Getting Unstuck


I love my new adult paranormal WiP, DARK INTENT (excerpts here and here). Sometimes, the words flow from your fingertips and on to the keyboard. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for me. My muse and I haven’t exactly been getting along lately and I refuse to let it stop me. My word count is slow, but I like to think the progress I’ve made is quality over quantity. Although I have technically typed THE END on this manuscript, I don’t feel it’s agent ready yet.

Right now, I’m stuck on a new scene near the beginning. I already know where it starts and how it needs to end. I keep sitting down to write it, and ending up revising other sections of the manuscript instead. So, I contemplated the value of the new scene (another stalling technique – or is it?).

I asked myself things like:

  • What’s the purpose of the scene?
  • What’s kind of conflict is in this scene? How does it worsen things for my character?
  • Or does it resolve a minor conflict from earlier chapters?
  • Does it move the story forward?
  • Does it reveal important information about the character, setting, plot?
  • Which characters will make an appearance?

After I broke the scene down into parts, rather than trying to write the whole thing at once, I started making progress. I wrote one-word lines and the value I thought they would bring to the story.

Pain (worsen, reveal setting)
Hunger/Thirst (worsen)
Embarrassment (external conflict, worsen, reveal character)
Escape? (physical conflict, forward progress, reveal plot)
Failure (physical/emotional conflict, backward progress, reveal plot)
Frustration (internal conflict, worsen, reveal character)
Iago (appearance – POV character)
Adele (appearance, forward progress)
Minor characters (appearance, external conflict, worsen)

Next, based on those words and values, I wrote sentences starting with the conflict I planned to introduce, how my characters would respond to it, what would result from their actions. Then, I looked at those sentences to find places where I could bring in sensory information (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell) and considered how they might affect my characters’ actions/thoughts.

Before I knew it, words covered the blank page. Words I could revise, and edit, and sculpt into something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to share with my critique partners. I got unstuck!

Do you ever get stuck when writing? How do you deal with it?

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12 comments on “Getting Unstuck

  1. lbdiamond says:

    This is a great strategy–thanks for sharing!

  2. Nicole mc says:

    This was great! I think I’m going to print those questions out and refer back! Can’t wait to read! 😉

  3. I recently read a similar method of analysing the functions of sentences in published works, but I hadn’t thought to apply it on this level to constructing a scene. I can see doing this during revision, but I think it might be a little bit too formal for a first draft for me.

    When I get stuck in the writing I write about why I feel stuck; usually I can pinpoint where I went wrong or what I’m about to attempt that feels phony.

  4. Heidi Willis says:

    Those are great questions! I’ve been dealing with the same things lately – figuring out exactly what I want out of a scene – or what the characters want out of them.

    Sometimes scenes just flow, but sometimes we really do need to construct them. Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. Those one word lines are brilliant! I am going to try that. There are often times I get stuck as well because I don’t understand what the scene is about.

  6. @Laura, Nicole – Thanks!

    @Sophia – I’ve tried that too, writing about why I feel stuck. It helps sometimes. And I agree with you, I wouldn’t want to use this method on a first draft either.

    @Heidi – Scenes that “flow” are a gift. True writers like us don’t let the stop of that flow stop us from making progress.

    @Clarissa – Thanks. This method helped me figure out what needed to happen in the scene. Hope it works for you too.

  7. That’s a good strategy, thanks for sharing it!

    When I’m stuck, I generally have a few approaches. One is just to back off, maybe work on something else, and keep thinking about the story I want to tell in the back of my mind until something unsticks. The other approach is just to talk about it with another writer. Both of these work pretty well, if you have the requirements of time and somebody to talk to.

    If you get a chance, check out a fellow writer’s zombie story and help me make him wear an embarrassing shirt next year! Details are here:
    http://kelworthfiles.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/prove-the-zombies-wrong-social-platforms-can-build-readership/

  8. Sounds like you’re doing just the right thing! For me, the solution to any writing problem is to write…just write…anything. Like you did, brainstorming (which I count as writing, because I have to write to brainstorm). Keep going! You’re doing great! (I also like to focus on the moment that characters are introduced, giving the strongest debut that I can).

  9. Andrea says:

    It sounds like you found an approach that works for you. What gets me unstuck is usually to write, but it’s getting myself to start the writing that’s hard. It’s so easy to find excuses.

  10. Thank you for mentioning this entry in my blog. I’m always eager to learn new tricks and techniques for writing.

    I actually just tried yours, but I had to “modify” it a bit. Somehow I did not get far with the single words. I managed to write some down and that process forced me to think about my scene properly, but somehow I can’t help it and need more words to make notes like this.
    So I started to answer your questions, too, with more or less complete sentences. By then, however, your technique already had made me realize that my scene might be a bit weak or even superfluous. But I like the idea of it, so I will do my best to make it count … most likely by tying together several minor conflicts in it, I think.

    Perhaps you can explain your example a bit more to me?
    I guess “forward progress” is about moving the story forward? But what do you mean by “backward progress”?

    And, do I have to worry if a scene doesn’t really move the story forward? I’m honestly not sure if this is “allowed” in a good scene. The main purpose of the one I worked on is that my male MC overcomes an internal conflict, because my female MC needs help only he can give. It will increase the strength of their bond, but does this really count as forwarding the story? This scene will also be about either revealing part of the male MC’s background-story or tying in with what already was or will be revealed.

    As for my own techniques when I get stuck at writing … I “stole” one from a friend. He told me I just should start writing about random things or even better complain about being stuck at this certain scene. After a couple of lines this will lead into writing something useful for the scene. I tried it and it worked quite fine with me, besides it’s rather fun to complain like a little child 🙂

    • Glad you figured out how to tweak this technique to work for you. Yes, forward progress are things which progress the story line. The MC has a goal and works toward achieving it. Every time they fail (and they should) I consider it backward progress. Hope that helps.

      I’ll have to try the random thoughts technique sometime, too.

      • Oh, the characters should fail from time to time, too? I mean, of course, it’s just realistic that not every step is a success, and I believe I even have the one or other failure planned in my current project … but could you perhaps give me a little example for a backward progress? Something that isn’t as obvious as the failed attempts of a magician’s apprentice at a new spell that wreak some havok before he finally masters this skill.

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