Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Getting rid of the Writing Hiccups

Before rolling into my post here's a link to inspire those of you working on your first book. Sometimes first books aren't just for learning; check out this week's How I Got my Agent, at Guide to Literary Agents :)

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?


  1. I do what you suggest - keep going. If I get stuck in a spot and can't decide what I want to have happen - I leave a note and move on. If I don't, I can be stuck for weeks. I suggest walking and running. Exercise helps me to let my mind wander and dialogue comes easier.

    Also sometimes the computer screen can be intimidating. I often feel what I'm typing on the computer needs to fabulous when all I really need to do is flesh out a scene. That's when I turn to the old standby pen and paper. I don't feel as if the writing has to be good then and the writing flows much easier.

  2. Like Mary, I skip over things. Usually just a little bit over, maybe a paragraph that I'll come back to later. There are all sorts of tiny notes in my wip like [CHECK EYE COLOUR], so that I don't spend time going and looking things up, and then there are the notes where I don't know what to write, just something like [SOMETHING ELSE HERE], or the one I had yesterday of [FIGHT IN HERE LATER].
    Once I've finished the first draft, these notes will be the first thing I fix. I can't read over or edit before I'm done, otherwise I'll never finish.

  3. Those are really great suggestions! I've lately been trying to just relax and not stress about it. The great ideas will come. I can always catch up on typing or do some more reading.

  4. I liked your blog. Hey, would you like to come to mine? Mine is at www.seraphlybloggerofearth.blogspot.com. Of my creative musings and such. Come follow and comment! I’d appreciate it and I am trying to get my voice as an author and artist heard!

  5. This is all good real-world advice. Sometimes I can get too caught up in revising. But when that happens, your first point is the answer. Push past it and write anyway! Great post!

  6. Great advice, Diana! I'm one of those rigid chronological writers but I've found that if I get stuck on a particular spot I will write future scenes in a separate document. That way I can move on to something else, but not "mess up" the chronological order of my WIP. Also, I will go back and edit earlier scenes, as you mentioned, which will often help get me past my slump.

  7. Wonderful advice! I'm still stuck, but I resolve to sit and write SOMETHING tonight, and I will use your suggestions. Thank you!

    Also, I gave you an award on my blog. Stop by when you have a chance to collect.

  8. hhhmmm....I don't have writer's block!!!! But I've heard about it a lot, from others!

    I think that the key is letting writing take over you, not trying to take over and control it. :)

    Thank you for your visit and your comment on my writing! I appreciate your presence on my blog! :)

  9. Thanks Diana! I may just bookmark this post for further reference :)

  10. Mary- Those are great suggestions. I'm such a lazybones when it comes to exercise, especially running. One of my recurring nightmares is being stuck back in junior high P.E., being forced to run endless laps (shudder). Scary.

    Ailsa (Gapyear)- I do that too! With the (SOMETHING SOMETHING) and checking eye color... it helps force me to be careful with revisions, too :)

    Angie- Yeah that's probably one of the hardest things to do sometimes... just relax and let writing happen naturally. Reading definitely helps :)

    Shigune- Hi, thanks for stopping by! I did check out your blogs and look forward to seeing your posts.

    Mary Anne- Thanks :) I know what you mean about getting stuck in revising. That was a hard habit for me to break. Now I have the opposite problem... when I finish one book I'm so excited to move onto whatever other story is knocking around in my head I don't want to go back and rewrite!

    MM (Sesquipedalian)- Hey, I know what you mean. I always have two documents open when I write, one for the actual story, and one with my plot points, and beneath that any weird thoughts or notes, as well as anything I like but decided to cut for whatever reason (I may want to work it in later). Whatever works for us!

    Melane- Aww, thank you for the award! I hope you were able to push through and write, let us know!

    Charity (C)- Happy to see you, as always :) I totally agree about letting the writing take over. Sometimes we try to overthink things.

    Emily- I'm glad you thought it was helpful :) I have to make it over to the forums soon, it's been too long!!