Writing Post: Stuck!

Oh, no. You’ve run into a writing wall and every sentence you try to put down makes you want to dropkick your laptop out of the window. Happens to the best of us, I’m afraid.

The next important question is “how the hell do I move past my enormous dose of STUCK?” and fortunately I know all sorts of exciting ways to unstick yourself.

1. Take a break.

It sounds logical but people forget to, quite often. When you’re slaving away at the coalface of literature and you run into a brick wall of no more thinks, sometimes it’s because you’ve overtaxed your brain and need to give it a chance to recover by doing something else.

But what else? Well, playing mindless computer games can often help you deal with a plot which is simmering on the back burner: I use my time making jewellery, and you would be surprised how useful taking exercise is. Overall, I’d say listen to your desires on this: what would you rather be doing? No, not toe-punting your laptop or melodramatic suicide, what would you honestly rather be doing?

Now go and do that for a few hours.

Even if it’s the middle of the night (and I know writers keep hours which verge between “unsociable” and “mental”), as long as the area you live in is relatively safe there’s no harm in tramping the streets to get your head into gear. Many’s the night I’ve stumbled through the park behind my house with massive headphones on, squelching about in the rain trying to work out why a scene won’t just write itself. Which, in retrospect, probably does sound mental, but I’m going to whip out my “I’m a WRITER” card and look smug.

2. Make sure you’ve planned adequately.

A lot of my “what the hell do these characters do now?” moments happen because I’ve not given myself an acceptably detailed plan of events that need to take place and how they’re going to take place. Given a suitably intensive plan, it’s easy enough to string a few scenes across to join up the more active areas and come back and edit them later (remember! This is only a first draft, and first drafts aren’t meant to be good!).

If you haven’t got a thick enough tangle of note for the section you’re up to, it’s a good idea to write them. Read ahead to where you’re supposed to be going, then try to extrapolate what needs to happen to get you from where you are to the next solid point you have written down.

Do not write it out properly yet, but give yourself more notes. If necessary, go back over your notes from earlier in the story, and check them. Do not give in to any urge to reread your prose from earlier because this is only going to despirit you and give you a case of the “why am I bothering”s.

3. Watch some TV.

Or films. Just get yourself in front of some narrative you can passively absorb, and examine for how they’re progressing the story. What are they leaving out? What can you reasonably leave out? What can you just put in a place-holder for, and move on to the next scene, without troubling yourself too badly?

4. Write something with the same characters that isn’t part of the story

Re-immersing yourself in the characters’ perspectives can be really useful in redirecting your energies; another good technique is to try writing the scene from the perspective of someone who isn’t the PoV character, to give you an idea of how things might be going down.

5. Let someone else look at it

You’re not omnipotent, and a fresh pair of eyes can often spot what you’ve missed when you’re wrapped up in your work. Your reader may ask a pertinent question which inspires you to answer it, or might be confused by something that needs explanation which will push the scene forward. Whatever else, reject the idea that writing is an ivory-tower exercise into which no mere mortal but the artist can be admitted. Get other opinions, writerly or otherwise, and get your work moving again.

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