Fast Fixes for the WTF Writers’ Moment

ImageAll writers, at some point, look at their own work and can only say, “WTF?”

Suddenly it’s filth. Suddenly this character has no life. Suddenly you hit a wall – where was this scene supposed to go, again?

Every writer reaches the place where they can go no further. The river opens to the ocean but we’re trying to find a new continent out there.

Obviously you shouldn’t abandon this work – with a feeling so chronic, nothing would ever get written.

Sometimes the work might need a major rehabilitation, and the way to determine if that’s the case is to work through the following four processes:

Change characters’ names. All of them, if you can manage it. Nothing strips a character naked as much as depriving her of a name.

When you are able to see past the label, it forces you to develop distinct characters. You should be able to change all your characters’ names and still read the text with ease, thinking Of course Jamie would say that.

As you write and your main characters develop, a new name may come to you that simply fits better. Let these changes come – don’t limit yourself to rules you set on your own craft.

Switch characters’ genders. To use when a character falls flat or is underdeveloped.

This one is to be delivered with caution, but there’s no harm in gender-bendering a character to see if the other sex works better. This kind of quick change can transform a strict schoolteacher stereotype character into a forceful and particular man, or turn a swaggery playboy into a sexually confident and independent woman.

On this note, try deleting a character’s gender altogether. Is it relevant?

Kill all your darlings. All of them.

As Faulkner says, kill all your darlings. Those scenes you cling to, the ones that contain your best writing, the ones that really manage to capture a particular feeling or appearance – delete them.

They are the past, and now they will only bring you down.

This isn’t to say that these scenes are unimportant: They Are Important. In order to get from Plan A to Plan R, you unfortunately must power through Plans A-Q. These scenes are crucial to the development of what will one day be your masterpiece.

But they have to go. If it’s boring, it has to go. If it doesn’t contribute to plot development, character development or very important worldbuilding, it has to go. If you, as a writer, are bored with it – it has to go.

Put these scenes in a Deleted-Scene file. This way you know where they are if you figure out a way to reconstruct them to help the story move. But right now they just have to go, and go they shall, into the file.


Then read or skim through your work again. Are you missing anything crucial? If you are, work these important details back into other scenes where they won’t be a clump of boring nothingness or plot stagnation.

If a boring scene has a particular feel or pace you feel is important to the work, do the same: work two scenes together. There is probably another scene somewhere that could do with some oomph.

Skip ahead. Punch a hole through your timeline and just come back later.

This method doesn’t work for everyone. I personally cannot move on without finishing a scene. But it’s a good tactic for when something is wrong and you don’t know what.

Or simply write a terrible ending to the scene. Who cares? This is only Plan A; no matter what you write, it will change.

The answer will reveal itself. If it doesn’t, you need a Total Rehabilitation – and I have a post on that coming soon.


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