When writing your novel is like trying to coerce a cat into a bath…

We all experience difficulties at one time or another. At some point we all struggle to write and the reasons for this can be varied, obvious and/or unknown. Sometimes we sit down to write, having carved out the time to do so, and we are faced with a blank page we can not fill. Occasionally our writing time is taken over by crises and unexpected happenings. And on the odd occasion we just don’t feel like writing at all.

I am stuck in one of these periods myself at the moment. It’s linked to a multitude of potential sources from doubting my ability, weariness for my story and the fear that this process will never, ever end. I’ve been ill and I’m still suffering from this. Work is busy and I’ve been spending a lot of my spare time attending Literature Festival events. When given the opportunity to sit down and write, therefore, I’ve ignored it – or at least procrastinated until the moment has passed.

At the core, I suppose I would have to admit that I am frustrated that this novel isn’t over yet; that I’m struggling with the re-write because things keep on changing, enlightening me to another idea or plot point that I hadn’t considered before. The more times I look over my work, the more I realise I have to do and the more work I create for myself. I try and make a plan – outline my chapters and their significance, try and define what it is about these set scenes that move the plot forward – but then when I sit down to write it, something unexpected happens: like my character will suddenly decide they want to talk about possible adoption plans, when this was never the point of the dialogue to begin with.

In turn, this causes me to doubt my ability to keep my story in check and on-point. I know there has to be some creative license, but I should be capable of steering it in the right direction. However, I’m also too tired to fight the doubts at this point. So when I take a break, I chastise myself for not being strong enough to plough onward and see where it takes me and for being too impatient to allow myself – and my characters – this freedom.

My novel and me...

My novel and me…

As a result, I’m getting a bit fed up with my story and the characters I’ve created. They won’t do what they should – what I expect of them, what the story necessitates they do – and I don’t trust them (or myself) enough to just let them go ahead and lead. I feel like I’m trying to coerce a cat into a bath – and the cat is winning by miles.  It’s a vicious circle I can’t seem to escape and it’s causing me to doubt myself and sulk during my writing time; meaning I’m not really enjoying it right now. And, what’s the point if I don’t like doing it?

Writing this book isn’t a job for me, I’m not getting paid to do it, it’s all my own time and there’s no promise of anything more that self-satisfaction when I’m done. What will it matter if I don’t write for a few days, weeks, months…? What will it matter if I put this novel in a metaphorical drawer and don’t get it out again? What difference will it make?


It will indicate (to me) that I’m not capable of finishing a novel to a high standard. It will suggest (to me) that I don’t know what I’m doing and that I might not really want that dream I’ve been so focused on the last couple of years. It might even prove that I don’t believe in myself and that I don’t have the stamina to make it as a published author.

Or – it might just mean I need some time.

I re-read my NaNo #3 (November 2013) novel earlier this week – all 50,000 words of it. And you know what – I forgot I was reading a novel I’d written. I thought it was fast paced, absorbing and had interesting characters and a strong plot. When I got to the end of what I’d written (about half way through the actual story) I was disappointed I didn’t have more to read. Even though some of these characters appear in NaNo #1, it felt fresh and exciting and different. I’m actually looking forward to April when, thanks to signing up to CampNaNo, I’m hoping to finish off this story.

So yes, sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we don’t have to justify why we don’t want to sit down and write because what we really need to do is just change what it is we’re writing. We face difficulties and we don’t give up. We rest, re-evaluate and find something else to focus on, something that will energise us. Occasionally that energy we get from writing won’t go back into writing – because life happens, and we have to use our time wisely. But, sometimes, the energy that we have, we have to use wisely and not just keep banging our heads against a brick wall, writing ourselves in circles and not listening to our muse.


What do you do when you hit a writing wall? How do you cope with the doubts and the challenges of everyday life?
Let me know in comments. Or Tweet me some encouraging words!


13 responses to “When writing your novel is like trying to coerce a cat into a bath…

  1. Pingback: Writing struggles + sharing = writing solution? | Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

  2. If it’s any help at all, I’ve been in exactly the same position with my book for some time. To be honest, it’s only the past week or so that I’ve started to get excited about it again. I found that putting it away and ignoring it for a while helped because, just like you, I knew that if I didn’t finish it I would think that I wasn’t capable of writing something worth reading. That thought nagged away at me until I decided it was time to prove the opposite. I also ploughed much more effort into writing for my blog during that period, which really helped rejuvenate my love of writing and the fun I found in it first time round. So maybe find an alternative writing project for some time, to give you the buzz again.

