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Monday, October 8, 2018

Help! I'm Stuck on a Story, and I Can't Move on!

A while ago, I got a question from a follower, saying that they had finished a story but yet couldn't move on from it.

"It's finished. Problem is, it is stuck in my head. I want to move forward, develop a new story, which is completely my own. But everything I think about is this old story. Every day I add new details, new scenes. I want to make a cut, but my brain just keeps imagining. Do you know how to handle that?"

Well, I don't think this is a particularly rare problem. George Lucas once said:

"A movie is never finished, only abandoned."

Meaning that people simply keep working on a movie until it hits its deadline.

His quote is borrowed from Leonardo da Vinci who said 500 years earlier:

"Art is never finished, only abandoned."

As for writers, when J. K. Rowling finished the Harry Potter series, she said she kept having more information come to her. She knew what the characters were doing post-Potter, who married whom, names of their children. She even had whole descendants mapped out.

Not all of us have or can have a Pottermore to upload our notes to. And even if we did, frankly, most of our readers don't care as much about the "extras" in our stories as we do.

While I don't think this is a problem with all writers and artists, it's apparently a real thing for multiple of them.

"Abandoned" seems like kind of a harsh word to me. I guess I feel like it has a similar connotation as "giving up." When in reality, what you and others are referring to is trying to "move on."

There are always changes you could make to a manuscript. Rowling has also talked about things she'd wished she'd done differently or could fix.

And perhaps some people never really fully "move on"--it just grows. Star Wars will have 19+ movies total in the next decade. The Wizarding World now has Fantastic Beasts.

Is there a point where you need to stop? I want to say (hesitantly) yes. Hesitant because I wonder who really has the right TO tell these people to stop. I mean, do they have their own rights to make more? Is it really fans' and audiences' place to demand that?

Anyway, I'm getting on a tangent.

But my point is, what you are struggling with is real, and I'm not sure there is a clear way to ax it completely.

After all the time you spend on a story, it's going to be natural to reflect back on it and reconsider it on occasion (especially if you love it and its dear to your heart).

However, if you really do want to move on, here is what I'd suggest trying (and please, if anyone reading this has advice, please leave it in the comments).

1. Stop Messing with It

It might be hard at first, but try to stop going back to it. Don't open the document. Don't look at the words. The more you do this, the longer it's going to take for you to move on. You said the story was completed. So let it be completed. It's likely the more you play around with it, the more it will stay stuck in your head.

You might get thoughts and ideas you want to write down, but if you truly want to stop thinking about the story and move on to something else, then perhaps it's best to not write down those ideas.

Eventually your subconscious will move on to something else, at least to some degree. But if you keep feeding it, it will be harder.

2. Start Working on Something New

You said you wanted to develop a new story. Great! Sometimes inspiration for a story magically strikes you. Other times we are not so lucky. In the latter case, it's simply a matter of seeking and working on coming up with a new story regardless. It might be hard at first, but eventually, you'll probably start getting flashes of inspiration for it. Hopefully, your mind will start turning to it. Or at least will find the new story more interesting.

If you want, you can try giving yourself a deadline to get something new on paper. That might help put on the kind of pressure you need to do that.

3. Be Willing to Work Hard

One reason we can get stuck on old work is because the hard stuff is already done. The plot is figured out. The characters handled. When we "work" on an old story, it's usually the easy stuff. We might feel like we are getting a lot done (because we are cruising through pages), but in reality, we aren't actually doing that much writing. We're just enjoying what we have written.

There is a saying in the industry, and there are different renditions from different writers, so I'm not sure who said the original, but here it is:

I don't like writing. I love having written.

Most writers love having written. I think this can be a reason why we are drawn to go back over old work. We enjoy that we have written this, more than we enjoy the actually writing process, which can be hard and ambiguous at times.

Do the hard stuff. Work on something new.

Is it Truly Completed?

I've focused this article on dealing with and getting over the problem, but I also want to acknowledge that for others, this might not actually be a problem, but a sign. Maybe there is a sequel that needs to be told. Maybe the story isn't really completed. Maybe it can be made better.

There are so many different approaches to writing and they can be so individualized that for others this may actually be a sign that they do need to add and change more of the story. 

Ultimately it takes a level of discernment.

I hope this helps!


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