled. This keeps your business or blog moving, and your mind sharp, while allowing you to take a break from the thing that’s causing the most pain.
When you’re stuck, work on something that could help you accomplish your goals in a more straightforward way. Maybe that means a different chapter, an article that’s easier to write, an email campaign, or collaboration you’ve wanted to start.
It won’t do you any good just staring at the same horrid mess, so what else could you be doing that’s productive?
I’m a big believer in timing and I also believe that there are no mistakes. If a project or piece of content is not ready to be born, there may be a very good reason why it’s not coming together as it should. You may be exasperated that you can’t finish your project, but who knows? The missing piece could be just around the corner.
A little breathing room, and the whole thing may pop right open.
It seems that whenever I have to postpone my plans, there’s always a good reason in the whole scheme of things. Trust that there’s something better in your future…
Maybe a news story will break that validates your article’s thesis. Perhaps you’ll meet just the person who will provide the interview that clinches your theory. Or you’ll stumble across an article or book that connects some wayward points.
Breakthroughs always happen after your darkest hour. That’s why they’re called breakthroughs. Don’t worry. If it’s meant to be, you’ll see the light.
Yes, I know you’ve invested time (and therefore money) in a project that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. You’ll have a better plan next time if you follow the tips here. Meanwhile, think of the re-evaluation period as recovery time from an injury.
Take Your Creative Injury Seriously
When you know you’re in the weeds, you must get out ASAP. The creative process is as demanding as physical work. When you hit a wall, it’s every bit as serious as sustaining an injury to your body. If the creative “injury” is severe, it could mean the end of your career, or at least your morale.
Don’t let this happen. You should immediately stop and evaluate the ruins. Don’t persist through the pain. You’ll only waste more time, and dig yourself deeper into a creative hole. Stop and decide what should be done before you jump back in for the rewrite.
I’m really not joking about this. Have you ever had an injury from sports or a workout? If your shoulder is screaming with pain every time you raise your arm, do you continue to work through it, or do you give it a rest and train on something else? If you’re smart, you stop what’s causing the pain immediately and evaluate your therapeutic options, like heat or ice, rest, etc. Even a tiny injury needs to heal. Otherwise you risk a more serious injury from which it’s harder to rebound.
Take it easy. Admit that there’s something wrong and take a rest.
So what’s the creative writing equivalent to rest, ice, compression, elevation, or heat? We already talked about working on something different in the interim. That helps get your mind off what’s failing without having time to sulk. But after a creative “injury” how do you get back in the saddle and finish the darn thing?
Now that you’ve put some distance between that difficult article and yourself…
Let’s say you’ve decided that you want to continue the work. You’ve reassessed the topic itself, your goals, your motivation and your ability to write it, but you’re still stumped.
The desire to work through the block is strong, so what now? How do you get back to work?
Sometimes you can sort things out on your own. Other times, you may consider getting a second opinion. Do you know another smart writer or trusted colleague who might take a look and give you some insight? A friendly critic or editorial viewpoint can add great momentum to a stalled project. Writers tend to be lone wolves, so you may have to work at nurturing these relationships with other writers. Once you have them, they’re invaluable!
I have to mention one more thing about his “other” person. Make sure he or she is NICE, not someone who has something to prove, who has an ulterior motive; who likes you too much to be objective; or who gets a little thrill if there should be the slightest whiff of blood in the water when you hit a snag. A clue! If someone always wants to help you, then that person is probably getting pleasure or satisfying some need of her own from seeing you needy or failing; so stay away.
Also, at this point in your re-evaluation of your project, you don’t need a proofreader, meaning someone who is going to change specific words and insert grammatical comments. Instead, you’re looking for a writing partner (or group) who is friendly, dispassionate about your success, and confident enough to be genuinely helpful; who sees the big picture, understands your goals, and can steer you in a more productive direction. Preferably, find someone who knows what you’re going through.
Ask for exactly what you need and what you are NOT looking for, too.
Break the Original
You’re not going to like this, but the awful truth is you can’t really go back and make something that wasn’t working, work. You are going to have to take it apart and put it back together or get rid of entire chunks altogether.
Best case scenario: your writing needs mere rearranging, like living room furniture. Hopefully, all you need to do is move clumps of text in a different order; maybe add some paragraphs to help with transitions or clarification.
Most likely, though, you’ll need to rewrite.
New Style: You may try different styles of writing to get you over your hump. Adapt your project for a different form or genre, like a poem or a short story. I’m not saying you should spend too much time doing this, but a simple interview format or descriptive essay might jog the idea you’re looking for.
New Perspective: You could also rewrite the piece from a different perspective, i.e. in the voice of a beginner, or someone outside your industry, or even a creature from another planet! Ask yourself the questions they would ask and answer them one at a time. Get outside yourself and your opinions.
New Size: Perhaps you can break your original idea into smaller parts. A sprawling project may be more easily contained if you extract one detail and work on that instead of roping an entire herd of ideas together. A painter or photographer often uses an actual frame to “see” a scene, a landscape, or a still life better. Narrowing the boundaries allows him to envision it in context, the way it will appear in the final dimensions within which he normally creates.
Nothing is ever wasted.
Once you decide your work is valuable, or at least the idea you started with is worthy of more effort, don’t lose heart. Yes, you may have to kiss goodbye to a large part of your text or manuscript, but hopefully you’ll have a more focused approach the next go round. Maybe you will eventually decide the project isn’t worth the extra work, but at least you won’t recreate the same disaster.
This is your job as a writer, identifying a story that’s worth telling and eventually finding your way out of the dark, mysterious woods. No one said it was easy. The process can be frustrating, but it’s up to you to sort it out.
Once you do, take a breath, and go back and try again. Any writing worth reading is worth the work you invest.