There are so many ways to get stuck: stuck on a word, stuck mid sentence, stuck on what happens next, stuck on what to do next. There must be an equal number of ways to get unstuck but when you’re in the thick of it, they’re so hard to find.
I am currently working on the second draft of a young adult novel; my focus at the moment is structure and story arc. I had a great day yesterday cutting a swathe through things that have been problematic for a while. I even finally cut a chapter that I knew wasn’t adding anything, but had been loathe to lose. (Yes, I know ‘kill your darlings’ and all that.) I went to bed feeling full of accomplishment and enthusiasm, and woke up full of angst. I didn’t know what to do next. I was stuck!
I knew where the draft needed work, which themes and characters needed developing, but I couldn’t work out how to approach them. Sound familiar?
Cue rescue coffee with my writing buddy. His advice was to stop worrying about where everything fitted and to focus on what energises me, rather than what de-energised me. He suggested I do some free-form writing around the things I want to develop and see what happens. This was just the advice I needed. I know how to get back in.
Ironically my advice to him in a recent stuck-spot was the opposite. I suggested he take a break from writing new material, which he was finding fruitless and frustrating, to sit back and look at his structure and story arc so he could assess what he had and where he needed to go. It worked.
Learning to recognise the needs of the story, or even just mixing up your approach to writing a little bit, can help us unstick. Everyone has different approaches to writing fiction, but in the end we still need to create realistic characters, grow plots that work and refine the prose, etc. If you are stuck on one thing, maybe it’s time to try another. You can always go back to the task at hand. But when you’re stuck, your job right then, right there, is to get unstuck.
See also these posts about writers’ block and writing flow: