Getting Unstuck

 Find me a writer who hasn’t gotten stuck and I’ll tell you, “That’s no writer.” For me the image of being stuck inevitably makes me think of Roald Dahl’s humorous (but dark) children’s book, “The Twits,” in which an awful sticky glue is first the nemesis but later the liberation of Mr. and Mrs. Twits’ victims.I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors, “What do you do to get unstuck? Do you believe in Writer’s Block? But even if you don’t, what tricks, methods, etc. do you use when the writing is just not happening? I’d love to hear if anyone has a lucky charm, pen, ritual?”  Tracee:I have issue with Writer’s Block being an excuse not to work. Like it’s an illness that you have to recover from. Certainly blocks happen. Maybe you don’t have the right ‘next step’ in your plot or you’ve uncovered a big hole or you simply have distractions that make it hard to focus while writing. Maybe taking a day off is the answer (especially if you’ve been on a hard work spree). But mostly it is about working through it. I rely on different tools – if you can call them that. Don’t ignore the impact of blood to the brain (quick jog, bit of yoga, trip to the gym). After a dose of oxygen to the brain…. maybe I need to just keep writing and worry about the details later, maybe I need to go back to the master chart and check the outline. If I’m really desperate I re-do my notecards and put them out and in order to take a look at flow differently (really to put the myriad details back in my mind). The basic thing is to keep working. Do something different to trigger the right next steps, but keep working. After all, you can’t edit a blank page!  Susan:      Usually when I get stuck it’s because of something relating to character. I don’t know why someone’s doing something. Or I don’t know what they should be doing. So when that happens, I begin doing dossiers. My office is filled with notebooks that are filled with questions: What type of coffee does she order at Starbucks? What did she wear to her prom? And so on. When all else fails, I watch House Hunters or walk in the woods.  Alexia:     When I experience writer’s block, I remind myself it’s just my anxiety and perfectionism kicking into overdrive and tormenting me with self-doubt. By focusing on what’s really going on–psychological hangup, not a lack of ideas–I can better deal with it/get past it. I remember a trick Chris Baty mentioned in No Plot, No Problem and envision myself banishing my inner editor. I mentally slam the door and lock inner editor out of the room. Or I imagine the self doubt as little demons and I exorcise them. “Back, back, back to hell,” I say. Sometimes I tell myself, “Just put some damn words on the page” and force myself to write something, anything as long as some words start flowing. Those words might (probably will) get deleted later but at least I’m producing words. I try not to get up from my chair because I’ll find an excuse not to sit back down and resume writing. Instead I close my eyes and so some deep breathing or send up a few prayers to the Holy Spirit. This quiets my mind and eases my anxiety.  Paula (Munier, our fearless agent and contributor): For me, writer’s block is usually a matter of my not knowing the characters well enough. Whenever I feel stuck, I just pull out my trusty Waterman pen and red leather journal and scribble around until something hits me. Or I just do research. The more research I do, the more I write.   Cate:      I write my way through writer’s block, putting sentences together that I’ll discard later until I get to a place where things make sense again. I also agree with Paula’s assessment that the source of writer’s block is a lack of understanding about the people and places that the story is about. When you know your characters and setting well enough, the book kind of writes itself. I recently threw out a 2/3 finished novel and started over because a lot of it was writing through my writer’s block. But doing that work and tossing it enabled me to understand the characters and what I wanted to say so that I could finish the resulting novel in six weeks. Robin:       My answer to the question: I have two strategies for getting unstuck. Which one I employ depends on whether it’s a first draft or whether I’m closer to submission. My first draft rule: keep going, no matter what. To echo Tracee, you can’t edit a blank page. The first draft is meant to be the burst that gets fixed in the next round(s). I do my best to muzzle my inner editor and spew out whatever it takes to move the scene on to the next one, no matter how ridiculous or lame it comes out. I liken it to a painting; no one but me ever sees the crappy pencil drawing beneath the colors and definition of the finished product so just go for it. Rule Two for later drafts: walk away for a while but take a notebook. I think everyone is familiar with the experience of the brilliant idea that comes to them while taking a shower, right? It happens because we’re not consciously trying. It’s the Zen moment that comes from quieting the mind. When I hit a roadblock I go for a walk, go for a bike ride, have dinner with friends, do some yard work, wash my car…any activity that takes me away from the computer screen and presses pause on the conscious effort. My friends and family have gotten used to me saying “OH!” out of nowhere then scribbling madly in a notebook. The only one who still gets surprised by the outburst is my dog if she’s on a walk with me. That “OH!” can sometimes be kind of loud 🙂    Michele:          My brilliant blog mates have offered such wonderful advice, I have little to add. For me, fresh air, is the antidote for a brain stall. A walk in the woods, along the ocean, or just sticking my head out a window and inhaling is a terrific way to jumpstart my brain when I’m stuck. Oddly enough, the other complimentary method is for me to pick up that pen that has stopped moving and just write. Write anything, including how frustrated you are that you can’t write. Before you know it, you’ll turn that writer’s breakdown into a breakthrough. 

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