Do you have a stalled writing project that keeps popping up in your mind every now and then? Do you feel guilty abandoning it when it had shown so much promise when you first started it? Maybe you hit a few rough patches along the way before deciding to ditch it. Now you’re hearing its call for attention and are you ignoring it.
If you’re, it’s time you take a look at it so that you can rid yourself of carrying a mental baggage that keeps bothering you.
Yes, you would like to get started on the stalled writing project, but then, does the thought of the previous unsuccessful attempts paralyze you?
If so, here are some tips to help you painlessly reopen an old wound, sew it up and heal it.
Here are some quick steps to follow to that end.
Banish Thoughts of Previous Unsuccessful Attempts
Remind yourself that you aren’t going to take a look at it from the point of view of the writer of the piece, lest you react negatively to it.
Imagine you are now an editor tasked to offer feedback to an anonymous writer. You’re looking at the work for the first time. Since you’ve not looked at the work in a long while, it would be easy to to maintain the necessary distance from the work. Only thing is you need to reset your mind to look at it from an editor’s point of view.
So, how do you easily look at it with an editor’s eyes? Think back to the time when you edited someone’s work. How did it feel? You certainly had no attachment to the work and only wanted to shape it into a good piece of writing.
Keep telling yourself this before you look at the piece of writing. Some of you will find it a little tough to slip into the editor mode. You’ve got to try and get used to it. This habit will come useful in future when you produce more pieces of writing and need to clean them up.
The key is to avoid recalling how you went about writing the piece of work. Don’t entertain any thoughts of it at all.
After setting your mind to go into editor’s mode, you’ll have to set a time to look at the work. If you’re still reluctant to look at it, it means you’ve not fully put yourself into the editor’s mode. It’s alright if you face this problem. especially if you’re new to the writing process.
Here’s a trick I use when I don’t feel like showing up at a piece of work. I set my mind to neutral, which means that I don;t think like a writer or an editor. I clear my mind and leave it blank. It helps if you can divert your mind to something that puts your mind into the neutral mode.
What I usually do is listen to music or concentrate on my slow breathing. If you’re already feeling anxious about looking at the work, leave your work space for a while. Go for a brisk walk and come back about fifteen or twenty minutes later.
Dispel any anxiety by saying that once you get started, everything will be alright. You may want to recall a time when you were reluctant to start working on a writing project, but once you got going everything clicked into gear.
Examine the Work Speedily, Dispassionately
Now, this is an important step. If you don’t handle this well, then you’ll not make much progress in reviving your stalled project.
The key here is to go through the work as fast as possible. You’re going to speed read your work in such a way that no thoughts intrude into it.
Imagine you’re a very busy editor with stacks of work to look at it. It would help if you could just scan or skim through the work.
I advise you not to allocate a long reading session for this. Limit it to a ten or fifteen minute session.
If it’s a longer piece of work like a book or novel, you’ll have to break it down into smaller parts. Again, make sure you don’t exceed ten to fifteen minutes a session and don’t try to do it all in a single day.
Once you’re done with a session close the work. Done with the reading, you’ll either like what you’ve read or not be very impressed with it. Don’t be carried away by any of these thoughts.
Just praise yourself for showing up at the work you’ve been reluctant to look at.
Clear you mind of any thoughts that result from the impression of your work. Go for a walk or do something physical like cleaning your house or something. Anything physical will do as long as it helps you operate in a neutral mode.
Prepare a Quick Report
After you’ve sufficiently distanced yourself from the work, it’s time to slip into the no-nonsense editor mode.
This steps involves you preparing a quick report on what you’ve read. Since your’re a busy editor, you’ll only prepare a very brief report. Say three positive things about what you’ve read.
Maybe you can say a) conversational writing style b) power words and c) good flow etc.
Then highlight three areas that can be improved on: a) opening can be shortened to get to the point faster. b) break up paragraphs into shorter chunks c) expand on certain parts and so on.
Keep the report as brief as possible.
This report is meant for the writer and you may even want to ask questions to help clarify the writer’s vision of the work. You may want to ask questions such as why the writer wrote the work. What the reader takeaway the writer expects from the work is. What are the important reader questions the writer wants answered in the work.
Questions can also be asked as to the subject matter of the work. For example, if the piece on the subject of procrastination if a statement is made to the effect that even successful writers procrastinate when it comes to sitting down and writing, can we have examples?
You may have many improvements to suggest, but for the first round, just stick to three or four.
At best limit your report to about two to three hundred words.
After you have done this, your role as the editor is over.
Operating in Writer Mode
Now you switch to the writer mode. Allow yourself some time to get into the writer’s mode. Maybe a day or two. Meanwhile, prepare yourself to get into the writer’s mode. Tell yourself that you will be receiving some feedback from an editor, and you’ll do you best to follow the instructions.
Tell yourself that your work has potential. It’s just a draft and it will have rough spots like any other written by anybody else. You will try your best to improve on nit and you’ll enjoy doing it.
Read through the feedback from the editor. Now take out a sheet of paper and list down the action steps you’re supposed to take.
For example, you’ll want to write:
a) Write three opening paragraphs without worrying much about the quality. I’ll choose the best later
b) Cut down longer paragraphs and explain ideas as succinctly as possible
c) Provide examples where a matter needs more explanation
Break Project Down to Bite-Size Parts
The most important thing to note here is not to overwork yourself. Chances are the piece you’re working on is a personal project and you can go at a slower pace as long as you’re moving.
