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I’ve been working on a first draft of a project since January and have been steadily working on it for hours a day every day since then. Basically spending all of my free time on the project.

Now for the past week I’ve felt a sudden disconnect from it bordering on disinterest. I suppose I’ve gotten it into my head that I need to work on it every day or else it will never reach completion. But every time I sit down to write I just can’t. It’s not that I don’t know what I want to write next; I’ve outlined and know exactly where the story is going. I just can’t seem to write properly at the moment.

I definitely don’t want to give up on the project as I’m about 75% done. I still love the story as well and would love to see it reach completion. But I just can’t seem to continue right now. Is this a sign I should take a break? I’m upset that this has happened. I’ve been so excited about this project for years.

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    First please accept that pretty-much by definition, a break is exactly what you seem to be suggesting. Working since January, even for hours every day, matters not: not even if it took all your free time. That accepted, what might your feeling of disconnect, bordering on disinterest, mean? Does anything here matter as much as “every time I sit down to write I just can’t”, please? – Robbie Goodwin May 6 '18 at 19:16
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    If you've written (or rewritten) emotionally exhausting scenes lately, especially if you've been plumbing for emotional authenticity. it could explain your low energy. Sometimes the hard scenes knock me out for a few days. Like emotional strip mining, you're laid bare, let it rest. – DPT May 7 '18 at 1:36
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    First you say, “I definitely don’t want to give up on the project…” and then you say, “Is this a sign I should take a break?” You know, it’s not only that you clearly need a break, but where do you get the idea that if you somehow take a break that means you “love” the project less. No disrespect, but it seems to me that the world of writers is filled with people who believe virtually killing themselves by working endlessly without break is noble. It’s not; it’s horrible. Read up on some artists and learn about their own process; you’d be shocked to realize how many take their time and relax. – JakeGould May 7 '18 at 13:47
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Trust your subconscious.

I would say, do not stop writing, do not break your habit of writing every day. Just stop writing THAT. Do some other writerly stuff, on this project or a different one.

When I find I am stalling in a story, I also find that this is often because my subconscious mind knows there is something wrong with it, and perhaps some vague feeling that something is out of kilter is sapping your energy to write because it would be a waste of time. Check that out: Take your writing time to go back to the beginning, read and/or edit what you have done, looking for a plot hole. A character doing something out of character. Try to find out what is wrong with your story.

A common problem for outliners is cardboard characters that begin to feel unnatural, as they are given the unplanned part of the story (dialogue, emotional reactions, individual actions, dress, thoughts, feelings) they become fleshed out in the author's mind, but increasingly (as the book progresses) they don't really fit the role prescribed for them in the outline. They have veered away, and if they DO the things they are required to do, it feels forced.

Outliners can often see this in the span of half a book: The character on page 200 seems and feels like a different person than when they were introduced on page 1, not in the sense of having learned lessons or suffered heartbreaks, but the character on page 1 is inconsistent with the character on page 200. Maybe where the page-200 version would crack a joke or be irritated the page-1 version does nothing (or vice versa).

Go back. read, revise, look for problems, see if you could improve anything, now that you have more experience writing and with the characters. Even if you do nothing, it will reload the story in your head and perhaps invigorate you.

Another issue for outliners is gratification too long delayed. Fortunately, you have an outline: Instead of writing the scene you need now, skip it. Write the one after it, and come back to it. Find a fight later and plan the choreography. Write notes on later scenes.

The biggest thing for me is to seriously consider that this may not be simple fatigue demanding a break, this may be your subconscious telling you there is something amiss in your story, and it doesn't want to write another word until you fix it. Actively look for it. Because taking a break doesn't fix the problem, and you may end up abandoning the work.

