How do the other writers here deal with losing steam?

I’ve been writing for a number of years, but almost exclusively in non-fiction, and generally for magazines.

However, due to some recent changes in my life related to finally burning out from my last job, I’d like to branch out into Fiction and have written a number of as-yet unpublished short stories.

I’d like to develop one of the characters that I developed for one of these stories further and am working on a novella featuring them and their adventures in a Steampunk setting which involves the British Empire on Mars in the late 19th Century.

The problem that I have is that I get about five chapters into the story and run out of steam (excuse the pun). I’ve got the basic plot outlined and I know how the story ends, but I find it difficult to keep up the pace after a certain number of chapters; I already know it all ends and that makes it start to feel a bit like a slog after a few chapters.

I’ve tried skipping to “The Good Bits” to write them first, and then filling in the gaps later, and that’s worked to an extent and is fine with short stories, but it gets a bit harder with longer works.

So, have any of the other writers here got some tips for maintaining steam, flow, and so on in their writing?

I usually work using a themeline or controlling premise (which can also work as a logline or a thing to say when people ask, “Whatcha writing?”). It seems to be too early for me to think of examples, but you start with your main character, i.e., what he is, and then list what he has to do, and then the stakes. The deal with this premise is that everything about the premise has to change by the end of the story. For instance, if he starts out as a police detective, he has to lose his job or get pulled off the case. But the stakes only go up. Something like this taped up over your computer can keep you focused, and if it doesn’t keep your interest it probably won’t keep a reader’s.

I also tape up visual things that inspire me. When I was working on a novel set in 1929 I had a Hopper painting, a picture of a 1926 Buick, a couple of magazines from the '20s (Reader’s Digest and Cosmopolitan) sitting on my file cabinet, and an old powder box that played “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” when its lid was lifted. I had an art deco calendar and, since I like this time period, I had some other furniture from the era which, if possible, I rounded up to surround myself with, to keep me in the mood.

If you’re writing about something that pushes your own hot buttons, that’s a plus. Put up something that keeps you engaged and reminds you of why you started writing that particular thing in the first place.

I also like an excel file that gives me a visual on how much I’ve written vs. what’s left to go. I think I got this through a NaNoWriMo link a couple of years ago. The problem with this, for me, is that I don’t always, or even usually, write sequentially.

Sometimes you just have to push through it. Try writing a certain amount every day, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.

I find that when this happens to me it’s almost always a sign that there’s something wrong with the story itself. I may be using the wrong voice or don’t have the character right or the plot is going nowhere.

Step back from the work for a bit until you can get some perspective on it and then let it steep in your mind. You might have an insight that will give you a new direction and that will spark the writing.

Mid-book slump is pretty common. I just push through. It may be a problem with the story, or it may just be the shiny has worn off.

The problem isn’t with the story or the character; I’ve run the idea past a few people and they’ve said they like it and find it interesting and would want to read about it. The problem is just my own flagging steam pressure; and trying to find yet another creative way to adequately express the vastness and exoticness of the jungle, desert, or wherever the characters are.

Wearing my Pith Helmet while I write has been working pretty well so far, though… :slight_smile:

I’ve recommended this before - have a look through Holly Lisle’s workshops, they won’t work for everyone, but there could well be a trick in there that will help you. The *Develop a Character *workshop worked best for me as, by defining the person, I realised exactly how they moved the plot forward. I’m pretty sure there was one on defining your world which sounds like it would be more helpful to you.

Are you part of Nano? I find it helpful that there’s a word goal to reach every day, and as long as you’re *adding *50k during November, it counts. There’s a huge amount of support on the boards for anyone struggling at any point in their writing. There’s also a list somewhere on the site for various connected groups so you could join a group that’s writing in October if you don’t want to wait.

I’m like you, published in non-fiction, but with a couple of short fiction pieces as well. Novel writing is a whole different discipline.

Then what you’re describing is simply the mid-book slump that separates the people who finish books from the people who have a half dozen unfinished WIPs in their figurative steamer trunk. Keep working at it, even when you feel like it sucks. It may not be as bad as you think.

I can’t speak for Expano Mapcase, but I think you’re not quite understanding what he means. Just because your idea and character is sound (by other people’s standards) doesn’t mean that there isn’t something wrong. I’m working on a mystery right now, and first I tried to write in the wrong voice (3rd person…it needs to be in 1st person). So I fixed that and wrote a quick 5k before stalling again. After talking to my trusted partner, I realized that the mystery itself was sound but…I had the wrong victim! Without changing the core idea or the core characters, I had to change the way I view and approach the story in order to make it work.

Speaking of my trusted partner, that brings me to my second point. As Expano said, you might have lost all perspective. I can not tell you the number of times I felt like I was beating my head against a wall, I took a break, and then within a day or two I had the answer to all my problems and it was the most obvious thing in the world! More often than not, I need to talk things over with my partner, who acts as my “beta reader” at times. Her insight and opinion is invaluable to me. It’s difficult to find a good beta reader, for lots of reasons, but for a lot of writers, it’s worth the effort. A beta reader as the perspective of a story that you lack because you are too close to it.

Finally, if you’ve taken a step back, considered the various parts of the story, and decided they’re all working, then probably are in the mid-book slump, like DeadlyAccurate suggests. This usually happens to me around 30k-40k. In that case, it’s easier to just grit your teeth and keep working. Make a commitment to yourself to write 500 words (or 200 or 1000 whatever you like) every single day, no matter what. I would not suggest taking a long break or switching to another project. If you do, the story is just going to languish, forgotten.

I think **pepperlandgirl **captured it nicely. Just because you can tell someone the story orally doesn’t mean it works on paper. The story is in the details, not the big picture.

