Story Stew

There’s no such thing as writer’s block.
Write a little bit each day.
Butt in chair.

I’m sure we’ve all heard variations on these themes regurgitated online and in craft books and by cranky creative writing professors.

Writers write, right?

Yes, but sometimes such a pace is unsustainable. You don’t want to get so burned out you never want to pick up a pen again. You also don’t want to keep writing just for the sake of writing if there’s something fundamentally wrong with your story. Sometimes you just need to stop and have a think.

This doesn’t mean you have writer’s block or that you aren’t being productive, even if you’re not committing words to a page. Thinking through your story is always time well spent.

The prewriting stage of a project is the most familiar, most obvious, time you spend thinking about a story. Also before launching into a major revision. In both cases it makes sense to give yourself a few days, weeks, even months, depending on story scope, to think over what you want to accomplish, and how that tracks through the narrative.

Recently, particularly for my short stories, I will get a story idea, but wait until the point where I cannot stand not writing the story any longer. I stew and stew and stew, let my story ideas come to a simmer, then a roiling boil, and then and only then do I start to write. I’ve found this leads to more complete first drafts and a better sense of my characters and the overall story arc. High five.

There are also less obvious times when it makes sense to hit the brakes and think on what comes next. For me, I usually pause in my drafting when I approach a major tentpole scene. I also slow down my pace the closer I get to the end of my story. In both cases, I’m usually juggling a lot of characters and plot elements, and it can take time to work my way through these scenes even with an outline. A slow and steady pace, particularly with lots of time built in to stew about the possibilities, usually helps it all come together.

I’ve taken to addressing problem scenes this way too. I’ll take a break, stew a few days, and then come back re-energized to get the story back on track.

How do you stew?

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6 thoughts on “Story Stew

  1. Laura Marcella says:

    I let my writing projects stew for a while, too. It helps make the story that much more complete while writing it, and I rarely get stuck throughout the process.

    Hope you're having a great week!

  2. Lori M. Lee says:

    Great post! I totally do this too. Only difference is I have to write down what I think up AS I'M THINKING or I will forget it later on. My brain has holes or something.

    Writers write, right?

    I like this XD

  3. Jen McConnel says:

    Very true! I feel guilty when I stew, but you're right: it's necessary and makes the writing better. Time to go simmer…er, I mean, write. Or perhaps both!

  4. Deborah Walker says:

    That's interesting Bluestocking. I love hearing about the writing process.

    I never do this. All my thinking time is done directly onto the page. Sometimes I even talk to myself on the page.

    I like the sound of this technique. Especially the more complete first drafts.

  5. Christine Murray says:

    I like this post, it means I can justify my chronic procrastination as a creative stewing process.

    I think you're right, but a little bit of butt in the chair always helps in my opinion.

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