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    "Do some other writerly stuff, on this project or a different one." One obvious option would be contributing answers (or even questions) to the Writing Stack Exchange. I hear those people are pretty open to insight based on personal experience. ;-) – a CVn May 6 '18 at 19:33
  • I spent ages writing my answer, only to discover your earlier one overlaps with it a lot. However, I hope it still adds something. – J.G. May 6 '18 at 19:43
  • Is my intuition correct that it's probably easier and will lead to a better story to adjust the outline and let the characters play out more naturally, rather than to try to rewrite the story to fit the outline? – jpmc26 May 6 '18 at 21:46
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    @jpmc26 I should think so; but I am a discovery writer, no outline. Brandon Sanderson (teaches writing fantasy) uses outlines, but he says HE is a discovery writer for character, and does exactly what you say. Listen to this taped lecture (on video), starting at minute 51:00. It is the first question he takes at the end of his class. youtube.com/… – Amadeus May 6 '18 at 21:58
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Everyone needs a holiday, even writers.

You've been working your day job (or going to school or studying) and working all of your free time on your novel. I'm surprised that you managed that for four months. And I'm not surprised that you have finally reached the point where you are drained.

Simply allow yourself to let your novel rest. Think of other things, go out, meet friends, do sports, whatever you enjoy. Replenish your resources. And if you don't pressure yourself, in due time you will feel that you want to return to your novel and will finish it with joy.

Don't be afraid that you will lose this story. Maybe you will feel that you want to dedicate yourself to another novel first. And maybe you will build a career as a writer and finish this book when you're sixty. Or maybe a week not working on it is enough and you will finish it by July.

It is important that you don't force yourself to write when you feel that you need a break. If you keep on pushing now, what you write will be bad and you will hate the result afterwards.

7

"Take a break" will probably be a part of any useful advice, but the hard part is what it's paired with. While you're not taking that 75% up to 76, what will you be doing instead?

I know from experience that not only does this kind of block not have to stop you from writing something else, but it can even give you new ideas for and re/energise you regarding your old project, and then you can go back to it. Oh sure, the new thing you write might get abandoned just when it's getting going, but that's up to you.

And I know you said your problem isn't a "lack of ideas", but I think it might be - just not in the way people think of when they hear the phrase. When I switched from one project to another, I knew exactly what I wanted to happen next plotwise in the work I'd left behind. What I didn't know, however, was how I wanted to deepen the protagonist's characterisation in doing so. The story I switched to had her as a secondary character, older now, more powerful and an ambiguous threat to the main characters. Before I knew it, I was concentrating so much on her it was to the detriment of the new story, which frankly wasn't working. But that's OK, because it deepened my understanding of her well enough to go back to the old one, which was my real priority.

Even if you don't feel like writing the first few chapters of a different story just to "recharge", you can spitball ideas for what your characters would do in different situations.

And I have one more piece of advice, concerning what will happen before you return to your current work. Could someone look at what you have so far, make some feedback notes and then send them to you? At this stage they'd only be an alpha reader, not a beta reader, because draft 1 isn't even finished yet, and it's up to you how much you tell them about what would happen in the last quarter. Don't see them as a source of advice on how to write that last quarter; no feedback should do that, and if you get it just ignore it. But you owe it to yourself to find out whether an alpha read could be summarised as "fix these things in-line" or "there are issues that require a from-scratch rewrite".

If the former happens, it might tell you some of the same things about characterisation you could learn from the second project. But the latter would be worse, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes, the reason you can't find it in you to continue writing a story, even though you know what'll happen, is because what you've written so far is subconsciously bothering you. I realise a rewrite can be a lot of work (especially if not much old material feels salvageable), but it may get you finished sooner than having indefinite writer's block.

  • Love penultimate paragraph – DPT May 6 '18 at 20:08
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This happens to me all of the time. I try not to look at it as "work" but rather a time for creative space. If you arent feeling creative or even discouraged you could try taking a break. You could also talk about your writing to other people who are interested in your work, it feels nice to have somebody interested and slightly involved in your hard work. When I feel like my time spent writing has been wasted, I talk about my writing with someone and even think of future ideas for it. Whatever feels right to you is what you should do, guilt free. Taking breaks can be important.

Some authors take dozens of years to complete a novel or they may take 6 months to complete one. There is no set timeline that is absolutely expected or necessary when it comes to writing. Besides, when you are into it more, it will always be better quality work.

  • Not worth a full comment, but look at The Oatmeal's "Creativity is like breathing" comic. – user117529 May 7 '18 at 8:27

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