When Your Writing is Delayed

Sometimes you have to work on the middle first.

After meticulous outlining and brilliant brainstorming, you are ready to begin writing. But you can’t. There is something holding you back. You don’t feel inspired. You think the whole idea of the project is just terrible.

Then it’s good to begin in the middle. Start at the point that you feel best about, even if that doesn’t make much sense to you at the start.

For example, I write this during a week of highs and lows, of signing new, big clients and worrying about California fires. In this mix of ashes and wishes granted, I am consumed and distracted.  I am receiving direction, misdirection, and am pounded by a news cycle looping back upon itself. Does the news create the news?  Does the cycle feed itself?

Stop, I tell myself. This is a production delay. Let’s fix it.

At times I’ve tried giving into the weight and taking a nap, but the ideas continue to roil and bubble. Some experts say that my unconscious mind is working through the problem but, as a sometime insomniac, I don’t like the tangle of unrealized ideas squirming just out of sight.

Another way to fix a production delay is to walk away from the project for a while. Once, I went out of town to film a news story. I met our network correspondent at the home of the star character. She met us at her door in tears. Moments before our arrival she slipped, fell, and wrenched her knee. The story she was going to tell us for the cameras was itself wrenching and emotional, and now she was in physical pain too.

That night, there would be no filming or even a meeting. After doing what we could to help her and wishing her a speedy recovery, the correspondent turned to me, his producer, and said, “Let’s go to dinner.” This was a good suggestion because we were in New Orleans.

To fix production delays, a good dinner works better than a nap. You can talk out the story. Dialogue helps.

What to do if you don’t have access to New Orleans? Or a ready friend and a good dinner? John McPhee, the masterful New Yorker writer, suggests pulling out a piece of paper or opening a fresh screen and writing “Dear Mom,” and then complaining about the story to your mother.  Do that, he says, for a couple of pages. Then cut off the Dear Mom part and the complaining, and use the parts that work.

That works for me. It might work for you. When I really don’t know how to start, however, I just start anywhere in the story, even the end. Knowing the last line allows you to work back to the beginning with confidence. The middle of your story can be magnetic too, and once you set it down, you have a world of possibility before you.

Thanks for reading,


Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

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