Getting past the writing marathon’s word wall

posted in: Writing, Writing Process | 0

Like any other marathon, drafting a novel is a test of stamina, fitness and endurance. It’s a long haul – and, just like it’s running equivalent, you can be going well, feeling good, writing at a steady pace, when all of a sudden you hit the word wall.

That happened to me two weeks ago, when I was four weeks into a six week writing plan to create a first draft of a novel. Until that point it had all been going well – I was writing daily, and my word count was pretty close to the daily and weekly targets I’d set. It looked like I was going to reach my 100,000 word target in six weeks.

But something strange happened at the beginning of the fifth week. Things just began to lose focus and slow down. The solid ground I’d created in the planning phase softened and then turned to mud. Suddenly I had slowed to a crawl and was wading through a murky, treacly word sludge.

Ahead of me, I could see the word wall coming, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was way too late for a panic induced session of carbo-loading. I could have stopped, wrapped myself in the writing equivalent of silver coated space blanket, and made plans for a comeback next year. But that seemed too much like giving up.

I had to find a way to keep going beyond the word wall, and there seemed to be only two options. The first was to try to carry on at my current daily writing rate and hope I had enough momentum to crash through the word wall. I tried this for a while, but the closer I got to the wall the slower I got. I was in danger of crashing rather than crashing through.

The only other way was to slow down, give myself time to think, and try to find a way around the wall. I’m happy to say that this worked. Slowing down, but keeping under way, eased the pressure enough to get me around the word wall and onto the easy ground beyond. I succeeded in keeping the word count rising, and slowly it’s moved into the mid 90,000s. At the cost of an extra two weeks on my schedule, I’m almost at the the end of the draft.

The lesson is that plans and work rates are vital for keeping momentum, but they need to be reviewed when circumstances change. The important thing is to reach your goal, and to get there with the stamina to do even more. If you get there a little late, no one will notice.