A good friend of mine recently confessed to having trouble moving ahead with her writing.
Saw a quote the other day, “you’re either writing, or you’re not.”
"Im decidedly on Team Not Writing these days," she
wrote. "I’m so committed to Team Not Writing, I’m at the gym right now instead of taking advantage of the quiet house. Between a writers block I can’t seem to get around, and characters that have gone rogue and are doing unexpected (and unacceptable,
in my eyes) [things], I’m ready to throw in the towel. How do you get unstuck?"
First, let me say that this friend is a superb writer. I've read her stuff, and she has what it takes to grab a reader and tell a compelling story. Thus, competency
is not the issue.
Second, the precription for un-stuck-ness may differ from person to person. However, I'll share a few items that keep the gears whirring for me.
- I like to have multiple projects going so that if I lose steam on one, I can
move to another.
- I've visited this point before, but it's so important: When emerging writers write a story, they often paralyze themselves by wanting it to be perfect. I've seen students stare at a blank page for twenty minutes because they couldn't
think of just the right name for their protagonist. I've seen students who know what they want the protagonist to be doing ten minutes from now, but who can't figure out how to START the story. My advice: Write the ten-minutes-from-now scene. You can always
come back and write the opening of the story later. (Because as everyone who has visited Uncle Rod's Cool Green Island & Writer's Retreat knows that "writing is rewriting".) And at least half of the time, writers find that once they have written the ten-minutes-from-now
scene, they don't need a different opener, because that's where they should have started in the first place.
- Let your characters go rogue. Let's face it, in real life, people make poor decisions, act impulsively, take up crummy habits, do things that
WE completely sensible and moral authors would never think of doing. The fact that they are different makes them human and interesting rather than cookie cutter clones of the author (or cleaned up representations of what the author would aspire to be).
- I've sometimes tried to write in a different form (try writing and submitting a short story rather than plugging away at that novel) or genre (try romance, sci-fi, fan fiction, etc.) just to freshen things up. My greatest success came in a genre I had
never attempted until I was 51.
- Get some feedback. Join a writer's group...or form one. Get some friends together for coffee, wine, or peyote and have them evaluate a section of something you're working on. Take all feedback seriously--though you
don't have to agree with or act upon it all. Getting out of the writer's vacuum can sometimes breathe new life into a project.
- Take a merciless look at your story arc. I've sometimes found the inspiration lagging on a novel when I've added plot elements
or characters that really aren't necessary. Or if I've taken the plot in either conventional directions, or in the direction I--rather than my characters--would be inclined for it to go.
Hopefully these six items will privide some help. Even if you're
not on Team Writing right now, signing up again requires no more than a single keystroke.