    • I’m hoping that this will happen to me in April as I work on the other novel…although, unhelpfully, it deals with some of the same characters and is a sequel/prequel in equal measure! So perhaps it won’t get me far enough away!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience: it’s good to know that this is just a phase and others have gotten through it. Appreciate the support and advice. 🙂

      Take Care, Cat x

  3. As someone who has written two full drafts (threw out the first entirely and rewrote from scratch), and is doing a mass third revision, it happens. I hit my own brick wall recently, chiefly due to the fact that I thought I’d be almost done by now on the book. I’m not, but every time I come in to revise a part of it, it’s easier, the final result clearer. Sure, it won’t be the “three edits and done!” I wanted to gloat about, but I know it’ll get there.

    Also, if the characters tell you they want to do a tangent, let them. I rewrote one of my character’s introductions to be much darker to add more gravity to her background and decision to join the group. Fast-forward to halfway through the book and that dark introduction (losing all of her friends at the hands of the very monsters they sought to defeat, partially losing any desire to live) has morphed into her going power-crazy after learning magic. Her sense of loss and fear of death has been replaced by a consuming desire for revenge, only masked by the fact that she only wishes it against monsters who will kill her just the same.

    It’s a much deeper and nuanced approach to the character, and it builds in a flaw I can exploit as the series continues. Revenge may feel good, and it might create good things, but it rarely ends well.

    • Thanks for linking back to your blog post on your own struggles: I think I am feeling very similar – that knee jerk reaction of resistance when you realise it’s just not where you hoped it was, followed by the admittance you have so much more work to do…I just haven’t quite made it to the enlightened stage yet!

      As you indicate – it’s about digging in and carrying on – because the story deserves it, it needs to get out there into the world and the only one who can do that is the author (us).

      Thanks for sharing, and for commenting. It’s reassured me that I will be able to push through this and find my way to the other side, eventually

      Take Care, Cat x

    • Great quote. Now that I think about it, I can’t really recall why I started this particular story…a reminder would definitely not go amiss.
      Thanks for stopping by with your words of wisdom. 🙂
      Take care, Cat x

  4. Well, you know I’ve been there too, Cat. When you’re a new writer, it can seem so overwhelming. I’ve just finished my second complete redraft but I know it still needs so much work and motivating myself for that seems to get harder and harder. I took a break when it happened to me before and did Nano (!) but it was good to do something else. I think one of the problems is that we put pressure on ourselves but maybe you just need to go with the flow a bit, as John suggests above, and see where it takes you. It’s April soon too so doing Camp Nano will perhaps give you just the break you need. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you know, I’m convinced we’ll get there in the end!

    • Thanks Julie. Am being harsh on myself, I know. For some reason I am feeling overwhelmed by the novel at the moment and I might even be a bit fearful of the amount of work involved still. Need to distract myself and return with a level head methinks.
      Congrats on completing the second draft. You know…I’m looking for something to take my mind off my own writing, so if you want me to peruse yours I’d be more than happy to discover what happened next..;)
      Take care, Cat x

      • Once I know what the outcome is on Monday, I would like to have a fresh pair of eyes read over the 2nd draft and I was going to ask you if you would mind having another read. Thank you for offering, I really appreciate it. I’ll be in touch on Monday x

  5. I seem to be going through something very similar with my novel. There are plenty of ideas and avenues to explore and expand upon but it seems too big to approach at the moment. And I agree with your solution, just take a break and write something different, that’s what I have done and it seems to have refreshed me. But definitely keep writing and when my characters do something unexpected I just go with it, and worry about whether a plot turn works later on. Good post 🙂
    Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

    • I have to admit, letting my characters take me on their own journey is what I really enjoy about writing – so perhaps I just need to let them out to play for a while!
      The novel can seem too big to approach a lot of the time, I agree. I thought breaking it down into chapters might help, but of late these have also seemed too much. A break it is, writing other things that will occupy my mind elsewhere.
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂 Hope we make it through and get those novels done one day soon.
      Take care, Cat x

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