10 Steps for Working Past the "This Stinks" Blues

10 Steps for Working Past the “This Stinks” Blues

make sure your writing doesn't stink`You’ve spent months laboring over your manuscript. Long nights, early mornings, blood, sweat, tears—the whole ball of wax. This story is your darling. The words are more than just words; they’re the outbreathings of your soul. Sounds like a fairy tale—every writer’s dream come true—until one morning you boot up your computer, glance through the manuscript file, and realize This stinks!

Now what do you do?

Step #1: Don’t Panic

Realize every author goes through this on every story, so you’re in good company. Take a deep breath, look around, and maybe wave at Hemingway, Austen, and Shakespeare.

Step #2: Cry on a Sympathetic Shoulder

Give your #1 fan a call, poor out your woes, and let yourself believe every word about how you’re the best writer in the world and it’s simply not possible that you could have written anything that stinky.

Step #3: Give It Some Space

It’s easy to lose perspective on a story that has been with you every single day for months, or even years. Sometimes that loss of perspective means you think a story is better than it is; sometimes you think it’s much worse. Either way, letting a story breathe allows you to come back to it with more perceptive eyesight.

Step #4: Get Some Objective Feedback

Send the manuscript to your most trusted beta reader (who, one hopes, is not the same person you went to in Tip #2). Bite your fingernails for a few days until you can get an honest opinion.

Step #5: Get a Grip

No story is perfect; no author is perfect. This is a sad fact that every writer has to face sooner or later. Face it, accept it, deal with it. Then hitch up your knickers and start prepping that grindstone to receive the tip of your nose.

Step #6: Identify the Weaknesses

What can you strengthen? Where are the plot holes? Which characters are behaving unrealistically? Once you have a battle plan, you can accurately attack the weak spots.

Step #7: Remind Yourself Why You Love This Story

You might be tempted to chuck the whole darn story in the dump. But take a moment to remind yourself why you started writing it in the first place. See if you can recapture that original spark of inspiration.

Step #8: Revisit the Good Parts

Find the bits that sparkle, and allow yourself to swell with pride, just a little bit, if only to remind yourself you can do this.

Step #9: Take a Break

Give yourself a little time off to recover from the blues. Eat at your favorite restaurant, watch a good movie, take a long walk, go skydiving—whatever stokes your motor and leaves your soul at peace.

Step #10: Get Back to Work

And now it’s time to get cracking. Your story isn’t going to get any less stinky the longer you let it sit. The only way to write better is to write more. So roll up your sleeves and dive back into the fray with the assurance you will make this the best story you’ve every written.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you encountered the “this stinks” blues on your work-in-progress? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Does a painter ever feel he has finished a painting?
    Does a writer ever think he cannot write another word to make his manuscript better?
    A true artist will keep striving to do better. It’s his/her readers who are the arbiters.

  2. Tom Ontis says

    I had been working on a manuscript for a number of years. I had the basic story down, but something was still missing. It occurred to me one night that it didn’t have the proper voice: I was all over the place telling the story. When I finally gave it a first person voice, it just flowed out of me. I practically re-wrote the thing in just a few days.

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