Posted On December 5, 2011 by Print This Post

C.J. Redwine: What To Do When Your WIP Turns Against You

C.J. Redwine returns today with a blog I feel like she wrote just for me. I’m sure a lot of authors will relate!

You know that feeling? That sinking sensation in your stomach? That awful certainty weighing down every word you manage to pry out of your uncooperative brain?

Yeah. That one. That’s the “Help, my WIP has turned against me, and I don’t know what to do about it” feeling. We’ve all been there. The good news is you don’t have to stay there. Here are a few ways to energize your story, awaken your creativity, and teach that WIP who’s boss.

1. Back It Up: Maybe the problem is that you wrote yourself into a corner. You pushed the story where it wasn’t supposed to go. You jumped the shark , and you’re only a third of the way into your story. The easiest way to fix this is to back up to the last point where the story was flowing organically and start writing new material from there.

2. List Your Options: Maybe the problem is that you’re out of ideas. You know your secondary conflict barely has a pulse. You know your plot twists have run their course even though you have another 40k to type. The easiest fix for this is to sit down and start listing everything that could possibly happen. Even those things that are remote possibilities. At minimum, come up with twenty-five options. You’ll find that ideas begin to spawn ideas until you see a thread of possibilities and you have more than enough “stuff” to finish your story in style.

3. Spend Quality Time: Maybe the problem is you don’t really know your characters, and therefore you have no idea how to put them into situations that will stretch them to their breaking points. Each of your characters must have an agenda. This agenda drives every choice (good or bad) your character makes, how he or she interacts with others, and determines how he or she contributes to the overall conflict. Sit down and either write it out or talk it through. Figure out what your character really wants (may be more than one thing), why he or she wants this, and what he or she is willing to do to get it. Then look at all the ways your characters’ agendas either align or contradict each other. Presto! Conflict.

4. Give It A Rest: Maybe the problem is that you need to let your mind wander in a different direction creatively for a while. This could mean you write on another project. Or it could mean you do something else artistic, something that allows your mind to play with your WIP in the background. Some writer friends of mine knit, paint, or cook when they need distance from their story. Some write a project that is just for fun. Before long, your story will start playing out in your head. New scenes. New dialogue. And suddenly, you’ll feel that spark of excitement that compels you to return to your WIP and lay down the words.

5. Start Over: Oh, that hurts to read, doesn’t it? If all of these other methods haven’t worked, it’s possible you need a blank page. This may mean you simply move a troublesome scene or two aside and write them from scratch. Or it may mean you open a new document and start over entirely. Ouch? Maybe not. I worked for six weeks on my next book only to realize that the reason every word felt like I had to chisel it from cement was that the book was wrong. I’d started in the wrong place. Rushed the action. Picked the wrong narrator. I finally stopped trying all of the smaller fixes and just opened a new document. Guess what? The story flowed so fast, I could hardly keep up with it.

Dealing with a stubborn WIP takes guts and creativity. Sometimes you have to try several of these methods before you unlock the story and find success. What other methods have worked for you?


Do you sometimes feel your WIP is out to get you? Do C.J.’s suggestions ring any bells with you?

*Special Notice!* This week, RU presents a 3-part mini-series called “The Other Side of the Bookshelf” by long-time Barnes & Noble Community Relations Manager Linda Keller. You won’t want to miss it!



C.J. Redwine‘s debut YA fantasy DEFIANCE, the story of a girl who escapes her cloistered city to rescue her father and finds heartbreak, danger, and a new romance, comes out Fall 2012 from Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins. When C.J. isn’t putting her characters in danger or running after her four children, she creates tools designed to help other writers master the craft of synopsis and query writing. For more information on C.J., her books, or her writer’s tools, visit

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36 Responses to “C.J. Redwine: What To Do When Your WIP Turns Against You”

  1. A very good post. I have to “back it up.” I resolved the conflict too soon (at the 3/4 point). So that’s what I’ve been working on.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Mercy | December 5, 2011, 6:30 am
  2. Hi, C.J. I love #3! I’m a huge fan of getting to know my characters.

    Awhile ago I watched a Michael Hauge DVD where he talked about finding the character’s wound. That’s now the first thing I do with my characters. If I know what the wound is, it makes it easier to put the characters in situations where they have to deal with it.

    Great post!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | December 5, 2011, 6:38 am
  3. Hi C J,

    I start at the end of the story and thread everyone to it. Someone’s journey is always painful and someone else catches a break.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | December 5, 2011, 6:54 am
  4. C.J. – I bookmarked this right away. Number 5 is a biggie for me, since I’ve done it with almost every one of my stories. I wish I was one of those writers who gets it right first time out, but that is soooo not me.

