Writing Doesn’t HAVE to Drive You to Drink: Tools for Getting Unstuck

A while back I wrote a post about how I conquered writer’s block. It was about ways to smash through the paralysis that sometimes happens to creative types.

But sometimes you can get STUCK, even when you aren’t BLOCKED. That is, you can write just fine, but you’ve got a hitch in your getalong. You know WHAT needs to happen but not how it needs to happen. Something in your plot doesn’t feel right. One of your imaginary friends characters isn’t communicating with you. You’ve found a plot hole the size of Texas and you don’t know what to do about it.

In such a moment, it’s tempting to weep, or throw things, or take up heavy drinking.

But these moments come, no matter how carefully you plan; and rather than despairing, you can come up with a coping strategy (and it doesn’t even have to be a self-destructive one). Just sitting there staring at the screen and waiting for answers to appear, isn’t a great coping strategy. I know, I’ve tried it. Then I tried some other things, and they worked for me. Maybe they’ll work for you too.

1. Knit. Okay, I knit, but you don’t have to. You could crochet, or sew, or make one of those crazy hook rugs, or macrame, or whatever. I don’t think the specific activity really matters, so long as it’s something creative but not too mentally demanding. When I am musing on my latest writing difficulties, I knit something really, really easy; something that under normal circumstances might be boring. My latest plot trouble is resulting in a very fine looking blanket. I’m not sure how it works. I just know that if I feel stuck in one aspect of my creative life, switching to a different creative activity is usually the fastest way to get UNstuck.

2. Clean something. I find scrubbing the bathtub is amazing for jogging loose the ideas. I suspect it’s because I hate housework so much that my imagination gives up the goods to end the torture.

3. Go for a walk. This won’t work if you have a small child in tow, or a chatty spouse, or . . . well, anyone. You need to go by yourself. Also, if you’re anything like me, it might be best if you can walk somewhere relatively isolated. Otherwise you might get caught talking to yourself–or, worse yet, arguing with yourself.

4. Work on a different writing project. I use short stories for this purpose. They’re less involved than a larger work, so that means I not only get the benefit of switching gears, but I also get the satisfaction of FINISHING something. Very helpful when you’re feeling stalled. This doesn’t work for everyone, I know, but it really helps me.

5. Jump ahead to another scene. The truth is this never works for me. I can’t do it, because the whole time I’m thinking “what if I change so much in the part I’m stuck on that this doesn’t work anymore?”. BUT, some authors swear by it, so I am including it here.

6. Free write. I love this one, because it is so silly and fun. I literally sit down and type things like this: “Okay, so I need for her to go HERE, but WHY would she go here? Is she hungry? Does she have to pee? Does she get chased by a rabid dog? Does she get a mysterious phone call? Ooooh, if I have her chased by a rabid dog, then she can meet the guy, he can be a veterinarian! I like that idea, everybody loves a hunky veterinarian. And then if HE is there, that means they meet sooner and so I don’t have to have that one conversation that I hated. Or maybe he should be a policeman, though, cuz if the dog is rabid won’t it have to be put down? And a cop could carry a gun but I bet a veterinarian wouldn’t carry a syringe of whatever it is they euthanize animals with . . .”

And so on. I can go on like this for a really long time. I crack myself up. And it usually works; eventually the right idea usually falls out of the mess. Then I delete all of the free writing except the parts I want to keep, and turn them in to a synopsis for the chapter or scene I was stuck on.

7. Brainstorm with a friend. This works best if you have a critique partner who has been around for a while and is familiar with whatever phase of your project you’re in. It can work with anyone, of course, but if it’s a new buddy then you will have a lot of explaining to do to get them to understand your conundrum. The other person isn’t invested in what you already have, and is free to make suggestions based on what actually works rather than on a fear of killing your darlings. And you need that, because your darlings might very well be what’s wrong to begin with.

8. Take a nap. But not a regular nap. I call it “Snooze Plotting”. Lay in bed, or on the sofa. Get very comfy. Set a timer or an alarm if you’re afraid you’ll fall asleep. Then start playing scenes from your story in your head, and let your mind wander. I have had some of the most amazing ideas show up when I was half asleep this way. Plus you feel so relaxed when you’re done!

That’s a lot of different methods, but I bet my writing buddies have even more. So what do YOU do when you’re hung up and need to get the story moving again?


8 thoughts on “Writing Doesn’t HAVE to Drive You to Drink: Tools for Getting Unstuck

  1. That sounds like a fun way to free write. I’ve never been able to do that, but I pace and listen to music and think those same thoughts.

  2. If I get stuck or reach a point where I just can’t write anymore, just taking a quick break to do something else for a few minutes helps. After that, I usually can get back into the flow of writing.

    1. Oh yes breaks are essential. Though I was thinking more of those “Oh crap” moments, where I just don’t know what to do NEXT! Then I have to haul out the heavy artillery. 😀

    1. Oh MAN! How could I forget “Do yardwork”???? Nothing like pulling up weeds or shoveling soil (or something stinkier) to get the wheels turning.

      “I could’ve had a V8”

  3. Does driving me to drink – coffee – a lot of it – count?

    I pause and play – similar to your snooze plotting. I step away from the dangerzone of doing too much, and take time out to lie around, sit out in the sunshine (if there is any), and sip a lot of cappucinnos while plotting.

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