Hello! I mostly write realistic/literary type fiction, with some excursions into horror. I have five or six unfinished projects languishing in Google Docs right now, ranging from short stories to novels.
My problem is that every time I sit down to write, I feel paralyzed by all of these options. I can’t decide which project I want to work on. Instead I get distracted by thinking about my aspirations for each story (submit to journals, self publish, whatever) and/or I just sit there with a general sense of panic that I will never get any of this done. Each of my stories has its own mood, so I’ve tried to pick one based on the mood I’m in, but lately my only consistent mood has been “Dammit I need to write something!”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to pick one story to focus on when there are so many begging for attention. Thanks for taking the time to read this!
What you have is something called choice paralysis, a well-known psychological phenomenon. It happens a lot to people in grocery stores: faced with seven thousand varieties of ketchup or toilet paper, we feel totally overwhelmed. We know we’re supposed to weigh all the alternatives and pick the one that best meets our needs, but sometimes it’s just too much, and we go with a familiar brand because it’s familiar, choose at random, or flee the store.
Dear Story Nurse,
Advice I have heard: “Skip writing the boring part.”
Scene I’m trying to write: the boring part, for both characters and author—in which much essential information is conveyed that I’m not sure how to show any other way. (In fact the very boring-ness of the scene to the PoV character is one of those essential points!)
Predictable problem: stalled writing.
Glib solution: skip writing the boring part. Come back and fill it in later, if the important bits really can’t be conveyed any other way.
Next problem: I write linearly. My brain stalls ridiculously if I try to write more than a vague outline of anything that’s further ahead than the next scene the reader ought to encounter… and the next scene the reader ought to encounter is the boring part.
Actual solution: ???
—Bored Butterfly (they/them)
Dear Bored Butterfly,
One-size-fits-all writing advice never really does, and this is a classic example. It’s also an example of how generally good advice can become much less good when squeezed into a tweetable sentence or catchy phrase. Skipping the boring parts doesn’t mean you should leave out the information you intended to convey. It means you should look for ways to convey that information that excite and engage you, because that will excite and engage the reader.
This question came from the priority request queue for my Patreon patrons. Thanks for your support, letter writer!
Dear Story Nurse,
I’ve been working on a lot of short stories lately and I’ve had the same problem with each of them. I can’t end the dang things! I write beginnings and middles I like, but when I get to the end, the writing becomes more forced as I wrap things up. I have a hard time writing a sentence that signals to the reader “this is the end” but feels natural and isn’t obvious that’s what the story is doing. How can I make my endings read more smoothly?
Never Ending (she/her)
Dear Never Ending,
Your deceptively simple question requires a slightly complicated answer. In order to understand how to end stories, we have to get into what an ending is and what it’s for, and what makes it different from a story just stopping.