Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Writing Tips: What to Do When You're Stuck

It happens to all of us. One minute, we're smoothly typing/writing away. The words flow out so easily, so perfectly.

And then your brain comes to a sudden, seemingly permanent halt.

The words don't flow anymore. In fact, there aren't any words. You find yourself completely frustrated. You don't know what you want to happen in that scene. And would that character really say something like that? Doubts and questions fill your brain, replacing the words that had been there just a short time ago. And it gets worse: you don't know how to overcome those doubts. You don't know the answers to the questions you keep asking yourself.

This is the worst place to be for a writer. It is the writer's quicksand; the tar pit of the writing world. You don't know what to do with the story you're writing, or its characters. You don't know where to go. And the more you keep struggling with it, the deeper you fall.

So what should you do at a time like this? What helps? I admit, I've been here multiple times. It's this place that scares off many aspiring writers (it certainly scared me off my first attempt at a novel). After reading many online articles, books, interviews, etc., I have come to find a few techniques that work best for me, and they may work for you too.

First and foremost, STOP WRITING. Seriously, take a break and let yourself recharge. Oftentimes, a break is exactly what you need at a time like this. Go for a walk, watch that TV show you've been dying to watch, do some push ups, whatever. Just walk away from your computer and do something. Personally, I also stay away from books at a time like this. Reading published books just makes me depressed when I'm stuck on my own.

The second thing is a little longer to explain. In a book called Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande (read this if you haven't, I have found it very helpful), Brande talks about what writers do when they're thinking. Usually, she says, writers have a hobby. It's not just any hobby, this hobby is repetitive and silent. Examples are things such as whittling wood, knitting, and the like. The point is that it's a fairly mindless activity that involves very little words. While you're doing something like this, your brain can work out what's been frustrating you.

When I first read that, I thought it was complete bogus. Really, doing something like that will help me with my writing? It so didn't seem likely. I certainly didn't have a hobby that fit into those categories. I thought so, at least, until one day after taking a walk I decided to work out what had been frustrating me. And what did I do? I grabbed my latest cross-stitch project and thought about my story as I pulled the needle in and out of the fabric. So, if you have a hobby like this, use it! It not only helps to calm you down and lower your frustration level, but it also gives you time to think.

Thirdly, if all else fails, find somebody and talk it out with them. I usually don't like to talk out my story with other people, because it somehow loses its magic. It's not just mine anymore, but someone else's too. However, even though I dislike it, I do have a couple of people I go to when things just aren't working out. An outsider's perspective can work wonders.

Those are some of my tips -- what about yours? What works for you when you get stuck on a story? I'd love to know!

Until later,