Coping with WIP boredom

When I wrote about the nonexistent muse, John Wheeler raised an issue many of us deal with:

My occasional collaborator … gets an idea and works through it for a while, but then can’t finish what he starts. He says he gets bored too easily—he then starts off on a different fictional framework and the process repeats.

I am actually right in the midst of a similar problem. As I wrestle with the final few scenes of Book Two in The Prophet’s Chronicle—a book that has seemingly refused to allow itself to be written—I find that random scenes from Book Three and even Book Four come to mind.

As I said one day on Facebook, it’s as if the last act of Book Two is a cat hiding behind the couch because it refuses to be put in its carrier for a trip to the vet. Meanwhile, Book Three is a big ol’ golden retriever jumping at me and begging to go for a run.

One of my editor colleagues, Teresa Bruce, neatly summarized the way to deal with this:

Toss Big Gold a custom-written cookie to tide him over, then don your heaviest protective gloves to help you corner Kitty.

And this is in fact what I’ve been doing. I jot down just enough of the random scenes that I’ll remember them later, and then get back to Book Two whether I like it or not.

bored writer

Photo by Melodi2 • freeimages.com

Whether the point of frustration with your work in progress is boredom, as with John’s colleague, or just not know what comes next, which is what I’ve been dealing with, the only way to really deal with it is to just keep at it. This kind of resistance is just another form of writer’s block that needs breaking through.

When project one becomes boring or impenetrable, figure out why. If the story itself is boring, maybe it needs to go on the shelf for a while until a more engaging story bubbles to the surface.

If you are just bored with the process, maybe you need a collaborator to do the parts that bore you. Maybe you enjoy the plotting or the world building but writing all that dialog and description is tiresome. Find a partner who loves dialog and description.

If forward progress on the story has halted because you don’t know what comes next—which was my case—deconstruct and reconstruct your outline. This is much harder for those who write without an outline, but consider outlining what you have already written—one line per scene in a spreadsheet will work. Then try this exercise from James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers:

Make two lists of at least ten items each:

a. The first list is all the things you can think of that readers would expect to happen next.

b. The second list is all the things that could happen that are not what readers would expect. Write your new scenes based on the second list.

Through a combination of brainstorming, outlining, and sheer slogging—with the occasional bone tossed to Big Gold—I’ve made progress on Book Two and now am within maybe five scenes of being finished.

What are some of your favorite exercises for overcoming resistance?

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

12 comments on “Coping with WIP boredom

  1. One of my favorites is “make something happen.” If you the writer are bored, it’s probable the reader will be bored, too, so “make something happen.” A lot of scenes from my first book were a result of this philosophy.

    • I am not the writers the likes of all you are . But I’d like to be. The problem I need help with and I hope anyone of you can help me with- is that I want to imagine. My childhood when I wanted to have a fantasy world and fantasy characters that In part had to reflect a non realistic world I was not allowed to have. Childhood was a grown up version of reality always. But I feel a sense of longing as you all seem to have more naturally. And if I can unlock that door perhaps I can learn the path to being a creative writer beyond WordPress and Facebook. I love writing and believe some people’s personalities are better suited for solo writing as with you John. It seems to just be what you are most geared for . I agree if writers are bored, readers are bored. Sometimes we just can’t go as quickly or with the same frame of mind as a collaborator. I have asked my writer boyfriend if he could teach me the path to opening up my mind to learn how to exercise fantasy In a Godly way to one day be able to write as you all seem to be able to. Creative writing I have many readers. But story writing and learning how to get there, Id welcome ideas. I maybe meed to doors visualization? I need suggestions. I’d even welcome the I love if my life’s help if he will. I feel I’d love to see if I can develop that part of me I long for but never could develop . Did you all have imaginations or fantasy abilities? Or were you just able to start writing one day? Please help-

      • I’d be interested in seeing a formal reply myself – as a post. Or perhaps in writing and submitting one. My going beyond and helping you directly… well, such a post would be only a beginning.

        I’ll bet that you weren’t allowed to read or watch much, if any, speculative fiction either. More importantly, the need for “fantasy as play” which goes with people of our temperament particularly (but which also features in others) wasn’t nurtured. I developed my capacity for fiction writing from childhood upward through role-playing and the use of figurines and action figures. As I grew, so did my chief protagonist and his setting. I stopped counting long, long ago – it was literally thousands of times ago – how often I revised both my protagonist and his framework. But the basic tools of role-playing and use of images which resonate in one’s personality have always remained the same. And with those tools came practice in writing, with the creation of character, plot, language style, and everything else which makes for a story worth reading.

