Many of my friends talk about the Target effect. Has it happened to you? It’s like this: we go in with a plan to purchase a specific item, usually something practical like hand soap. Somewhere in the middle of the trip, deep in the store, we notice that our cart is overflowing, and we can’t remember what we came in for.
It’s a bit like writing. (You knew that was coming.) When we start a book, we have an idea of where we are going. We know what we want to accomplish and why. And then 5, 50, or a few hundred pages in, we get stuck. The book doesn’t seem to work, and like the Target shopper, we’ve forgotten why we’re here in the first place.
Here’s what she said (and I’m paraphrasing):
Stop writing. Go for a walk. Read a good book—even just a few pages.
Once you have some distance, ask:
What was I trying to do with this book?
What should I do now?
Wolitzer recounted how her editor does the same thing for her, asking what her vision for the book is and then holding her to that.
(By the way, that’s what a good life coach or writing coach will do for you: hold your vision for you, keep it in front of you so that you don’t forget what you set out to do.)
The morning after the signing, I went back to my work in progress, and asked:
When I started this book, what was I trying to do?
And guess what? The question helped me remember my purpose—and I knew how to write forward.
Try it. See if it helps you. If you have a different way of getting past stuck, leave a comment below!