Tag Archives | freewriting

What to do When Your Writing Stalls

English_door_blue_223130_lYou're sitting at your desk, staring at your computer.  Maybe the chapter of your current project is up on the screen.   Perhaps you don't have the freaking slightest of clues what to write next. 

Your brain is empty.  It's like there's a brick wall between it and what comes next.  You simply can't figure it out.  Your writing is stalled.  We won't go so far as to call it blocked, as in writer's block, because that term is big and scary and implies people burying their heads and not writing for years. 

But, you are stuck.

And you don't know how to get yourself unstuck.  

However, I do.

Because, over my many years of writing, I have figured out a thing or two about getting stuck. Namely, that there's always a reason.

Always.

So all  you have to do is figure out the reason, and voila, you will be writing again!  

I know.  It's not always that easy.  What follows are some suggestions for discerning why your writing progress is stalled.  

1.  Look at location.   This is the first thing to check.  Is the scene set in the right place? Sometimes moving a scene makes all the difference and it is an easy, quick fix, which is why I say to look at it first. Can you move the scene outside and make it more active? Does it need to be in the bedroom rather than the kitchen, or vice-versa?  You'd be surprised at how much insight looking at setting can bring when you're stalled.

2.  Is the scene necessary?  This week, I was working with a client who'd gotten stalled.  We looked at the beginning of her next chapter with an eye toward moving the location (see #1) and realized that there was no reason for the scene.  Everything that came out in the first part could be fed in later in flashbacky dribs and drabs or through dialogue.  Sometimes you are blocked because you're trying to make something work that simply doesn't need to be there.

3.  Do you know everything you need to know about the plot?  I got stalled on my WIP novel at the start of the summer.  I'm a believer in having lots of irons in the fire, so I moved over to working on some shorter pieces and continued to ponder.  And as I pondered, things started popping.  A new character introduced herself, as did a crucial plot element in the form of a rolling pin.  (It makes sense in context, truly.)  My main character confided a deeply-held desire that changed everything. And I realized I had needed to take a break in order for this information to come through.  I likely wouldn't have thought of any of it without the mental bandwidth stopping working on it gave me. This might be the case with you, as well.  

4.  What about your characters?  I write somewhat on a "need to know" basis.  I'm a big believer in planning, but I abhor over-planning.  So I start out writing character dossiers, figuring out what I need to know about my characters to get rolling.  And then, as I write, I'll realize I'm in a place where I need to learn more about a character and I go back to my dossier or character backstory and fill more in.  So maybe you need to get to know your people better if you're stuck.   Use prompts and freewriting to uncover their secrets.

5.  Do you need to do more research?  Maybe you don't know enough about something important to the novel.  Do you need to study rocket science? Practice tying five different kinds of knots? Learn more about the genre you're writing in?  Find out what kind of grass grows in Louisiana? The smallest of things can trip up a writing session.  Learn what you need to know and it will enhance the novel.

A couple bonus pieces of advice:

6.  Trust the story.  You're stalled for a reason, and the story knows what.  It's also trying to tell you, if you'll but listen.  Look at all the elements and see which one wants changing.  Trust your story. Which leads me to the reminder that:

7.  What you resist, persists.  So if your writing stalls, be Zen.  Go with the flow.  Move over to working on something else.  Let thoughts percolate.  Sometimes you just can't rush the creative process.

What's your favorite way to get unstuck? 

Photo by val-j.

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Writing Tip: The Process Mindset

Years ago, I attended a creativity camp in Taos, New Mexico put on by Julia Cameron of The Artist's Way fame.  (Yes, it was as cool as it sounds.  To say something is life changing is a cliche, but in this case, it truly was.  Fromt that point on, I took myself seriously as a creative person. I also met friends with whom I'm still close.)  

Process

My Taos Creativity Camp pillow.

Every morning in camp, we listened to Julia talk and did exercises from the Artist's Way and her other books.  Then, after lunch, we were free to wander the grounds of the San Geronimo Lodge, wend our way into town, or engage in creative classes, like fabric painting, doll making, drumming and others I've forgotten.

