Getting stuck. Here is what it looks like for me. I have a great idea. I get started. My pen flies over the page. My fingers fly over the keys. Words pour out of me like rain. I’m in the flow.
And then, inevitably, eventually, somewhere along the line, I get stuck.
The problem might be that I don’t know how to end the story. Or I have completed my first draft and know it needs something, but I’m not exactly sure what. Or during revision, everything I try seems to make my story worse not better. Augh!
Like most writers, I have lots of strategies to handle being stuck: chocolate, exercise, naps, cable news and yes, more chocolate. However, one of my favorite go-to strategies to unstick myself is almost as enjoyable as chocolate and a lot less caloric. When I’m stuck, I just keep writing. But, instead of writing on the manuscript that I’m developing, I write ABOUT the manuscript I’m developing.
When I don’t know what to do next, I set aside my story and get out my writer’s notebook and I start writing to some self-assigned prompts. It might be as simple as trying to answer, in writing, the question, “Why am I stuck?” Which seems silly because if I knew why I was stuck then, of course, I could get myself unstuck. And the truth is, that is often the case. By making myself actually think about and articulate and therefore identify the problem, I often come up with the solution.
Here are some other prompts I might write to:
- What am I trying to say?
- How do I want the reader to feel after reading this story?
- What is the universal message of this story?
- What would I do if I were the main character in this story? What would my brother do? What would my best friend do?
- What can I do next? (i.e. I don’t have to solve all of the issues with my story, but is one, concrete step I can take to move me forward.)
- What are five different ways that this story could end? (Brainstorming with no expectations or limits is often a way to break out of a set thought cycle and therefore give me new ideas.)
- What is working in this story? What isn’t? Why?
Writing about my writing takes me out of the story and gives me some distance and that distance can be very productive. It makes me feel like I’m moving forward instead of just giving up in frustration, and at the same time, keeps me writing.
Trust me. This strategy is a stress-free, enjoyable way to approach writer’s block. And if it doesn’t work for you, hey, there is always chocolate!