Z is for Zoothapsis
Zoothapsis means premature burial. Like my word for the letter X, you may be wondering at my choice for Z. I propose that zoothapsis can stand for the premature burial of a book. (Yes, I know I’m really stretching it here but work with me people!) Haven’t we all, at one time or another, felt like giving up on our novels? To bury them deep in that desk drawer or trunk?
The sad fact is plenty of great novels go unfinished. The statistics are staggering: of those who start writing a novel, only about 3% will finish. And I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but it’s hard to sell a novel that isn’t complete, especially to a reader.
Writing a novel is hard, you already know that. It makes your fingers hurt. It makes your head hurt. Still, you persist until everything comes to a screeching halt, a halt that’s accompanied by thoughts such as:
Every time I sit down to work on my story, my mind goes blank.
My characters took the story in a new direction, and I don’t know what to do now.
I don’t feel like writing — the inspiration just isn’t there.
My writing feels stilted.
I’m just no good at this.
Here are a few reasons why that screeching halt happens — and what to do about it.
1. You haven’t started writing.
Whether it’s lined or unlined paper, a notebook, or a computer screen, a blank page is intimidating. There are many reasons for this fear. Fear of failure, of rejection, of ridicule. We feel we’re not good enough to write. We’re mentally unprepared for it.
The answer is very simple: Just write. Sit down, pull out your pen and paper, open your lap top, and just write. Write anything at all, even if it’s not your story. Engage in the simple act of getting words out of your head and into visible, tangible form. There. Your page is no longer blank. Now keep going.
2. You don’t know where it’s going.
In the beginning you had an awesome idea for how this book would go. But first the main character wandered off, then that quirky secondary character stopped talking and then there was a plot hole the size of the Grand Canyon to fill so you changed direction somewhere around the middle and now you’re nearing the end and it doesn’t make any sense at all.
Figure out where you want to go before you start. This is going to take some work, but you need to know where you’re going before you can decide how to get there. Sit back, plot it out, outline it, and take a close look at your story arc. You’ll figure out where you went wrong. And who knows? You might discover some side paths you overlooked before, and they might just lead you to something exciting.
3. You’ve forgotten the whys.
If you don’t know why your characters do what they do, then eventually they’ll (a) do nothing the story needs them to do, or (b) do nothing at all. You must know their motivations, and you must know these motivations on an intimate level.
To fix this you’ll need solid back stories for your characters. These back stories will probably never make it into the actual novel, but they’ll help you keep track of who your characters are and why what they do is important.
4. You’re not getting any feedback.
Maybe you’re not writing this story for others to read, you’re only writing it for yourself, so you don’t think you need any feedback. Unfortunately you’re wrong. Writers tend to have a blind spot when it comes to their own writing. We have a hard time seeing our work objectively.
This is where the beta reader comes in. A good beta reader will give you much needed feedback on your writing. They will point out flaws you may have missed and point you in the right direction when you get lost.
5. You’re waiting.
Inspiration may occasionally strike, like lightning, but it’s pretty rare. You can’t count on it and there’s no point waiting for it. If you do you’ll be waiting the rest of your life.
It’s BIC time (butt in chair). You need to make yourself sit down and write. If you want your novel to go anywhere you have to give it a push.