Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Being Stuck and Getting Unstuck

Sometimes writing moves along at warp speed. You sit down at the computer, start hitting keys and - whoosh! In what seems like five minutes you're in a whole different part of the galaxy.

Other times, it's more like the becalmed ship in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Not a wind of inspiration blows and you begin to feel "like a painted ship upon a painted ocean." All around you lie dead ideas and the rising stink of failure and...

Well, you've probably been there at some point. If not, great news - you probably will be sometime before you die.

But wait, there's truly good news - when you hit that dead spot you don't need to stay there. Since you're not a cursed mariner (you haven't killed any sea birds lately, have you?) you're not stuck on the ship and there are things to be done.

The next question is this: is the problem one of head or heart?

Maybe you're not stuck at all and what you need to do is just keep on slogging, one word at a stinking time until something breaks loose and you're on the move again. 

But if you're truly up against a brick wall and you keep stupidly beating your head against it, this is not helpful.

Bloody and victorious is a good thing.

Bloody and stupid is something else altogether.

Chances are good that if you are feeling this way about your writing you need a little help.  

1. Call in the reinforcements - beta readers, critique partners, writer friends - whoever is available and willing to listen. Bounce ideas off of people. Talk to yourself. The cat. The dog. Don't talk to the parrot, though, because this will come back to haunt you.

2. Journal. Write about the story. Try writing in character voices and let them talk to you.

3. Refill the well. Sometimes it's okay to take some time to do other things. Watch movies. Go for walks. Read a good book. Knit something. Give yourself permission to take a short vacation.

4. Take long walks. Do yoga. Hang upside down from the monkey bars in the park. Whatever it takes to get more oxygen to your brain.

5. Write something else. Sometimes writing is like a cat. If you choose to just step away and focus on something else it will climb your pant leg and settle itself into your lap and knead at you with its little sharp story claws until you start writing again.

And sometimes - well, there are times when a story idea is well and truly dead. And then you need to bury it with all due ceremony and mourning, and move on to writing something else.

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