I have learned that when I run into a problem with a story that makes me stop, the best thing I can do is — to just stop. If I can’t see any immediate way to fix the problem, but just keep pushing on, I find later — days, months, years later — that everything I wrote past that point is garbage.
If, on the other hand, I stand up from the story, and go off and do “useful things,” a solution may come to me, when I am occupied with dishes or laundry or groceries or putting things away, which I can then stop doing and get back to the story.
Or, nothing may come. If I push, I get nowhere. So I let it go. And frequently I wake up the next morning, before the alarm goes off, and I have the solution. Then I can move on.
But I had to stop first. Sometimes I have to put the story aside, and work on something else. It took me seven years, of productively writing other things, before I understood that the reason for grinding to a halt with Soul Stone, was that in chapter four, I had my hero do something he would not have done — that I would not have done — and just pushed on, as we are so often advised to do. While pushing, I wasn’t even aware that there was a problem.
This morning I woke up early, having had a good night’s sleep for a change, with the feeling that, despite all the good work I had done on Soul Stone, I was going nowhere. I know what happens next. I know the adversary my hero will meet and what happens to him. I know I’ll have more ideas for part four — but I’m going nowhere. Even with exciting images of an exciting ending.
I could just push on, and produce thousands words of a story which just doesn’t work. It will be finished, it could be published, but it will feel wrong.
Or I could stop now, get on with the other half of my life (household management and engineering) and put the story away in the back of my head to just brew for a while.
Hmmm. Even now, having decided to stop, I think I can see a solution. If I had just pushed on, I would never have found it. Hmmm. It won’t be easy, but —
Yes. There is an answer. And it hasn’t taken me seven years to figure it out.