Monday, March 17, 2014

The Dreaded "Dead Inspiration"

I think all writers have experience "dead inspiration" in one way or another--the moment when the excitement they have for a manuscript extinguishes, leaving the project abandoned. This can happen anywhere from the brainstorming process to near the completion of the novel.

It's happened to me a few times at both ends of the spectrum. Before I finished my first manuscript, I almost finished another one . . . but the volley of battle scenes I had set myself up for in the finale really turned me off from the tale. Turned me off enough that I never finished the book, despite being almost done with it.

It happened recently as well; readers of this blog may remember my plans to write Horizon Drop. I did all my research and even had the entire novel outlined Save the Cat style on my office wall. The dead inspiration hit me on chapter two. While I still like the idea of the book, I just have zero motivation to write it.

So what can one do to quell dead inspiration? It's a scary thing to face, and it's a productivity killer. I've experience dead inspiration with enough brainstorming-level stories that I've actually wondered if I've lost my touch as a writer. However, I've also learned there are ways to treat--maybe even cure--the symptoms of this horrific disease.

1. Genre

If you're still early-on in the project, step back and think, Is this what I'm "into" right now? I realized that the number one reason I couldn't get into Horizon Drop was because it was outside of my current genre preference. Horizon Drop is epic fantasy, and at the time I was really digging romantic fantasy (I had just gotten off a high of reading a lot of female-oriented YAs...).

Try to write what really floats your boat at the time, and save the rest for later.

2. Direction

Take a step back and look at what direction your story is headed in. Study it from the point of a reader. If this were someone else's story and you were the reader, where would you want it to go? Is the plot of the tale fulfilling your wishes, or just making two ends meet? If it's the latter, consider taking your characters in a different direction. It may spark something within that corpse of motivation.

3. Make a Change for the Better

This is the item I think is the most helpful for me, especially when I'm in the brainstorming phase of a story. I have most of the outline for a possible future story, but my excitement for it tends to come and go. Why?

What I need to do is re-evaluate the individual pieces of the novel, starting with characters. I love writing characters that I love, obviously! Is there a quirk I can add to my protagonist to make her more appealing to me? A new history? A new motivation? What about her surrounding cast? What can I do to them to make them pop?

Is the setting everything I want it to be and more? Would the story become more enticing if I made the world darker, brighter, weirder? What if I changed the technology? The government? The social structure?

Tweaks in the story's individual elements have helped re-inspire me to work on it, and they often don't require a re-working of the plot itself.

4. Time

This is likely the most obvious solution. Take a break. Take a long break. Manuscripts of mine that have burnt me out in revisions slowly become more and more appealing to me the longer I stay away from them. I haven't worked on The Taste of Angels for months because I was so tired of it . . . but lately I've found myself wanting to revisit it.

5. Outside Input

A good thing to get while taking that break. Grab a critique partner, or even just someone who reads your genre, and fork over what you have of the manuscript to them. There's a good chance they'll see what you're missing, or suggest something that will get the brain-train back on its rails. Or maybe your reader will simply really like the book. Nothing's more encouraging than readerly praise!

Have you ever lost your mojo for a manuscript? What did you do to get it back, or how did you handle moving on?

(And happy St. Patrick's Day!)


  1. Yes, I have too. And taking a break from it and seeing it with fresh eyes helps. I could see the risk of losing interest also if you write outside your genre and aren't as excited about the one you're trying out. Thanks for the tips.

  2. For me, it's definitely time away. Once I get that itch again- be it a few weeks, or months- then I'll pop it open and write some more on it. Even if it's just a sentence or a paragraph, it's progress, right? =)

  3. I hit the dead inspiration on my last novel AFTER I'd finished all the on-paper edits. All I have to do is type them up, which takes almost no time at all, and yet it's just been sitting on the corner of my desk for an entire year. I'm sure someday I'll finish typing them up, but for now I'm just letting it sit while I work on something else.

  4. Sometimes the story just doesn't sing at the moment. I generally put it aside. That allows my mind to percolate and often I'll find that key that unlocks the character or plot and builds excitement for the project. I figure when the time is right that story will let me know.

  5. If I ever get stuck, I usually start talking it out with my sis-in-law. We'll brainstorm for a while, and I'll point out what does and doesn't work with regards to her suggestions. She only partially knows the story (epic fantasy) so sometimes the suggestions don't work, but they'll spur other ideas which get me writing again.

  6. It's so hard when you get stuck. I usually find a really great book to read that inspires me. Or I just get out of my house and do something. Get around people. There is all sorts of inspiration out there! :)

  7. I'm pretty obsessive about my stories, so I don't usually set them aside for long once I've started writing them in earnest. When I do hit some sort of snag and the 'what if?' question isn't bringing immediate answers, I take a break and do housework or read for a while. Usually the solution pops into my head when I'm focused on something else. Critique partners, if they know something about the story, can be a great sounding board, too.

    How's motherhood?
    I bet you're eating up every moment with that cute little girl. :)