Write, Revise & Repeat – Are You Stuck in a Rut?

I’ve been working on my current novel since May. Back then it was a vague one-sentence idea. I wrote about four beat sheets a month, feeling out the story and figuring out how to shape it. In October I started outlining, and as I outlined I’d find problems and head back to the beat sheet stage to revise. But I felt this back and forth (write, revise and repeat process) was moving forward – I was getting closer and closer to completing the outline to my satisfaction, and after that I would write! Oh, the joy! It would happen soon, maybe next month, and then…

I stopped making progress. I started rewriting everything and getting nowhere. Finally, I put down my pen and assessed the situation. Was I in a rut? And what should I do about it? This certainly wasn’t the first time I’d found myself stuck. As I pondered the situation, I came up with 4 Writing Ruts and how to get out of them:

Delivery wagon stuck in mud, Toronto ca. 1911
Delivery wagon stuck in mud, Toronto ca. 1911

#1 – Spinning wheels. Are you reworking the same thing over and over and over? You’re in a rut and you need to turn off and step away. This is hard, because you really want to keep writing and finish the novel, but a week or two away will give you the perspective you need to solve the story problem.

#2 – Wheels stuck in mud. Don’t know what to write next? Something about your story feels “off” and you can’t move until you find out what it is and fix it… but how? I find the best thing for this is to work on a different story. I learn from every story I write and use that knowledge to improve and fix problems in other stories.

#3 – Sinking in swampland. Have you revised so much that you’ve driven the story into alligator territory, and not in a good way? Try rereading your old outlines. Is a previous version better than what you have now? If so, you’ve gone too far and are in a revising rut. Go back to solid ground, to the outline you think worked best, and make small changes to fix it.

#4 – Driving in circles. Upon rereading your old outlines, do you keep going back and forth between the same changes? Changing it and then changing it back? You’re in a giant rut! List the pros and cons of each version, then pick one and stick with it. This terrifies me more than the others – what if I pick the wrong one? – but choosing one and driving forward is the only way to get out of the rut.

So those are the 4 Writing Ruts I find myself in and how I get unstuck. What about you? Any tips for getting out of ruts?

Next Up from Heather… The Internet is interfering with my writing! Should we break up?

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Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

3 thoughts on “Write, Revise & Repeat – Are You Stuck in a Rut?”

  1. Argh! I struggle with revision rut syndrome. Also, I’m so caught up with writing without dangling participles; showing and telling; and just plain ‘writing good stuff’ I can’t get out of my own way! Help! Is there a twelve-step program for this?

    1. I wish, Tinthia! Figuring out one’s process is a long, hard road. I’ve found that whenever I’m revising, it’s for a reason. But one suggestion I have is to make yourself accountable to a writing critique partner. Promise to show them something every month, even if it’s just a couple pages or a story outline. Feedback often helps get out of ruts too. Good luck!

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