Bumps in the road are normal. It’s rare that you sit down and write the perfect story and have a flawless writing experience. Stuff happens and the writing process can be full of pits and obstacles. Learning to recognize those signs can help you pull your manuscript back from the brink of disaster (or the edge of the garbage can). It can save your manuscript and bring joy back to your writing experience.
Here are 10 signs that your romance manuscript is in trouble and some thoughts on what to do about it.
1 – You don’t like your characters
It happens. You start a story completely in love with your characters. You know them inside out, as if they were a part of you. And then they do something that you don’t like and they become people that you really don’t want to hang out with.
What to do..? Keep writing. Pull back on the qualities of the character that you don’t like. You can fix it during revisions. Keep writing until your manuscript is complete.
2 – You don’t know what’s going on
A plot can wander away from you. This happens whether you’re a pantster or a plotter.
If the story has gotten away from you and you have no idea what’s going on, then stop and take a deep breath. Consider grabbing a piece of paper and jotting down the scenes and plot points as they’ve happened from the beginning. That will give you a path to where you are now. You can then brainstorm where to take the story from here or you can find your way back to your original book plan.
3 – You haven’t worked on it in a few days
When you’re excited about a story, it’s difficult to pull yourself away from it. If you find that you haven’t worked on your book in a few days then it’s time to think about why. Sure, you’re busy. We all are. But you can also probably fit in 20-30 minutes of writing somewhere.
Why aren’t you doing that? Maybe it’s something in your life or perhaps your story isn’t working for you and you’ve lost some enthusiasm. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings and try to work out why you’ve temporarily abandoned your story and what you need to do to get back to it.
(I could write an entire book on this topic, it can be complicated. Start with awareness of how you’re feeling and why. It can help you solve many writing problems.)
4 – The story isn’t going anywhere
This generally happens somewhere right about in the middle of your manuscript. It’s referred to as a sagging middle. You know the beginning and the end but the middle can get messy. Have fun with the middle. Throw in a surprise and give your characters something really difficult to get through. Jazz it up here. If you’re not sure what to do, go read the newspaper. Every headline is an opportunity to put your characters through hell. Give them a flood, make some prisoners escape from jail or put them on a highway where folks are being shot at. Add suspense and make your characters work for the payoff.
5 – You’re bored
If you’re bored, your reader will be too. Refer to #4.
6 – You don’t think about your story when you’re away from it
Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could spend your entire day living in your own imaginary world? Some days, I do feel that way. And even on those days when I don’t feel like completely escaping, I do find that my mind wanders to whatever story I’m currently working on.
If you’re not thinking about your WIP then it may not be engaging you. Consider how you can make your story more exciting and your characters more compelling. You want your hero and heroine to become part of your life so that they’re so interesting that they also become part of your reader’s life too.
7 – You can’t answer the question, “What is your story about?”
If you don’t know what your story is about then it’s time to sit down and put some thought into it. Even those who write by the seat of their pants have an idea about where their story is going and what it’s about.
8 – You spend more time editing and revising the first draft than finishing it
This is called procrastination. Why are you procrastinating? Finish that draft first and then go back and edit/revise.
9 – Your heroine (or hero) has changed so much since the beginning that she’s practically a different person
This has happened to me and it happens because you start the book without a solid character in your imagination. You don’t really know who they are and so they change throughout the book. This inconsistency will kill your story. Readers want characters that they love and that they can relate to. Step back and create a solid character plan. Who is she (or he)? Fill out a character worksheet, interview the character, or write a full description of them. Use your character plan to help you remain consistent.
10 – You distract yourself more than you write.
If you spend more time cleaning your desk and getting ready to write than actually writing, it’s time to practice some self-discipline. Set a small goal that you know you can achieve (like 500 words a day) and stick to it.
What else? Have you experienced any bumps or manuscript disasters along the way? What did you do to resolve them? Share and help other aspiring writers learn to navigate the writing process a little better.