Please be careful to break down the tasks to the smallest steps possible. For example, you may want to spend a whole session brainstorming titles That’s alright, even if ordicarily you think it’s not making the best use of your time.
Allocate ten or fifteen minutes a day to work on the improvement. Work as fast as possible so as not to allow yourself to think about what you’re doing and elicit an improper emotional reaction to it that will discourage you from proceeding further.
For the time being, you’ll be operating in a neutral mental state, you’ll entertain no thoughts, whether positive or negative, about what you’re doing.
If you get the impression that your efforts are getting nowhere, keep going. Like Winston Churchill said, if you feel you’re going through hell, keep going.
The most important thing here is not to attain a certain quality in your work, but to cultivate the habit of not giving up on a stalled project and keep working on it.
Just ask yourself., “What benefit do I get by abandoning it?”
At least if I keep working on it, I may see light at the end of the tunnel.
Work for the sake of not giving up on what you’ve started. You not only sharpen your craft but also toughen your mental resolve in relation to writing which is one of the qualities needed to be a successful writer.
Show Up Every Day
Like as has been explained earlier, it’s mighty important to be working in a dispassionate mode. Whether the work is going well or not, promise to show up every day. But then you say, there’s no way I can show up every day. I have many other important things to do. You’re right.
But then you don’t have to show up for long periods of time and interrupt your other more important activities.
Even ten minutes a day will do. Putting in ten minutes a day means you’re showing up. Why, even five minutes a day is enough. What can you do in my five minutes, you ask? Check out my book, 30 Deadly Tricks to Crack Procrastination and you can learn how showing up for a five minutes take your far in your writing project.
Showing up is important because it will keep your project on top of your mind. If you feel unmotivated to show up, tell yourself that you’re going to work on your project until you can make it publishable. You’ll keep on with it until you can make something out of it.
Show Up. Keep Going.
Stop Even if The Going is Good
This is my personal experience. Sometimes when working on a writing project, when I’m flowing, I keep going until I reach a point where I hit a wall. That itself discourages me from moving on further. In my excitement to finish the work as soon as possible, I’ve set up myself to hit a dead end and have a negative reaction to my work.
What I do, is I stop when the going is good and keep the good feeling and continue the next day because I know where I’m headed. You may want to make a note of what you’re supposed to be doing the next day to keep you on track.
Hemingway used the same trick to keep his writing going.
Get Ready for the Worst Case Scenario
Over the years working on numerous writing projects, I have learned an important lesson. There’s no such thing as project that doesn’t work. Someone else has done something similar to you and have completed it successfully. So, don’t act as if you’re the first person to be doing such a work and that’s why you’re not getting anywhere.
If you think the project is going anywhere, don’t trust you judgement yet. It’s just an emotional reaction. Most of the time, our emotional reactions are not accurate predictions. In such situations ask yourself what else you should be doing.
List down the action steps:
1) Read similar works to examine how the writers are dealing with the subject
2) Do more research on the subject – could provide a new angle
3) Stop trying to be original – maybe you should use an existing work as a model and provide your own spin to it.
I believe that if you’re excited enough to start a project, there’s something to it. Sit down and think what got you excited in it in the first place. You may have to dig deep for answers.
Recently, I started a novel which involves a sales girl who marries a doctor who later disappears from her life. I even had the ending in mind but the work wasn’t moving. Then I asked myself, what got me started in the first place. Of course the basis for the novel was a news report where a doctor was arrested for molesting his patient and a charming and enthusiastic sales girl I met selling organic products. I tried to get the novel moving on these two foundations.
Later, thinking hard about it, I realized that it’s not about the doctor or the sales girl. It’s about the individual in conflict with the community. Can the individual break free of the community and realize her true self herself although what she does isn’t approved of by the community?
Once I found this golden thread, I knew how to restructure the novel.
So, try to find out what’s your work about. What philosophy or message or theme are you trying to explore in your work.
Maybe this will fuel the work to its completion.
Track Your Progress
So, you’ve decided to keep working on your project no matter what. You’ve also decided to show up every day.
After a while, you may really be wondering if you’re really making any progress on it. You want to see progress so that you’re motivated to work on it.
To motivate you to move ahead with the project, it’s essential that you can see your progress. So, I would recommend that you keep a record of your daily progress.
Have a kind of a progress chart in a spreadsheet or something.
Monday – worked on title – 10 minutes
Tuesday – finished two paragraphs on the opening chapter – 20 minutes
Wednesday – Re-outlined the third chapter – 25 minutes
When you see a list of activities completed, it will spur you to keep going. As long as you’re moving you’re fine.
Remember, reviving a stalled project is not easy because oi your emotional reaction to it. But once you overcome it and get moving, chances are you’ll successfully completed.
If you’re finding it difficult to get started on your stalled writing project, ad need some assistance to get you moving, check out 30 Deadly Tricks to Crack Procrastination and Start Writing the moment you face the Blank Page.
It takes great effort to open a rusty door, once you prise it open and oil it, everything is going to be smooth again.
: Aandones housing project, taken over by a new developer.
1) Show Up
2) Identify Your Bootlenexks
3) Prepare an Action Plan
4) Take One Small Step at a Time
5) Prepare Your Report to Track Your Progress
Case Study: How I do it on a Stalled Project:
Children wriuting… in fact I’m showing up now…