There are some writing experts that will tell you to write through this moment to get back to the story. I’m not really a fan of that suggestion because it can lead to a lot of frustration and negative feelings when/if the story continues to stall.
Writing is mental; it’s also physical, emotional, psychological, and for many people, spiritual. When problems arise in one or more of these cogs, writing can stall.
Sure, you can push your way through and perhaps suffer agitation, frustration, and anxiety over the lack of writing.
However, you can also tell yourself, IT’S OK, and work in other areas to keep your creative juices flowing and ready for when your story returns.
So, what can you do when the story packs its bags and flees?
Here are a few suggestions.
Play with your characters. In my last BRP piece, I talk about dating your antagonist. You do know you can date all your characters, right? And no one will think you’re fast and loose if you do. Take them outside of the story and share a drink and a talk with them. Make them your friends. Perhaps in doing so, they will want to come along and finish your story with you. You can also take your characters and place them in a location they’ve never been before, a place totally outside the realm of your story. How do they interact with the setting, the locals? Tapping into a new facet of your characters might spark you to return to your story. Play psychiatrist and invite your characters to a group counseling session. How do they interact when in a room with people they love, like, hate? What questions might you ask that can ignite tension, laughter, romance among the characters? Sometimes, it’s not about forcing yourself to plow through the writing; it’s about having some fun in different ways with your characters so that you feel good enough to jump back into the story.
Entertain another creative outlet. Writers are creative creatures, and often, writing is just one of the creative endeavors that they do well. Are you a painter? Do you crochet? Do you enjoy taking pictures? Do you enjoy web designing or creating graphics? Though I’m not great at it, I love taking pictures, whether on my phone or with my camera. It’s amazing how looking through that lens allows you to focus on the most minute, exquisite things that others might fail to see. Taking pictures and seeing the stories within them sparked me to start SNAPS: 1000 Words, a place where I and others write short fiction and non-fiction based off pictures. When the story stalls, it’s important to stay creative in some capacity. Keeping your creative muscles warm may help bring your story back quicker than expected. It might also help you in creating new story ideas.
Move! No, not to a new home. That’s a bit extreme. I’m talking about moving your BODY. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to take the focus off the writing and the creativity and get back to YOU. When we exercise, these lovely little things called endorphins can “ trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as "euphoric." That feeling, known as a "runner's high," can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life” (“Exercise and Depression,” WebMD). Five months ago, I took up walking, and now, I do it every day. There are many benefits of the “while walking” time, to include space to think, to see, to feel, to be in your surroundings and experience that, but there are big benefits to the after effects. Usually, for a few hours after a good walk (or other form of workout), the body is nice and warm and thrums on the endorphins, the mind is clearer, you feel good for taking some time out for your well-being, and these things can lead to the flow of good story energy, too. Earlier, I talked about those mental, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual cogs within us. Exercise can help to elevate their levels, and the good vibes you feel from a good workout can spark new ideas and perhaps even help you get back into your story.
Practice different forms of writing. Do you typically write novels? Perhaps try your hand at some flash fiction. Write poetry. Write an essay or commentary. How might your story look as a ten-minute play? A short script? Sometimes, the jolt that occurs from trying a different writing form can be enough to push you back into your story. Keeping a journal is another form of writing than can help, too. Currently, I have four active journals: exercise/health, WANT to-dos, scriptures/faith, and good things. A couple of them I write in every day, but all of them receive some love at least once a week. Even though you’re not writing your story, you are writing, which is sometimes the key to getting back into your story. Often, especially when I’m working in my faith journal, I will come across a scripture I have to write in my journal, but it also gives me much food for thought, which moves me back into at least thinking about a story of mine to work on. Like the “creative outlet” suggestion above, this suggestion keeps the creative muscles warm and ready for a storytelling return.
Read. Can you ever go wrong with reading? If you can, I don’t want to know about it. A good story immerses you into setting, character, tension, action in ways that will push all the reasons you can’t seem to write out of your mind. There have to be some “creative endorphins” that are released when you exercise your mind with reading a good story, and those good feelings can be used to spark you into returning to YOUR story.
How do you keep your creative juices flowing when a story stalls?
Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both academically and creatively while also interviewing women writers on her popular blog, ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. She's the author of mysteries, Death at the Double Inkwell and its sequel, Into the Web, the short story "I Wanna Get Off Here" (in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe), and the romantic dramedy novella, Saying No to the Big O. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her Website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University ... and trying to find the time to WRITE.