It happens to the best of us. Despite our best efforts, our noble aspirations, we get derailed from our writing track.
I’ve got two projects that are going feral on me at the moment. Part of that is because of deadline-related, contracted work, but I must be honest, dear reader…both these other spec projects are simply stuck. Stuck!
So what do I do? I try not to panic, and then I run through my bag of little tricks. Here are my writer’s tricks designed to get me unstuck:
(1) No floggings allowed (unless they work). The first rule is to be kind. Berating myself, cursing my laziness or my lack of inborn talent – all, alas, useless. My first step is to get a good meal into me, and at least a couple of decent nights of sleep. I’d say at least 75% of my stuck-ness in writing has stemmed directly from physical exhaustion, sickness or a lovely combination of the two.
Only one memorable time did fury work, to push me through a very difficult scene for a manuscript that was due the next day. I used all my panic, rage, and fear and hurled it at the page. The editor liked it – all those nasty emotions blasted through to the page and did a pretty good job. But this is the exception, not my general rule.
(2) Start a new project. I know, I know…the common wisdom is to finish what you start, never abandon work or you will end up as I began, the queen of the 30 page novel. But rules and tricks evolve over time, and now that I know how to finish things, I use the momentum and enthusiasm I generate at the start of a new story to infuse the stalled out project. Like a jump from a fresh battery to a dead one.
(3) Get back inside the story. When a story goes feral, I mentally cannot enter the country of the story. The story seems outside, far away, like a newspaper from two months ago that you find stacked up next to the cat box. Who wants to explore something musty and dusty like that?
I have my methods for re-entering the country of the story and finding the thread again – I interview characters (especially minor characters who sometimes can tell me things about the protagonist that she doesn’t know herself). I take lots of naps, and when I start to dream about the setting again, I’m good to go.
(4) Instead of trying to reignite my passion for writing, I go for reigniting my passion for anything and everything. I read fantastic books by people writing about stuff that fascinates me. Biographies of fearless, entertaining people. I eat really, really good chocolate. (Now, I really should list chocolate as a trick all its own …I’ll get back to chocolate in a moment). I go for long walks alone by the ocean and watch the gulls swooping through the howling winter wind. And that infusion of life jumpstarts the stalled project – see #2 above.
(5) Chocolate. As I mentioned, kindness usually coaxes much more out of me than the harsh lash of discipline. Bribes work, and they must be liberally administered, before during *and* after the work. Huge rewards work too, for a job or a story completed.
This is my short list of favorite, all-purpose tricks. I have specialized ones that pertain to particular projects – I watch movies set in the historical settings I’m working on, for instance. And I love to write on trains, for some unknown reason, and will travel to write sometimes. Sometimes it’s the process of trying new tricks itself that gets me jaunty and unstuck again. Doesn’t matter how you get there, only that you find the way to the story again.
What do you do when you are stuck?