Thoughts on being stuck.

Sometimes I get stuck.

I got stuck this week, as a matter of fact. I was on a roll with this new project and I was writing and writing...And I wrote myself right off a cliff.

The ground just dropped out from underneath me. Even though I knew how the chapter ended, I couldn't write it. I couldn't even write the end of the scene I was in. Everything just stalled. My characters refused to come out to play. I could see the shape of the events in my head, but I couldn't figure out how to get there.

Now I don't believe in writer's block, not as a thing in and of itself. The feeling of being blocked is--at least for me--generally a symptom of something deeper.

So I started asking myself a few questions. And I thought I'd share them with you, in case you ever get stuck. (Your mileage my vary, of course.)

Question #1:

Do I need to take a break?

Sometimes beings stuck is just an indicator that your brain is tired. That you need sleep or sunlight or actual interaction with real human beings. Take a walk. Watch a few episodes of really good television. Read a really good book. Hang out with family or friends. Do something fun before you go completely crazy.

Question #2:

Is my story going off the rails or in the wrong direction? 

Sometimes being stuck is your brain's reaction to your story traveling into the wrong territory. Like a dog refusing to go on thin ice, sometimes the story simply does not want to go in the direction you're trying to take it. Something is wrong over there! your brain screams. Danger, danger! Story death ahead! 

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I've found it's generally better to listen to that voice. But in this case, I wasn't sure that was the problem. Yes, I was going in a different direction then I had originally planned, but in a way that should have had a better impact on the story, not a worse one. So I braced myself and asked the third question.

Question #3:

Is something off with what I have written already?

This is my least favorite question, because it means more work, and breaking apart things you've already written. Nevertheless, it's important to be willing to ask it. Just like your brain will refuse to go off in the wrong direction sometimes, it will also refuse to go in the right one if it doesn't have enough support. Like workers on a high-rise. As long as the beams are firmly welded, they're comfortable. If they're not, no one wants to be up there.

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Oddly enough, this question usually has nothing to do with whether or not I've been writing crap. The quality isn't an issue. (At least not for me.) What this usually means is that something is off with the bare bones of the story. There's a problem with my main character or the worldbuilding hasn't gone far enough or the plot doesn't have enough high stakes and momentum to push me into to the next part.

And sure enough, that was the question I needed to ask.

After talking the issue out with my husband, I found the problem. The part I was having trouble writing was the set-up to the midpoint, where my two main characters officially kiss for the first time. I had to get them from strangers who are attracted to--and concerned about--each other to romantic partners.

The problem was, I discovered, that my male MC wasn't pulling his weight. He'd done all right for the first few chapters, but when it came time to Make Crap Happen, he...wasn't. Instead he was letting other people order him around. And since he was a mostly passive character at this point, I didn't have a good window into his head.

(This seems like a good time for some gratuitous Tom Hiddleston)

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Anyway, there are a lot of things you can do in a story with a character you don't know very well. But I submit that writing a romantic arc is not one of them. And so my story stalled because one of the crucial components was missing.

I haven't figured out quite how to fix the problem yet, but ideas are flowing again and I feel like I'm back on track. I can feel the ground again and that's very comforting.

So that's my system for dealing with being stuck. What's yours?


  1. I also don't really buy into writer's block as such. I've experienced what I've termed writer's mud, though. Things are rolling along, and suddenly the writing pace slows WAY down.

    Often the same questions you mentioned can apply. Other times, it's just that my brain needs a little more time to let story elements marinate and figure out how I'm getting where I'm going. Still other times, it's because I'm in a scene that relies on things that aren't my strengths. It takes more time because it isn't as instinctive for me. I need to apply things I've learned to overcome the weaknesses.

    Whatever the situation, one of the ways I often deal with it is to sit back and let the movie play out in my head. If anyone were watching with me, they'd be annoyed, because often a scene goes on repeat as details flesh out. Good thing I don't let telepaths hang around when I'm at it. ;)

  2. Thanks for the sharing some tips from getting through being stuck. I usually like to read a good book, think about it, and maybe ask my critique partners. Those usually seem to do the trick.

  3. My system is to complain and moan and mope. Then I generally go back and re-dream the part I'm having a problem with, letting ideas drift where they will. Or I try to put myself physically in the troublesome scene. Sometimes sensory details will kick-start something. If nothing works, I'll give up and work on something else for a while. My problem lately has been with your question number one. I'm getting cabin fever.

  4. I don't have a system at this point - I've just started writing again after a looong hiatus doing other things.  My previous system was to abandon current project and start on something else, which really doesn't help finish anything.   For my current stuckness, however, I finally figured out that I have to go do some worldbuilding.  My MC, while human, has been raised in another world since the age of 6 - for about the last 20 years - before being abruptly dropped back into our world again.  I was just writing along, and couldn't figure out why it wasn't working, until I realized that until I build that other world, and understand how it's affected who she is, I can't know how she will interact with this one.  Hopefully back on track soon! 

    I think these questions you have here are really good ones - next time I get stuck, I totally have to try them out.

  5. Really great questions for getting out of that stuck place. The key is to figure out why you're getting stuck. Good luck figuring out a solution for your dilemma!

  6. It is always time for gratuitous Tom Hiddleston.
    I write fast, so I don't tend to get stuck for long. My method is usually just to push through because I know I'll end up rewriting everything anyway - I just keep going. :D

  7. When I feel stuck, I watch or read something that reminds me why I write in the first place. I watch a favorite movie that fills me with a great amount of jealousy because I didn't think of it first. This usually gives me ideas and motivates me. 

  8. That's a wonderful thing to do! Any specific books or movies that you turn to?

  9. Thought you'd like that. :)  

    I'm normally like you, pushing through, but this book is breaking all my rules. Stupid, rule-breaking book. *scowls*

  10. Thanks Carolina! It's coming slowly but surely. :)

  11. Oh, what a great story. :)  I love how you had to go back and figure out how the other planet shaped her. Whenever I'm forced to dig deep like that, I always find cools stuff that makes the story better. 

    Good luck! 

  12. YAY MOPING! 


    Um... I meant dreaming! Yay dreaming! :-)

  13. Other people's input is awesome. (I should have put that in!) And a good book is a great recharger. 

  14. I love the term "writer's mud." And boy or boy do I know that feeling, though I usually call it "the trudge." 

    And those dang telapaths, always eavesdropping on your internal stories. Sheesh! :)

  15. GREAT questions to ask. I am saving this for future "stuck" moments. Sometimes when I am writing and get stuck it's because either 1) I don't have a clear "map" of where it's going or 2) I just need a break. Period.


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