Stories are hard.
I think anyone who has ever sat down to force out eighty-something thousand words (or more) knows this. Stories get twisted. Plot holes form, characters refuse to cooperate, and the words on the page don’t always match the visions we had for them.
Things get messy, and in the end, even the most dedicated planners get stuck.
I know this from experience.
I used to be an planner. I had my whole book outlined out in sticky notes on my wall, with details and character references and spoilers. I was on top of my life, and I always knew what was going to happen in the next chapter.
Now I know what happens at the end, in the beginning, and all the major events in-between. And sometimes what is going to happen next. My characters got tired of me being bossy, you see. They rebelled. I think they liked telling their own stories, and I was getting in the way.
Whatever happened, I have found that, planner or pantster, I still get stuck. Everyone does. Whether you’re stuck during outlining, or trapped in editing, being stuck is never a good feeling. We’re writers. We like our stories to flow, our characters to cooperate, and our plot holes to burn in an inferno and wither to ashes because plot holes are the worst.
I’m not bitter.
Still, being stuck is a state of being that many writers come across at one stage or another, but it shouldn’t have to be one that we stay in. Here are five tips for the writer who would like to get un-stuck and move on with their stories and possibly their lives.
1) Decide whether you’re stuck or burnt-out.
Does your story have a problem, or are you burnt-out from writing too much, or from stresses in the rest of your life? Your mental health will have a significant effect on your writing, so take a step back and consider whether this is a story problem, or a stress problem.
If you have one specific area where you’re stuck, a plot hole or a uncertainty of where you’re going next, you’re probably just stuck.
If you hate your story, your writing, and the entire project and want to burn it and never write another word, you’re probably burnt-out. In which case, I would recommend this post, as it will have more helpful tips on how to recover and get back on track.
2) Quit staring at the blank screen.
As a writer, there is nothing more intimidating than a blank page. And, if you’ve been staring at it for three hours—or three days—there is nothing more frustrating. So get away from it. Grab a notebook and a pen and get outside. Find some different surroundings. Pray about the problem. Ask the Master Storyteller. Journal for a while about your story. Write from your character’s point of view, or dump all of your frustration onto the page. Make a list of all the things that you would like to have happen in the book. Find some music to inspire you, or read a book that gets your heart thumping. Mix it up a little.
3) Look at the problem upside down.
Allow things to change. Are you clinging to a certain plot point or event that is causing trouble?
Let it go.
Keep the pages if you love them. Have them to read later, for yourself, but let them go. Try something completely opposite, even if you don’t keep it. Allow your story to dance around a little and explore the impossible, or at least the improbable. Give your imagination free rein and see what it comes up with.
4) Move on.
Books are not written in a single day. Or in a single draft, either. So if there is a problem that you just cannot fix, move on. Write the rest of the book, then the next book. Allow it to be less than perfect, and remind yourself that this is the version that hasn’t quite lived up to its potential.
Come back in two months, or six. You will have more experience as a writer, you will have a fresh take on it, and more often than not, you will have found a solution. Writing is a long term profession, and a few months will not set you back.
5) Be positive—absolutely, completely positive—that you will find a solution.
You are a writer.
A brilliant, imaginative storyteller with unlimited potential and a thousand worlds trapped in your brain. Whatever the problem, you will find the solution. Eventually. You may try four of five times (or nine or ten), but you will come up with a solution. There is no story that is hopeless and no plot hole so terrible that it can’t be thought through and fixed.
I am firmly convinced that if you consider a problem to be impossible to fix, it will be. If you’re sure—very sure—that you’ll manage to fix this problem, and the next, and the next, you will find yourself facing that blank page with a good deal more courage and assurance than you left it with. It will take work, it will take persistence, and it will take a ridiculous amount of coffee, toffee, and gummy bears, but it will happen.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.