        It is said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” It is also said, by a well-known Celtic harper and teacher, “If you don’t allow yourself to be a true beginner, you’ll never become a true master.” Start small, with short fiction, as children usually do. Aim to create something short, with a beginning, a middle and an end, where your hero or heroine has something inward and outward to overcome, and decide whether the protagonist chooses to overcome or not and at what price. If you like, you can practice within the boundaries of my Metacosmos – there is certainly room therein for such practice! 😀 ❤

        • John-thanks for the replies . Seems strange given we are often in each other’s company and we are yet exchanging ideas on this site . My life is nothing if it isn’t strange . I did convey to you that we were not allowed to watch science fiction or read it as far as he knew about it . Cartoons were out as well. The door was so tightly locked I don’t know who has the key. But I feel I don’t know how to find the path to getting past the door.
          I know you have time constraints as well which is why we can’t get to se things now, so adding to that makes me wary. I do feel I literally need someone to take me step by step until something naturally just opens. There must be that place inside of me as with all people.
          I know RPG’S was what Realmwalkers was based on. But that wasn’t what made it what it was. I know role playing in other therapeutic forms has helped me. And did say that it helps me practice things in my present state. I would need to get past images left on my brain. But I’d need to know more about it and what exactly what it would comprise. But I need it seems at least from what I can perceive now, an interactive setting . Where you will find the time is another matter. I need whatever help you can give and given we live four miles away, distance won’t be a factor. I’ve always had a passion for medieval creativity and something with more emotional and feeling aspects and less data. Too much information is boring to me. And too heavy. I suspect even with Jason, it is his age being considerably younger and now married , it is a non committal effort. I am not sure even Jason knows for sure what Jason wants. Anyway let me know what you think. We have much coming up so it would be after the feast no doubt . But I think there is something beyond that door. I just need someone to help me know how to get there.

      • And, if you want a role-playing partner in this, I’m here. Understandably you’ve come to dislike a certain book of which I was co-author but the fact is it arose out of role-playing games – RPG – over a distance. We are hundreds of miles closer. 😉 But you have to make up your mind how much difference from real life you’re willing to work with, and why – for if speculative fiction stops asking, “What if this condition was different or these conditions were different from the way the world is now?”, then speculative fiction loses not only its entire reason for being, it becomes impossible to write.

        • John I don’t know how much speculative fiction is too much. As long as it doesn’t cross spiritual boundaries. Within those parameters, I can go far I would guess. But unless I start, I will never know. Given we ‘re in same church, we won’t have those differences. I always felt Autumn . Is there room for her ? Just tossing anything out. Anything I related to. Or any ideas?
          Thanks John – yisraela

        • The further from the reality I’ve always had to live in, the better.

      • Yisraela, I think the main way most of us learned to create stories was by playing with story frameworks already available to us. John mentioned role-playing, and that’s a good one. I got my writing start in Star Trek fan fiction, making up new characters and stories in a world that already existed. But honestly, I’ve been making up stories my whole life. But then, I grew up with parents who read Tolkein and watched Star Trek, so fantastical stories were always a part of me.

        Maybe for you it would be easier to start with contemporary or historical settings, since they are more grounded in the real world.

        • Kristen thank you for your suggestions. I will ponder all of them. I feel lost in a sea of possibilities and don’t know how to begin. But know it would be a new world but a world that would be therapeutic as well. I can write blogs just fine. Get lots if compliments and followers. But the part oft life that I long for is just on the horizon of creativity. So I thank you snd appreciate your help. I do feel until I am liberated by whatever is holding me , I may seek on a small level RPGS. It is a bit wary for me but maybe that would open the door I don’t seem to have the key to. So I will keep seeking that key. Thank you for taking the time Kristen.
          Much appreciation Yisraela

  2. I like that War List (10 and 10) especially. 🙂

  3. The one biggest tool for me was shifting the character focus. Who was the story really about? Get that and the rest tended to follow.

    Second, I shifted perspective on my supporting characters. What if they played against the original archetype which generated them in my mind? Why would they? What would that imply about their society, background, agenda?

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