There you are, writing along at a good clip, and suddenly you find your story buried in mud, all its energy lost.
Now, I'm still rather new at this fiction writing life — a bit shy of my first million words. Aside from working on the craft itself, which I enjoy, much of the challenge is understanding your own psychology well enough to control your productivity.
In my case, there are two issues: what to do when the story grinds to a halt, and how to avoid procrastination. Now, I don't know anyone who can successfully discipline their work habits through will alone (if we had that much will, we'd all eat healthy and exercise regularly, not to mention watch our budgets and clean our houses). Most of us are better off coaxing ourselves into a regular routine and lowering all barriers that might derail it.
Alas, I have an alarm system that slams a wall down in front of my creativity when it senses “wrong path taken” for the story. I push my way forward from that point with great difficulty and at my peril, and I've found it's always a mistake to do so.
I'm grateful, really I am, that my subconscious has digested enough “story” in my life that it knows when something's not working. I don't doubt its judgment, but it's hard, sometimes, to see what went wrong.
I've been hung up on The Chained Adept. I breezed through the first half just fine. It's been an experiment in “no outline first”, for me, though I had a general goal I was aiming at. I hit the midpoint, hooked up my heroes and their allied army with the enemy's army, and everyone was going to need to grit their teeth and cooperate against a common enemy. And so they started cross-training. And everyone was just, oh so friendly about it. All technical and professional. Just like a software coding project with partners, in the real world. Seemed normal to me, somehow.
Gack! I'm an idiot. I let my corporate background seep into my comfort zone in the story and lost the energy completely. Everything was just so… nice. Lukewarm, squishy. Rather sweet, in some ways.
And so the story just oozed on by, pointlessly, and bogged down (so to speak).
It turned out I couldn't just rip it out back to the mid-point and re-start. I didn't know enough about the background of the larger cultures to articulate the fraught and historically-founded relationships they had with each other. I had expanded from my small setting of characters to a very different one, and since this is a fantasy, not the real world, I was responsible for explaining (showing ) this well enough for my readers to understand.
And that required a whole different set of activities, which I will talk about in my next post, on using conlangs (CONstructed LANGuages). Meanwhile, I excised the offending Act 3, and pulled the word count back (sigh) pending the new surge ahead. What kills me is that the word count isn't so much – a week or two of daily writing. But the procrastination avoidance of dealing with the problem took much, much longer.
I also suspect that if I had rough-outlined this book in my usual way, I would have noticed the swamp before I was knee-deep in it, and far from shore.