On Being Stuck

The subtitle of this post should be: thoughts on how to regain forward motion.

Here’s the thing. In the last year, I’ve finished two books with my co-writer Irene Preston and a novella set in that same world. Before I edited this paragraph, the line read “I’ve only finished…” but I took the “only” out, because a novel and two novellas are definite accomplishments. In fact, you’re probably thinking I should be happy with three completed projects, and I am.

It’s just that I could have done more.

 

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In between the finished novel/novellas, I sliced and diced an old project, trying to make it work better, and began two other stories, only to stall out every time.

That’s a lot of crap, lemme check Facebook to see if I can shake something loose.

Those stories I fizzled out on? One is almost 200 pages long, and the other is just over 100 pages. (That’s double spaced, 12-font TNR, ~ 300 words a page.) The old project I fiddled with is even longer. My point is, I’ve invested a fair amount of time, creativity, and emotion into each of these and I don’t want to see all that energy go to waste.

Any time you’re doing something creative, false starts are part of the game. I’ll get an idea, slap it down on the page, and see what comes of it. I’ve got several of those; two or three thousand words sketching out a main character along with some bullet points regarding the plot, the kind of thing I can throw together in an afternoon, then set aside to see if anything roots.

But you figure if – at best – I write 5000 words a week, it probably took me 3 months to get to 200 pages. That’s too much for me to toss aside, and while I’m one of those writers who loves the process of editing, I can’t fix what isn’t on the page.

So now you know a couple of my dirty secrets. I give up too easily and then whine about it.

Oh, and to complicate matters, I’m doing Camp NaNo this month, the abbreviated spring version of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I committed to writing 20,000 words in the month of April. I’m at 17,600 words with three days left, which means I need to get one of these projects moving again.

 

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Basically I made this post in the hopes I’d find a way out of this pickle.  I did a google search for “how to get unstuck fiction writing”, and in the interest of helping others in the same situation, I want to share some of what I learned.

The author of an article on The Center for Fiction website said her blocks usually come from not knowing the characters well enough. She recommended doing some free writing from the main character’s point of view, asking them why they’re so pissed off. (That’s not as crazy as it might sound. Jump HERE for the full post.)

An article on the website thinkitcreative.com also recommended focusing on the characters to move the plot forward. The author here suggested working on the backstory to get insights into what could happen next. One of their ideas involved going to an online dating site to get a list of questions for the characters to answer, which kind of cracks me up, but just might work. (Jump HERE for the complete post.)

I also liked an article on the Writers Digest website, because it recommended brainstorming “what could happen next”, then choosing the option the reader is least likely to expect. The article’s second bullet point was even more succinct:

Kill someone.

Heh. Yeah. That’d definitely shake things up.

Finally, they suggested meditation, to let your mind go quiet and see what ideas wander in.  “Stillness is the native language of creativity, yet it’s astonishing how we try to avoid silence.” (Jump HERE for the full article.)

So yeah, maybe I’m not really stuck. Maybe I’m just giving my ideas more time to blossom.

Or maybe I should spend less time on Facebook, and more time exploring. I’m going to go walk the dogs and see what I can come up with. If you’ve got ideas for how to move through a block, share them in the comments. Would love to learn from you!

 

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10 thoughts on “On Being Stuck

  1. Oh sister, I hear you! I once abandoned a novel at 20K. It will eventually be resurrected as a dual time period book. I am aiming to have 2 books out by the end of the year, but with everything else I have going, I’ve barely have time to write. I tried doing Camp NaNo, but I’ve only written a few thousand words.

    I think that as writers, we are often way harder on ourselves than anyone else would be. We feel like we’re struggling to keep up with other writers (I have been feeling that way myself lately), when non-writer people stand in awe of what we do accomplish. I’m not sure why that is.

    I totally second meditation. I get some of my best plot ideas that way!

    1. LivRancourt

      You’re right about being hard on ourselves. I start second-guessing everything from character motivation to “is this story set in the right city and time period?” I worry that everyone else’s characters are more fun, and they write so much faster than me. All pretty much unwarranted, but it’s so easy to get caught up in doubt. Thanks for checking in, and I hope you’re able to carve out some writing time soon!

  2. Ahhhh this is so much me recently! These are all great tips, but my tried and nearly-almost-true trick is just going for a walk without my phone. It’s amazing what shakes loose when you’re not chained to facebook/twitter/instagram. Good luck with your projects!

    1. LivRancourt

      Thanks! I love using a good long walk to brainstorm, however our two dogs don’t always cooperate.. One has a mind of his own, and the other gets really aggressive if another dog looks at him weird. I find myself paying more attention to them than to whatever story problem I’m trying to solve. I hope you work through your stuck spots, too!!

  3. My best ideas come to me in the shower. (Can I deduct my hot water bill on my business taxes?) Or on longer drives with a country music station on. (Again, gas? Deduction?) Sometimes my characters talk to me while I’m folding laundry. *shudder* But I’d never suggest someone voluntarily do laundry.
    Good luck. You’re so close. You’ve got this!

  4. thecorneroflaura

    When I’m writing and I run headlong into a hard writer’s block that can’t be shifted with time or brainstorming, I tend to take the drastic step of leaving the scene and moving on to the next one, marking the blocked scene with an asterisk to return to during editing. I’m not entirely sure if that’s being lazy or tactical. What I do know is that, once I’m out of the difficult scene, the words just keep flowing again. That might be a good idea if you’re working towards a target.

    1. LivRancourt

      I’m so linear! I hear what you’re saying though, and while it’s not something I’ve tried before, I probably should. Working with my co-writer Irene has taught me that changing my process can be a good thing. Thanks for the idea!

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