The Dreaded White Page

After an interval of months due to editing my next romance release and polishing the sequel (these are big books, over 400 manuscript pages each), I am once again facing the dreaded blank white page. This engenders all sorts of fears. Do I still have what it takes to write a novel? Will I be doing justice to my fans with this story? Will I remember the plot threads I’d shuffled aside to work on my edits? Can I still write a mystery?

Distractions tempt me away from the WIP. I should check email. There might be something important waiting in my inbox. Or since it’s Saturday, I should wait until next week to begin anew. Hey, I could write this blog! And so I do, neglecting my novel writing until later. But then I’m going to the MWA meeting.

Nonetheless, I forged ahead and by Monday, I’d finished the chapter where I left off. Here are some tips on how to get started after a long interval:

· Write a detailed synopsis before you begin the story. For a mystery, mine tend to run from 10 to 15 pages. I need to know where I’m going but this technique may not work for everyone.

· Write a cast of characters with brief background descriptions for each person and their role in the story.

· When you leave off writing, type in a few notes on what happens next.

· Start by revising what you’ve already written. You may have polished this piece of work already, but you’ll always find more to fix when you view your writing with a fresh perspective. And this will get you back in your character’s head.

· Begin slowly, one page at a time, with no word count requirements.

· On a set day, put yourself on a strict writing schedule. My minimum is five pages a day. For a 75,000 word mystery, that means approximately 20 chapters of about 15 pages each. This isn’t written in stone but gives me a guideline to follow. As I approach the end of a chapter, I use a hook to coax the reader into turning the page.

· Determine your finish goal. If you write 25 pages per week, how many weeks will it take you to finish the book?

For example, I’ve written 75 pages. Thus I need 225 pages to reach the finish line. Divide this number by 25 pages a week, and that comes to 9 weeks. I take out my calendar. Can it be done?

I have to discount two weeks for family events and vacations, because it always takes me a few days to catch up after being away. This takes me to mid-August. So I will extend my goal for unforeseen circumstances and say I must finish my draft by the end of August. This is perfect timing, because my new romance release comes out in September, and I’d like to devote that month to promotion.

There’s only one kink in this plan. Assuming I sell the next book in my Drift Lords series, I’ll have to stop all work on my mystery when the edits come. And then I will want to polish the third sequel (already written) before submitting it to my current romance publisher who will only accept one book at a time. But since I’m not under contract for the mystery, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just follow my advice above and jump back in as needed.

What do you do to restart your brain into story mode when you’ve been away from the WIP?

10 thoughts on “The Dreaded White Page

  1. Nancy,

    My most recent writer’s block came when my brain tried to tell me I needed some craft work education. It took me a little while, and a couple of writer’s workshops to figure that out.

    Maybe I felt burned out and needed to replenish my soul? There’s nothing like hanging out with other writers to spark things up.

    After the classes something magic happened. A 7500 word short story jumped up and demanded to be written.

    I love your tips, and you’re right. Sitting there, getting those words down is what works for me. I open up the Word document first in the morning, before I surf the net, before I check email.


  2. This could not have been timed better, as I just sent the 2nd novel in my series off to the editor today and am left with the first 10,000 words of another project (unrelated to the current series).

    Since my brain keeps churning, even in my off-hours, I’ve been thinking about ways to improve the side project even while I haven’t been working on it. Ooh, that first chapter would be much punchier if I wrote it like this. And I could write the next chapter from this character’s viewpoint, rather than his, and get so much more scope. And, and …

    But I’m fighting that temptation and, instead, picking up in sequence where I left off. No rewrites yet. Just keep plowing through the first draft. Like you said – you make a plan and a schedule, and you stick to it.

    Thanks for the tips and the discussion, as always.

  3. Paula, it’s always reenergizing to hang out with other writers and to attend conferences/workshops. And like you, I have to get my words done first thing in the morning. Once I open email, I’m lost.

  4. John, do you take notes on these ideas as they come to you? I keep a file labeled “Plot”, and that’s where I put any ideas for rewrites or for later chapters. That way you can keep moving forward but don’t lose these snippets.

  5. These are all good tips. I hate it when I have to put a WIP away for several months then come back to it cold–it’s always so awkward and takes a while to re-establish the rhythm.

    Using these tips will help lessen some of that.

  6. Scrivener helps here. I have multiple projects going, and one way to get back in the flow of one you’ve been away from is to print out an outline with your synopses. I usually put the first and last bits of the scene as the synopsis. The you have a 2 or 3 or 4 page overview.

    But always remember what Sidney Sheldon said: A blank page is God’s way of telling you how hard it is to be God.

  7. James, I liked your quote.

    I’m getting distracted from my WIP yet again. Have to stop to submit cover art sheets and other materials for book two in my romance series. It is getting harder than ever to concentrate.

  8. I really love your post, Nancy. I do many of these things but never put my process into words. I usually write the first few chapters, have a synopsis (5-7 pgs), & have notes of things I plan ahead or plot points I need to tie up. Like you, I use a daily word count goal on a spreadsheet so I can plan ahead, being flexible when personal stuff takes priority.

    I find that first scenes can be a challenge, but I’ll often go back to the beginning & retool the start after I get a feel for the story & characters.

    Great post. Thanks.

Comments are closed.