Sometimes, you need a break from your story. Not a real break, but a break from the pounding of words on the narrative you’ve been plotting. Sometimes, you need to let your plot sit and bubble while you figure out what happens next. Sometimes, you need to dig deeper. Sometimes, you’re in the middle of a revision, and you know you want to improve something, but you just don’t know how.
During these times, instead of abandoning your story completely, consider these ideas on how to interact with your story without writing your story:
1) Visit a local (or, if you have the means and ability, far off) place that reminds you of a setting, character, or situation in your story (or the actual place, if it’s based on a real location). This could be a park, a city, a pub, or even a section of the museum. Even if your story is set in a fictional world, there are places you can go that might remind you of these places. A lot of my fictional cities tend to be hybrids of Seattle and San Francisco, which means I can visit them and be inspired. A science museum might give you some atmosphere of your science fiction setting, as could hiking in the mountains for your high fantasy. If you’ve got a Victorian setting, maybe there’s a tea room or museum you could go to draw in atmosphere.
2) Try doing something your characters are doing. Just reading about something isn’t the same as doing it. (Stay safe and legal, folks. Our characters are often doing dangerous and daring things, and while I think we all owe it to ourselves to be daring, I don’t want anyone breaking an arm on my advice.)
3) Create art related to your story. Whether you draw it or make a collage, even if you don’t think you have visual artistic skills, you can put together something that keeps your mind on the story or characters.
4) Write something related to the story. Vignettes about your characters, songs, poetry, setting descriptions, news articles, literature in your world, love letters, undirected freewriting–whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be part of the story at large. I think we often get hung up on the idea that everything we write on a story must appear in the story, and that’s just not true.
5) Create a soundtrack. Find music that fits your characters, story, mood, or themes and put together a playlist. At one time, I used to play my character’s theme songs (which I’d spend hours deciding on) right before I began to write a scene from their point of view, although nowadays I tend to listen to instrumental sets that fit the story’s mood.
6) Read books related to your story–but don’t default to this one in replacement of option 1 or 2 unless those one are completely undoable. I know it’s easier to look up information about the forests in Wikipedia, around the web, or a library book, but it wouldn’t be the same as going to your large city park or hiking trails and experiencing it for yourself.
These suggestions are the most obvious ones to me. Please feel free to share your ideas below.