    Number two isn’t a problem for me. Instead I have too many ideas, and tend to overcomplicate the plot, especially in the first draft.

    I can vouch for number four – it really does help when I can walk away from a story for awhile. That’s what I’m doing right now!

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | December 5, 2011, 7:32 am
  5. This is something I really need to do. As a recovering pants-er, I’ve found I don’t know enough about the people I’m writing about to keep conflict and interest going for more than 15 or 20K words. It’s so helpful to get a glimpse inside another writer’s process. Thanks, C.J.!

    Posted by Jodi | December 5, 2011, 8:00 am
  6. Thanks for having me today, RU! I’m looking forward to seeing what works for other writers as well.

    Posted by C.J. Redwine | December 5, 2011, 8:09 am
  7. Oh man this came at a perfect time. I am on No. 1 right now and it hurts, hurts, hurts to ignore the middle I already wrote but man does it blow. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Posted by Avery Flynn | December 5, 2011, 8:36 am
  8. CJ – this may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but this summer, I found that a light, “Twightlight Zone” type nap often helps me recharge and figure things out. Lying on the couch drifting, just thinking about an aspect of the story or characters sometimes breaks something loose in my brain.

    Walks can also do wonders. Worked through a few details of a first scene just this way on Friday.

    Happy Monday!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | December 5, 2011, 8:55 am
  9. Morning C.J.!

    I’m at #3 at the moment. Who I thought the hero was, isn’t. =) Sneaky man. It’s great when they have hidden depths, but just TELL me so I can write you right from the beginning! =)
    I’m with Kelsey on the nap thing – except I generally use the time from when I wake up to when I actually turn off the snooze to do my serious thinking and plotting!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 5, 2011, 9:23 am
  10. Great list, CJ! I think I’ve done all of these at one point or another, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    I’m doing a hybrid #5 right now, where I wrote a big chunk of my next book in Scrivener but then wondered if I had it right. Did I start in the right place? Is the conflict too flimsy? What’s really keeping these characters apart, etc.? So I opened up a new Word document and started moving the stuff that I felt worked and wrote fresh stuff there.

    I’m finding that I’m writing a little faster in Scrivener because I’m not as afraid of making a mistake. My internal editor knows it’s not the “official” one. Then I pick out the good stuff and move it to the Word document.

    Screwy, I know, but it seems to be working with this story. 🙂

    Posted by Laurie London | December 5, 2011, 9:40 am
  11. Are you watching over my shoulder these days? This couldn’t have come at a better time. I hate this feeling of being “stuck.” Thanks for the advice. I think I need to start with #1 and back up.

    Posted by V Demetros | December 5, 2011, 1:55 pm
  12. CJ – great post! I think I’ve done a variation of all the things on your list at one time or another. I write in a linear fashion – beginning to end – after putting together a bulletized outline of the plot.So, it doesn’t happen a lot to me because I do so much pre-work. But, if I get in a real bind I usually put it aside and listen to music, read a book, take a run – and I let my mind freeplay for a while.

    Posted by Robin Covington | December 5, 2011, 2:00 pm
  13. Hi CJ!

    Great point about going back where the story stopped flowing. For me, knowing my characters inside and out is essential. I learned that after several rewrites!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | December 5, 2011, 3:18 pm
  14. What does WIP stand for? I’m not afraid to look stupid. That’s right. I said it. 🙂

    Posted by caryl | December 5, 2011, 3:55 pm
  15. Caryl – Don’t ever feel stupid about asking questions here! “WIP” equals “work in progress.”

    Anyone else need clarification of terms you’ve seen used here? Ask away!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | December 5, 2011, 5:16 pm
  16. Thanks so much for this great post, CJ. I once read a blog post by thriller best seller, Tess Gerritsen where she wrote (I paraphrase) … “Around the time I get to the eleventh draft, I feel as though I am finally getting there.”

    I do follow some of your suggestions: (1) work on something else and let it sit for a bit, (2) go back to where I thought I lost it, or (3) start over and change the entire book.

    Oh yes, I also argue at length with my MC and other supporting characters, remind them who is in charge (while they laugh at me) and ask them why they are giving me such a pain in the a$$. For laughs, I sometimes play more than one character and get them to resolve their “issues” as I change perspectives. Please don’t drop a net over me … it somehow works 🙂

    Posted by florence fois | December 5, 2011, 5:18 pm
  17. C.J. – Thanks so much for spending the day with us – you rock!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | December 6, 2011, 7:23 am


  1. […] Okay, my current project isn’t truly a romance per se, but it does have a nice little love story working underneath as a sub-plot and there are plenty of wonderful posts and ideas here to help you no matter what genre you might be working in. My favs include the 7 Components of Book Marketing Strategy and What To Do When Your WIP Turns Against You. […]

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