Getting Stuck: It’s not Pretty

Did you notice we don’t have a specific topic this month?  Give me an assignment, and I’ll find something to say about it.  Ask me a question, and I’ll find an answer, even if it’s “I dunno.”  Unless pressed, I’m usually the quiet one in the corner, switching into writer lurk mode with my notebook and nothing to say.


So this got me thinking … what happens when you really have nothing to say?  Some call it writer’s block.  Others call it slamming into a brick wall.


Whatever you call it, something happens to derail that great start you made.  You were quivering with anticipation during the idea stage.  Maybe you wrote notebooks full of character sketches and plot diagrams and bubble charts and pyramids and so on and so on.  Or maybe you started with an image in a single sentence, and then magic happened, and before you knew it your character poofed to life and took you on a madcap tour of your book, and then all of a sudden…


Everything dies.  The process comes to a screeching halt, and you are staring at the dreaded blank screen, waiting for elusive words to flow once again from your keyboard.


It’s happened to me, usually at the worst possible time, like say, when I’m under deadline.  Maybe it’s happened to you, too.


Here are seven of my favorite tricks I’ve had to use to get unstuck:


  1.  First off, I don’t think of these snags as “writers block” or “brick walls.”  Those terms are way too crushing for me.  They make getting stuck sound even worse than it already is.  Sometimes just a positive attitude will get my momentum going forward again.
  2. Try something different.  If you’re a pantser, try plotting.  If you’re a plotter, try pantsing.  If you’re a morning writer, try writing at night, or vice versa.  If you’re a weekend long-distance writer, try lunchtime sprints.
  3. Try alternating projects.  Switch off your cozy mystery with a suspense, or your novel with a short story.  Go back and forth between projects to keep each one fresh.
  4. Allow yourself to write bad.  Think:  “it doesn’t have to be good; it has to be done.”
  5. Set an egg timer for 30 minutes.  How many pages did you get done?  Knowing that timer is ticking is great motivation for putting words down!
  6. If you keep revisiting chapter one, tweaking it one more time, maybe just admiring its brilliance, then recognize that procrastination is another term for being stuck.  Take a deep breath and stop it.  Just stop it.  Time to move on.
  7. When the story is moving along and you suddenly find you’ve written yourself into a corner, with a feeling of “so what?” you might try looking at your last few scenes.  Maybe your character took a wrong turn a few scenes back.  Double check his/her actions in the because-result chain.  Because “x” happens, he/she does “y.”   The character might need a gentle nudge, and then you’re off again!


Whatever you try, however you make it work, getting unstuck is all about focus.  If it’s happened to you, what are some of your favorite tips to get unstuck?


Author: sue star

Sue Star writes mysteries about families in chaos. She is the author of the Nell Letterly series, about a single mom who teaches karate to support her teenage daughter. Sue also writes suspense with a touch of romance in exotic settings.

8 thoughts on “Getting Stuck: It’s not Pretty”

  1. A common occurrence for writers everywhere, I’d guess. For me, taking a break seems to be the key. Talk a walk, go through some taekwondo forms – really anything I don’t have to focus on too closely. Stupid moves. When I stop hammering away at the problem, a solution usually reveals itself – generally in the voice of my characters, who knew what they wanted to do all along, I was just not listening closely enough.


  2. Great list, Sue! We’ve all been there, I’m sure. Two more that I’ve used on occasion: 1-switch to longhand writing, and 2-write 3 potential next scenes. (one of them inevitably shakes something loose in my mind). I’m keeping this on hand for the next time I get writer’s blo–I mean, the next time I lose momentum.


  3. Thanks for your additions! Great suggestions! In his book on short fiction, Damon Knight calls the muse “Fred.” Give a problem to Fred, and he’ll eventually work it out for you.


  4. So glad it was timely, Judy! Good luck getting back to your manuscript! And Theresa, you betcha. Cleaning behind the refrigerator is one bad sign!


  5. Love this! I can engage in procrastination paralysis for sure, and I can tell it’s happening when I’m researching for the sake of researching. Or cleaning my desk. Or organizing my digital files. Anything to avoid facing that blank page! Juggling multiple projects seems to help–for some reason, my writing always looks better to me when I come back after a break. I hadn’t thought of cleaning behind the fridge, though. . .


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