My struggles with my current manuscript have been well documented. I tried to push my way through writer's block, discovered that I needed to change the story, erased a ton of stuff...and then, I promptly got stuck again. But recently, I discovered the problem and ended up unlocking an ongoing problem I have with my writing. Maybe you've got the same one. Ask yourself a question: do you update your outline?
Writing Inside the Lines
I start every book with a lot of ideas about how I'm going to write it. I sit and plan out every single chapter, not in great detail but in some detail, and then I start to write. And inevitably, all that stuff I planned ends up changing. Characters end up being different people than I imagined, events unfold in ways I didn't expect, new things happen that I never planned for. I go with it, of course, because good things can happen this way. But I don't go back and update the outline...and that ended up causing me some big problems.
It's okay to go off the outline. I do it all the time. Sometimes, you have to let the story go the way that it wants to go. But it's also easy to get totally derailed when you have no support structure whatsoever to guide you along, and I found this out the hard way. Failing to update my outline has never hurt me badly in the past; I have always managed to complete books. But with my latest manuscript, it kept me from getting anything done for a couple of weeks.
I wasn't writing anything because I didn't know what to write, and it took me too long to figure that out. I was way outside of my old structure, having scrapped much of the original idea I had in mind, and I was lost. Once I updated the outline and gave myself a new structure, I was able to get back to writing the darned book.
The moral of the story is clear: update your outline, because it's going to change. If you don't make the updates when you need to, you might end up wasting time...like me.