Working Out the Kinks in Your Manuscript…or When the Story Just isn’t Working

Working Out the Kinks in Your Manuscript…or When the Story Just isn’t Working

distant hot air balloon

I recently read a blog post about what to do when you get stuck writing your novel. What happens when you hit a wall in your manuscript and just can’t get past it? Usually, it’s not for a lack of creativity or trying. You are not forever “blocked”, but you are sort of stuck and the reason is most likely because something in the story needs to change. It’s not going where it’s supposed to go because of some detail that you included, or didn’t include in the beginning. The article said to spend time with your characters… mull it over. Sit in the window and just think and think and think. And to remind yourself that mulling things over is part of the writing process. Do not scold yourself for not writing, because this is part of it.

Maybe you are struck because you need to get to know your characters more. What are their passions? What is their backstory? What drives them?

Maybe you even need to read a book by someone else to see how that author puts an entire story together, so that you’ll be able to come back to your work with perspective. How did that writer do it? How did he or she make everything so believable and the characters come together? How did she build that chemistry?

I have personally been stuck for a while on my work in progress. I’m not going to tell you exactly how long because it’s too long. At first I thought, “I’m just not cut out for this, maybe I’m not really a writer.” But I knew that wasn’t the case. I WANT to tell this story. I know it’s in me and I need to prove to myself that I can write this draft. I can finish it. But I knew with how it is currently I wouldn’t be able to reach the end. There were too many flaws, undeveloped characters, and off-the-mark plot lines. I needed to get to know my characters better first. Why would they act this way towards this person, but different towards another? What drives them? What scares them? How do these two interact? How will they overcome their conflicts? How will they work together and build chemistry, and ultimately love? (I’m writing a contemporary romance.)

I spent many days  lately trying to think things over, but I kept coming up short. It’s like my mind was filled with an inflated balloon and just needed to pop. I felt the pressure of that pending pop and it was killing me. Finally, I began to slowly press into it, instead of forcing one all-consuming pop. I gently pressed the sides in until the knot began to slip and slowly the air leaked out. The ideas slowly leaked out as I worked on different ways of brainstorming in my story. I thought about it in the shower, I thought about it during my work day, I recorded myself on my phone in the car as if I were talking from my characters voice and writing a “Dear Abby” letter laying out the issues and asking for help.

Then the other day I decided to spend some time outside on my crowded apartment balcony that also doubles as our storage shed. Realistically it’s not that inviting and there is no shade. There are no tables, and the only chairs are the fold up kind you take to a kid’s soccer game or camping. Everything is covered in dust and sand and spider webs. But I went out there with a pen and notepad and I thought. And I played some Clash of Clans. And then I went back to thinking. And played more games on my iPad, and then started trying to write the start of a different, shorter romance story I had in my head. But that one wasn’t working. And I realized it’s because I needed THIS one to work, I needed to push forward. I was so close, I knew it; I could feel it.

Then I started writing about a romance novel I just finished reading by Rachel Gibson called Run To You. I wrote about how impressed I was with this story; she made the characters strong and quirky and unique and she built a good world with a believable plot. I wondered, what sort of world am I creating for my characters? How do I want them to come together? Even though these are questions I’ve been asking for a while, over and over, now I had new perspective. And I didn’t leave that porch, not even to get a glass of water or take a loo break, until I worked out all the kinks and found the holes and brought the story full circle. I wasn’t stuck anymore – the story would go on!

I felt the balloon tut tut tut with the last of its air and sputter far, far away.

 How do you deal with this when writing? What helps you work out the kinks? 

KATIE MCCOACH is a freelance developmental book editor at KM Editorial working with authors of all levels to help them create their best story possible. Katie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Editorial Freelancers Association. She has had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope and is currently writing a contemporary romance novel. For advice on editing, writing, and publishing visit her blog at and be sure to also follow her on Twitter@KatieMcCoach.

About Katie McCoach

KATIE McCOACH is a developmental book editor at KM Editorial, LLC working with authors to help them create their best story! Be sure to follow her on Twitter @KatieMcCoach.

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4 Responses to Working Out the Kinks in Your Manuscript…or When the Story Just isn’t Working

  1. Anton February 19, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    When the story is not going the way I want, I let the characters take it where they want.

    However, if I am blocked, I either try to write a short story or read something, or even watch TV. By the time i have finished writing a short story —no matter how bad it is, I am ready to face my novel again.
    I hope this helps.

    • katiemccoach February 19, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

      That’s great advice, Anton!

      I’m glad you have a method that works best for you. I’m taking this advice currently, as it is. I got a bit stuck again on my MS so I have moved onto a new one. It started as a short story, but I just can’t stop writing. I’m okay with that. 🙂

      Keep up the writing, Anton! Report back if you find another method that you use in the future.



  2. Michael R.Stern May 22, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    I found that the best way to get unstuck is to keep writing. Even if it’s awful. New ideas come and the story moves on. And then the solutions show up. I have now been writing this story for a year, and it’s finally coming together. The rewrite will be 3 buttons-delete, cut and paste. But it took writing through to find the path again. I thought I had an imaginary machete.

    • katiemccoach June 3, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

      That’s great advice, Michael! I think that works as well too. I found that even if I was writing about something else, I would still be thinking about my book and would find my way back to it. Good luck on your next book, I look forward to seeing it published!

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