Page 126


There I was sitting at my desk, words flying off my fingers. Prose flowing from me like, I don’t know, Homer or someone. The hard drive was filling up with my third work in progress. And then.

And then (it still chokes me up to think about it).

And then I hit page 126. My mind was suddenly one great gawping field of white. The characters quit talking in my ear. They had walked off the stage completely. Come back, come back, I pleaded telepathically but all I got was ringing in my ears.

I had no idea what was supposed to happen next.

It was page 126.

So I busied myself with rewriting the first book in the series. Then I messed around with rewriting the second book in the series. And I did a couple of short stories.

Still nothing.

So I went back to the writing manuals. Yet another person suggested SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. So I finally bought it, and regret having not read it sooner.  I dug out an old corkboard and divided it into four sections, wrote out little index cards for each scene, saw the scenes that weren’t working, came up with a couple of scenes further down the line and it’s all tacked up there on the corkboard. But still, no page 127!

So then I got out David Corbett’s ART OF CHARACTER. It’s a wonderful book, teaching how to dig deep into the character to generate plot. I’m about three-quarters through that as of this writing and getting some really good stuff.

This past July, I went to Book Passages Mystery Writers Conference in Corte Madera, California. Lo and behold! Laurie R. King, author of the Mary Russell series and a zillion other books, said the same thing happens to her in every book. Every. Book. For her, it’s page 130. When it happens to her, she screams (she demonstrated) and then she goes for a walk.

When she comes back from the walk, if she still doesn’t know what’s next, she skips ahead and writes a scene she knows has to happen. Later she’ll go back and bridge the gap. She walks a lot, by the way. Not that she needs to, but perhaps there is a correlation between walking and twenty-five published books.

D.P. Lyle, author of another zillion books and former Mysteristas guest, talked about it at the conference too. He said that sometimes you just have to let your subconscious sort it all out and one morning, you’ll wake up with the solution.

So, more quiet time for me. Maybe I’ll take the headphones off during the bike ride once in a while. Maybe I really will do yoga and not just talk about it.

I’m definitely going back to Book Passages Mystery Writers Conference next year (it will be in September). There’s something about the cozy venue and the hospitality of the bookstore that is so nurturing that a bunch of writers, published and unpublished, feel free to relax, be themselves and open up – if you can imagine that, with magical results. If you’re interested in what happened, Guppies’ September newsletter, First Draft, will publish an article I wrote detailing the event.

What about you, Mysteristas? I implore you, got any other ideas how to get unstuck?


22 thoughts on “Page 126”

  1. I feel your pain, but you’ve illustrated exactly why I outline. It’s not easy, but I know what happens next. However, when I don’t know, I do graphotherapy writing exercises or EFT (tapping). There are loads of EFT videos on youtube. It’s extremely effective. Here’s one I found by googling “tapping for writers”:
    Sending you good page 127 vibes!


  2. Yikes! Keenan, oh no! My solution is to run and try to empty my mind. At first, it feels wonderfully refreshing, at about a mile and a half, thoughts start to peep over the solitude, and by mile three, ideas are falling all over themselves vying for attention. Here’s the trick. If I don’t write them down as soon as I have pen and paper in hand, I will forget some of them so I make sure to have a pen and paper on sofa table.

    Sheila, tapping? Never heard of it. Have to check that out.


    1. Kait: I’ve taken to having a legal pad everywhere I am. There’s one on the dining room table of my open plan house so I can scratch down ideas as I’m pacing around. There’s one in the car while I drive. For some reason, I get great ideas in between stop signs.


  3. So far, I’ve always tried the same thing as you – turn to the craft books, make up index cards, try to clear my head. I’ve never been too totally stuck yet. Yet. Knock on wood. 😉

    I love Save the Cat, by the way – simple, but such good advice.


  4. I tried Save the Cat, but I just can’t seem to work with structure. That said, I’ve hit page 126 more times than I care to admit! I do the same as Laurie. I go for a walk. I sleep on it. Usually something comes to me, and often not the direction I thought I was going to go in. So I go with the flow and see where that takes me. Ahh…to be a plotter and have it all figured out. Great post Keenan.


