So today the topic is one I keep seeing pop up on blogs (I don't think anyone's immune, but I could be wrong). Emily Cross blogged about this and so did Melane, and probably many more but those are the most recent I can recall. It has many names, all of them vile... some call it being stuck, others say they've gone into a writing slump, or that they've reached a dead-end, or even that they have full-blown writer's block!
Whatever it's name, being stuck when you want to write is frustrating and hard to get rid of. Like hiccups. And like the hiccups, there are tons of theories of how to get past it, but what really works? Besides holding your breath until they go away...
Push past it and write anyway.
- What does this mean? If you're stuck you're stuck, right? Not necessarily. Maybe you're just stuck in a particular scene, or maybe you've reached a point in your story where you don't know how to get from one action scene to the next. So, write the next emotional-punch scene, skip ahead, write the ending, whatever. You can write in the transitions and fill in gaps later. You may find your story takes a new direction, which is great! Go with it. (This may be hard for chronological writers but it's better than staring at your hands, motionless on the keyboard.)
Go back and revise.
- This may seem like a no-brainer, but try starting at the beginning and re-reading your story. Edit stuff out, add things in, catch things like changes in names or hair color, and maybe you'll get back into story-mode. This doesn't apply if chronic revising is the reason you're stuck in the first place, but if you've only skimmed past your work before, now is the time to take a good look at what you're writing. And this includes going over your plot points (or outline, if that's how you do it). Maybe you'll rethink where your story is going, or even better, find a particular plot point that interests you and you can start writing from there.
Take a break.
- Give yourself some time off. Maybe circle a day on your calendar when you'll try again, or maybe let the writing come back whenever it wants (I'm more of a circle-the-date kinda gal). In the meantime fill your creative reserves and try not to think about your story. Read all those books in your tbr pile, visit museums and gardens, listen to music, try out a new hobby like pottery or painting, or do whatever else it is you do for fun besides writing (there has to be something).
Go places. Notice stuff.
- Take a walk and observe the world. People watch (and take notes on them-- or is that weird?), listen to the sounds as you cross a leafy park (are the leaves loud and crunching? Or damp and quiet? How does it feel/sound/smell). Go to the beach, a train station, wherever, and just observe and absorb.
Write something. Anything.
- Writing is like working a muscle (some say) and the more you do it, the easier and faster things tend to flow. So write in your blog, write a short story just for fun, write some poetry, use writing prompts or do writing exercises out of textbooks or websites. Be careful of one thing though, and that is beginning a new wip. It may seem like a good idea, and sometimes it is, but if you find yourself chronically starting, getting stuck, and then beginning a new wip, you are in serious danger of never reaching your dream. If you've already completed at least one book, then by all means, start and finish stories until you find the right project. If not though, make it to the end of at least one story before you go down this tricky path, so you learn what has to happen for everything to work in a story. I'm just saying.
- The debate is pretty one-sided on this one. It helps.
As for me, when my third baby came along I got stuck for a whole year, it was insanity. Other than life-altering events though, I will admit that I don't tend to get stuck all that much. I do use a lot of the tools above, kind of like a holistic approach. When inspiration strikes for a particular scene I seize the moment, even if it isn't the very next scene in the story. I people watch and read and visit interesting places and turn my brain on when I'm somewhere unusual. I write everyday, but if I'm on a vacation I force myself to be on the vacation and I go into observation mode.
Doing all this sounds weird to people who don't write, but it's how I enjoy life and it works for me, so far no hiccups in a long time... so tell me, what do you do when you reach a writing hiccup? Or how do you avoid getting into them in the first place?