Having always been a textile person, one day I chose to do the fabric painting.  The deal was we'd paint a pillow and at the end of the week it would be sewn and stuffed and ready for us to take home.  I was filled with excitement about what I was learning on the creative process and I painted my pillow with two phrases that had resonated with me at the camp: 

Do the work, don't judge it.

Process is everything, product happens.

I have beleived fervently in these ever since.  And I have instituted them in my life with varying degrees of success, sometimes totally into the concepts, others, not so much.

For whatever reason (the position of the planets? the stretching exercises I'm doing? the yogurt I'm eating for breakfast?) I am currently in a huge process mindset phase.

And let me just tell you, it is glorious. 

The process mindset is about putting words on the page.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Put words on the page and don't worry about how good they are, what they sound like, if you should add more here or subtract some there.  

And when you approach the work with this mindset, a funny thing happens.  You start to put your true self on the page and later, when you read back over the words, you realize that they are kinda good.  But it really doesn't even matter, because you know that soon enough you'll be in a revision mindset phase and then you can go over the words and make them really good.

The best way I know to get myself into a process mindset is to tell myself that, it's just writing practice. As I wrote in this post, writing practice is any writing that is not related to your WIP.  And that takes the pressure right off, and if your experience is anything like mine, away you will go, writing like crazy. What's really cool is that writing practice can function as either a warm-up–write 300-500 words and then switch over to your WIP, or it can segue right into the WIP, as happens with me more and more.

But the key is the process mindset.  If you're loose and easy and tell yourself all that matters is that you get words on the page, it makes all the difference in the world.

(I wrote specifics about how to do a daily writing practice in the above-mentioned post.)

Do you have a writing practice that helps you get words on the page?

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Writing by Hand Versus Writing on the Computer

Do you favor writing by hand or on the computer?   Painted-printed-blue-401-l

This may well be one of those never-the-twain-shall-meet dichotomies.   

We all start out writing by hand as little kids, and for many of us that remains the preferred method of composition.  For years I've taken lots of notes by hand before I switch to the computer.  I even wrote half of a novel by hand once.  (I ended up abandoning that novel, so I'm not sure what that says.)  

And, for years, I've been a proponent of writing by hand when journaling or free writing.  There's a more direct connection between hand and brain when you are writing by hand.  And sometimes it is helpful to step away from the computer with paper and pen to write.  (For other benefits, read this article.)

But lately I've been rethinking my position.   I've noticed that when I write by hand, I get bored quickly and can't seem to force my pen across the paper.  I quickly get into a this is stupid, why am I bothering frame of mind and I quit.  A client and I were talking about this yesterday and she said when she writes by hand what comes out on the page feels very juvenile and not at all adult.  I love that–I know just what she means.

And another problem is that my handwriting is increasingly difficult to read.  (Just ask my husband how hard it is to read my grocery lists.)  When I write something that I want to keep, it is hard to find it in the scrawl of my journal pages.  And often when I go back, I'm unimpressed with what I wrote anyway.  I've read that some people take all their free writes and put them onto the computer, but I simply don't have time for that.  So many of my free writes are not about much of anything and I use them as warm-up exercises.

A month or so ago I bought a book called Writing From the Senses: 59 Exercises to Ignite Creativity and Revitalize Your Writing.  I've not made it very far in the book, but what I read in the introduction changed my writing life.  Here's what Laura Deutsch, the author of the book, wrote:

"A word on whether it's better to write by hand or on the computer.  Many people feel there's a heart connection when writing by hand.  I, too, feel a difference.  Yet, I usually write on my computer because I can write faster and because I can save my freewrites."

So, apparently all it takes for me is for one person to give me permission because ever since I read that I've been off and running, doing freewrites and writing practice on the computer.  Last week, I did a journal entry of sorts on the computer–I wanted to remember an experience I'd had and hand writing it just seemed way too onerous.  

Now I'm a huge proponent of freewriting on the computer.  And, the thought occurs that this may be a phase I need to go through and that some day I'll get back to writing a lot by hand.  But, whatever–I don't care.  As long as words are getting on the page one way or another, I'm happy!

What is your favorite way to write?  Please leave a comment.

Photo by brokenarts.

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