  5. Keenan, I feel the page 127 blues. I tried to avoid it once with an outline – but I’d had a stroke of brilliance earlier and it turned out that deviated from the outline (I didn’t think it would – not that much). Before I write I put all my major plot ideas in Scapple and figure out how they connect. Then I can outline three or four chapters in advance based on what’s been written and what’s in Scapple. But sometimes I just don’t see it. Those are the times I put it down, read a book, watch a favorite TV show that I consider has good writing (Buffy and Firefly get a lot of repeats) and let the “boys in the basement” stew over it. Usually within a day, they’ve thrown something back. It isn’t always perfect, but it almost always allows me to get unstuck and move forward. Because Nora Roberts(?) was right – the only thing you can’t fix is a blank page.


  6. First, thank you for being in my head with me as I’m pretty sure you just described my experience, too. Second, my solutions are pretty similar–write something else, take a break, etc. I actually write out of order, so I often can move to a scene that is waiting for me, but sometimes those gaps are just lurking, distracting me from what I should be doing. I’m a pantser; for some reason, outlining ruins my mojo completely. That being said, I’ve learned the value of sketching out the ideas I do have, in a very informal way. Outlining-light, perhaps?

    The best solution I’ve found, is brainstorming with my critique group. They’ve usually heard everything I’ve written, and they’ll pitch out ideas for what’s next. Rarely do I go where they’ve suggested, but they almost always get me discussing and thinking and creating and then the breakthrough happens. Plus, I get lots of new ideas, too!


  7. Great description of what we all go through! When that happens to me, because I’m also a pantser/wannabe plotter, I usually find that I’ve taken a wrong turn a couple scenes back. Once I change that direction, things start flowing again.


  8. I know it well! First time it happened was with my very first manuscript. I was stuck and I had no idea what happened next. And I was such a novice that what I didn’t know would fit in the Grand Canyon! So I read a book about, I don’t know, formatting a manuscript? and it said that I should be using TNR 12 point font. Lo and behold I’d been using 10 point font! So I changed and all of a sudden, I was much farther along in my manuscript than I thought I was, which gave me enough of a mental jolt to shake me out of what happened. And then, if memory serves, a clap of thunder and a lightning bolt flashed overhead and I started typing again. That was a good night!


  9. Ugh, hate it when that happens! I’m with Kait and Sue… First I’ll go for a run and clear my head. If the solution doesn’t come there, I’ll try to track down exactly where my story went off kilter and why. I find music sometimes helps too, especially if you have a song or playlist that embodies your characters/story. You’ll get passed page 126!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. When I’m stuck, I just hammer away regardless of whether I have an idea. I make the characters do a bunch of stuff (usually a lot of eating out at restaurants that sound good to me). I usually have to delete most of it, but eventually I’ll fight my way out. For me, the key is to give myself permission to write total crap and not care if I get it write. Good luck!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m a Combo writer. I do the stream of consciousness thing (total pantser but with a lot of questioning) which gives way to a list of scenes, but I don’t really plot. At least not in detail. The manuscript I’m working on now (still loving it and that feels soooo good) is the first one that I’ve had to write out of sequence because of research. It might be a real trick to get my timeline smooth when I finally finish the first draft, but maybe that’s why I haven’t really felt stuck with this one.

    And you don’t want to know what happened to my last ms. After more than two years. Talk about stuck.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, I feel your pain! To get unstuck, I make myself keep writing. (Well, first, I wander around and wail for a day or so. Then I make myself sit down and open the file.) I type “Chapter X” (whatever is next), and I write something–ANYTHING–the point is to get the characters in motion, having conversations, DOING things. Eventually, the story re-catches/regains momentum. Then I go back and delete the crappy stuff I wrote to get things moving again! 🙂 Hang in there…you got this!

    Liked by 1 person

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