Losing Steam

Hi, everyone! I’m excited to be here filling in for Sarah Henning for the months of September and October.

For my first post I thought I’d write about losing steam while working on a novel and when and why it happens. If I lose steam during the first draft of a novel it’s usually because of plot problems. Either some part of the story isn’t working, the stakes aren’t high enough, or the scene I’m working on doesn’t move the story forward. Once I figure out what the problem is and get it sorted out, I’m on my way again.

However, the point when I tend to lose steam the most is after I’ve completed a couple of rounds of editing. I’m not usually able to stop myself from diving right in to the first round of editing/revisions after I’ve finished the first draft, probably because I’m always so excited to get started on shaping the story into something worthy of sharing with others. Once I’ve dealt with all the problems identified in the first round, I typically want to jump right in to another read through.

After the first two rounds of editing, however, I need a break, to put the manuscript aside and not look at it at all for at least a week (but preferably longer). The reason why I lose steam at that point is not because I don’t love the project, but because my brain gets overloaded and exhausted. That’s not such a bad thing though because taking a break allows me to come back to a manuscript with fresh eyes, to catch mistakes or weaknesses in the story that would otherwise slip past me.

So, in the long run, losing steam doesn’t necessarily hinder my progress. Sometimes it alerts me to plot problems or forces me to take the time to recharge my writing batteries.

Is there any particular point in the writing process when you tend to lose steam? Is it something that worries or frustrates you?

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Author: Sarah Fox

Author of cozy mysteries. Llama herder when required. Chocoholic always. Music Lover's Mysteries (HarperCollins): #1 DEAD RINGER #2 DEATH IN A MAJOR #3 DEADLY OVERTURES Pancake House Mysteries (Penguin Random House): #1 THE CRÊPES OF WRATH #2 FOR WHOM THE BREAD ROLLS #3 OF SPICE AND MEN (November 2017) Represented by Jessica Faust of BookEnds. www.authorsarahfox.com

11 thoughts on “Losing Steam”

  1. Sarah, this is a great post. I think “losing steam” is such a common thing. There is no one specific place I tend to start dragging – it’s more like what you said: If I do round after round after round of editing/revising, my brain just refuses to work and turns into a lump of oatmeal. I do the same thing you do – I build in breaks in the writing cycle to give the batteries time to recharge. And really, the story is never far from my subconscious, so that “break time” is perfect for coming up with ideas and solutions.

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  2. So glad you’ve joined us temporarily, Sarah! I totally hear you about losing steam. I think there’s just this natural “airing out” that a manuscript really needs to work on all cylinders as a final product. As you say, it helps you figure out plot holes and notice other problems before having to have them pointed out to you later. Taking a step back is definitely a good thing!

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  3. You nailed it for me with plot problems. That’s why I usually like to have a rough outline of the plot before I start so I know roughly where I’m going, but every book doesn’t always allow me to do that. When I get stuck, I try to remind myself my unconscious is working away on the next part and to be patient, but I still run through all those doubts of never getting it done right and being a terrible writer. You know, what everybody thinks at one point or another. Thanks for the tips.

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  4. Thank you, ladies! Mary, “a lump of oatmeal” is such a good way to describe it! That’s exactly what happens to my brain. Taking a step back really is a good thing, both for the ms and for my brain. Thanks to all of you for your comments!

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  5. Losing steam is like a red flag. I like to go away for a few days to my writing hole for some uninterrupted think time to figure out the problem, and same for me, it’s usually a plot issue, something that’s been there all along and I just didn’t see it.

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  6. “Losing steam is like a red flag” yes, Sue! And Sarah, welcome and thanks for a great post. I’m like you–I love to dive into edits to get the manuscript to its final state–but somewhere during that revision process, I start to feel like I’m never going to get there. Often when I walk away and plan not to think about it, I get an idea. Lots of scribbled-upon cocktail napkins around here!

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  7. Thanks, Sarah, for a lovely debut post! Thinking now about how steam trains needed to cool down after a long journey across country.

    Also having a craving to read some new steampunk… *adjusts goggles*

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  8. Welcome, Sarah! So nice to have you on board. I’ve never stopped to think about when/how I lose steam, but your post made me really think. As I look back, it does seem to happen a lot with plot problems–although, sometimes it comes up when I’m trying something new, and I don’t quite have my confidence yet. Mary, you hit it with the bowl of oatmeal, for sure!

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  9. There are 3 places where my train always slows: at the two-thirds point in plot development, after the first draft is done, and then usually about the third of fourth round of edits. The last is the worst. The glow of the best-prose-evah is gone, the clever mystery suddenly is so simple a toddler could figure it out, and the word “then” keeps cropping up despite ruthles edits. Best way to get the train restarted? Leave it for a week or two, clear the head. When I get back to it, I edit with a thesaurus on my lap to find words to replace “then.” Seriously.

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