One thing I could add is that if you can’t “adequately express the vastness and exoticness of the jungle, desert, or wherever the characters are” then you might want to do some research on jungles or deserts or whatever. Trying to describe a place you know nothing about is inherently frustrating. And that will come across to the reader as well. Read a book about someone’s adventures in a jungle and then try to reproduce that sense of reality in the story. It will really pick it up.

And that’s one the things I’m trying to work on; things that are interesting to me (ie what guns the characters are carrying, what interesting gadgets they’re using to navigate around with, etc) are not interesting to most other people as far as I can tell. I’ve asked my wife to have a look at the story, but she doesn’t like the genre I’m work in, and my Dad (a long time journalist and published author himself) just can’t wrap his head around the idea of steampunk that uses real-word events as part of the history. In other words, he had trouble understanding a world in which 19th century Imperial History happened as we know it for the most part- but the British have discovered Rocketry and Space Flight and are following Cecil Rhode’s advice to annex other planets in the solar system.

We’re not short of jungle (well, rainforest/forest) around here, and I’ve seen quite enough desert (most of Australia is desert) to know what it’s like. The problem is my own failings in coming up with different ways of saying “Bugger me there’s a lot of sand. And sand dunes. And it’s really, really hot. And the sand gets everywhere. And did I mention how much sand there was?” :smiley:

That’s something that a thesaurus will help me with, though. :wink:

Maggenpye’s link has been a goldmine for me, and I really must thank you for it! I’ve managed to get a much clearer idea of who the main characters actually are and why they’re doing what they do. I’m going to work through the courses there and see how I go; what I’ve seen so far has been very helpful.

One of the interesting points my wife raised though was that I’m basically writing this on spec. I’m not guaranteed any money at all from it and the end result may be something that no-one except me wants to read. I’m thinking positively, though- I like the characters and really feel the story has a lot of potential and am trying to put as much into it as I can to realise that.

This is exactly why I use Liquid Story Binder for writing. It is a fantastic writing program that is incredibly small and lets you do so many of those things within the program and far more (Create Dossiers, galleries, outlines, checklists, chapter builders, etc.). It is so small that you can install it on a flash drive and run it from any computer you like. This is, by far, the best thing that has happened to writers–AFAIC.

It really shines on multiple monitor systems.

For fifty bucks (and sometimes you can get a better deal on it if you look around for specials) you can’t go wrong. I cannot recommend this program highly enough.

blushes It was passed on to me in another message board when I was in the mid-book slump (well, the workshops link, nano I found on my own) - just paying it forward. I’m glad you’ve found it useful.

Hubby has run into that problem, and his trick is to have a couple of projects going on at the same time. When he runs out of steam on one, he lets it simmer for a bit while he works on something else (that he had put aside for the same reason). He says taking a break away from something for a bit allows him to look at it with a different perspective when he goes back to it, and usually makes good progress.

The downside of this is he’s got 4-5 works in progress, and they all seem to finish about the same time :frowning:

Fiction is almost always written that way, at least until you’re known enough to get contracts for unwritten books. Even the book my agent signed me with hasn’t sold; she’s trying with the next one. I’m working on yet another, in case that one doesn’t sell.

There are people who love the gadgetry in books. As a general rule, that type of fiction appeals more to men than to women, but there is an audience for it. I have a female friend who writes steampunk and is also an engineer who loves gadgets. She’d probably be one of your readers.

(Jeff Somers writes very gritty, very masculine stories about an assassin in a dystopian New York and yet has a female agent and editor and several, including myself, female fans).

Write what you like. If it’s good, it’ll find an audience.

My question, and it may be a stupid one (or at least a non-writerly one) is do you have to? I mean, do you have to describe the sand fourteenthousand nine hundred and forty-two times, or will describing it forty-two judiciously chosen times be sufficient?

Related–is the sand novel and annoying to your characters, or just a fact of life as it’s always been? If the latter, I would strongly encourage you to cut back on the endless attempts to describe the sand. Just get on with the story and the characters. There exist books, good books, which explore the setting in microscopic detail, but there are other books which let the reader use his or her imagination. I don’t mean to tell you which approach you should take, but if writing about the sand is boring to you, it may be boring to the reader, so move on to the important stuff.

That’s very encouraging and makes me feel a bit more confident about it all! :slight_smile:

I’ve had several people ask me “Where’s the love interest?” and I have to confess there isn’t one; there are a few ancilliary female characters in the book (airship pilot, telgraph operator, etc) but no love interest- because I’m not a fan of romance at the best of times, and I honestly feel that it would just feel “tacked on”. But almost everyone I’ve spoken to has said “It’s got to have a Love Interest or no-one will touch it”

Eureka, you’ve got a point; I’ve already cut most of the colourful descriptions of the environment out but a lot of the non-expedition action takes place in what might be described as Colonial Outposts, Bazaars, Officer’s Clubs, etc and most of that sort of thing is going to be unfamiliar to most readers. The problem for me, as a military historian, is translating what is immediately obvious or brought to mind for me into descriptive words for people that didn’t grow up reading Great Victorian Adventure Epics or Boy’s Own Adventures.

There’s only one correct answer for that: bullshit.

Plenty of books have no romance. Jeff Somers’s Avery Cates series is one. Hell, I think Cates only sleeps with one woman in three books, and that’s off-screen and in book three (I’ve read that one pre-final edits, so I can’t even say if that will stay in the final book).

If it would feel tacked on to you, the writer, it’ll feel tacked on to the reader.

Also, I know I give this link out a lot here, but there’s a reason:

Grease the gears.

That’s true if you’re writing romance novels. Otherwise, like DeadlyAccurate said, it’s bullshit.