What to Do When You’re Stuck

27 Jul

I don’t believe in writers block. I really don’t. But this doesn’t mean I never get stuck. I get stuck plenty, and I mean plenty. But I wouldn’t describe it as blocked. Things are in my head, I just am in a pickle about how to get them out on the page. I know what I want to say, just not always in what order or in what form.

Today I felt stuck on my latest novel, a YA book about a boy named Elliot. I’m working on this book with my fabulous mentor, Kathleen Duey, whose comments are always spot on and help unstick me. But I get stuck again.

Here are a few techniques I have found useful in getting unstuck:

First, change it up. For years I wrote all my fiction out by longhand, and then typed it into my computer. It worked for me. But for efficiency’s sake, I have tried writing this current novel at the keyboard. When I am stuck, though, it helps if I go to longhand for a bit. It’s like my hands can translate from my brain to paper better than brain to screen. Sometimes if I’ve been in one location, it helps if I go outside, or to a coffee shop, or get away from distractions.

Second, I give myself permission to write crap. It’s easy to get so caught up in getting things right that I forget this is fun for me. That’s when I find myself stuck most often. So if I just give myself permission to write a scene even if it’s horrible, at least I’m unstuck. I can always revise it. Or cut it.

Third, I ditch the manuscript. No, I don’t mean I throw it away. Never! But I do something else related to the novel. I might google some information I need. Or maybe ask some questions of the characters. Terri Farley suggests using index cards to write pieces of information or summaries of scenes that you want to include.  I find this very useful. Kathleen Duey, suggests interviewing the main character. She does it on the computer. I do it in my head. (I might be crazy.)

Fourth, go for a walk. Play solitaire. Stare out the window. I know, these all sound like waste of time ideas that accomplish nothing. But for me, when I’m doing something that does not require my full attention, but keeps the body busy, the mind can zip and flit around all it wants to solve a problem. I work through more issues while playing spider solitaire on the computer than I care to admit.

Fifth, read about writing. Sometimes when I pick up one of my favorite works about writing, it helps give me a focus. I like Cheryl Klein’s Second Sight and Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis. I can usually latch onto something that will help me move forward. Or something inspirational, like Jane Yolen’s Take Joy.

All of this counts in my mind as “still writing,” even if I’m not actually adding words to my manuscript. I am doing the work that will result in that, eventually.


8 responses to “What to Do When You’re Stuck

  1. Betsy Love Lds Author

    July 27, 2012 at 1:06 AM

    Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been “stuck” lately. Not because I can’t think of anything to write. My problem is I have too many projects and I don’t know which one to work on next. I guess I’ll just knuckle down and write the one that intrigues me the most!

  2. Liz Fredericks

    July 27, 2012 at 5:53 AM

    The 4th one works for me, Neysa! Spider solitaire is very much part of my writing cycle. Thanks

  3. Peggy Staggs

    July 27, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    I’m a one and two-er. If that doesn’t work I get out of the house and do something different. A change of scenery is always helpful.

  4. stephanieberget

    July 27, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve found changing the story I’m working on helps, but spider soltiaire sounds fun. 😉

  5. maryvine

    July 27, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    I like the idea of interviewing the main characters. I think I’ll go just that. Thanks!

  6. Marsha R. West

    July 28, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    Neysa, I’m so impressed with you’re number 1. And astounded you ever wrote the whole thing by hand. I have to very rapidly translate any written notes into typing, or I can’t remember what I wrote. Notice I said can’t “remember”–not “read.” It’s all pretty illegible. LOL Without these lovely computers, I wouldn’t be a writer. Cut and paste and spell check are my friends. (I was trying out a Margie Lawson technique just then with putting in the ands.Think that works.) Ususally when I get stuck, it’s because I’ve just gotten lost in the story and am not sure what’s coming next. If I make myself catch up with my charts, that ususally does it. I like what you said at the end that you count these things as writing. I forget that sometimes. Writing isn’t only the times the words flow effortlessly 🙂 from our fingers to the screen.

  7. thereisfireinthewell

    July 28, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    Thanks a lot for the advice. I go through frustrating periods of being stuck. I tend to blame it on indecisiveness in plotting, so I just freewrite without plotting to circumvent the problem. It’s rough, really really rough prose, but at least I am getting something written. Before reading your post, I watched a youtube video on writer’s block that I found helpful:


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