Monday, June 29, 2009

Stumbling Blocks

If you lose your momentum on a book project, is it possible to get it back? Most times, I would say yes.

Let’s say you’re writing along and things are going great. Then you hit a block. You don’t know where to go from there. You’re stuck. Here are some ideas. Run through the plot so far. If you’ve been keeping a Book Bible, refer to that. What has been the sequence? As you do that, envision the characters. (Get up and walk around, if that helps.) Now envision what your character would do next. Or perhaps envision what would be the absolute worst thing that could happen to your character at this point. Then either sit down and write it or make notes on the different scenarios you come up with.

Or if this kind of walking, talking and visualizing is not your thing, then get out paper or sit at your computer and type ideas. Doesn’t matter how wild or crazy, you’re not judging them at this time. Right now, you just type ideas as they come into your head. You can go back and filter them later.

Maybe your block is not on what should happen next with a character or situation. Maybe you’re at the editing stage and you’re just sick of it. Then put the manuscript away. Not for good, but for a time-out. How long of a rest you take from it depends on you. Work on some other project, be it writing or knitting or cooking or volunteer work. Maybe even go to a writing conference or workshop to re-energize yourself. But not only put the book out of sight, put it out of mind. When you feel you’re ready, you’ll come back to it with new eyes.

Sometimes you hit a stumbling block and you have to work your way around the block. Sometimes you have to turn away from the block and go some other direction until you’re ready to come back and tackle it.

Do you ever hit a stumbling block in your writing or editing? How do you handle it?
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, book consultant, blogger, and writer. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write!, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its tenth year of publication. She is writing her third book for TSTC Publishing and plans to have it in before her August 1 deadline.

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  1. This is very timely. Thank you.

    I have previously switched to another project if I felt really stuck, and I've learned that is a mistake, as it kills any forward momentum for the project I'm stuck with.

  2. Sometimes the part you had the most trouble with turns out to be one of the best in the book. It may be because you've really thought it out.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. I know what you're saying, writtenwyrdd. Once your mind shifts projects, it can be difficult to bring it back.

    Hi Morgan. So, you think something you've written needs work, but, in fact, it doesn't? I can see that. I bet if you put some time between reading it, the next time you came to it, you'd be struck by how great it really is.

  4. Your advice, to write as many ideas as you can think of, is good - somehow it frees up the bit that got 'stuck'. If I've done all that and I'm still blocked then I tend to regard it as warning sign, that I've gone wrong somewhere along the line. Then it's a case of working back and 'unpicking' the fault. I've got this to the fore as I'm plotting my next novel at the moment and, for me, time spent plotting and really getting to know my characters helps to prevent blocks later down the line (although there is a really horrible stage around 20,000 words where everything about my work stinks!).

  5. Good tips for helping to get unstuck. Sometimes when I am stuck on a certain scene or chapter, I just write some notes in the ms -- mainly plotting questions -- and leave it for a while to write the next scene or chapter. Then in the second draft I will often come up with answers to those questions. A writing instructor once told me the most important thing is to keep forward motion on that first draft and I took that to heart. :-)

    Also agree with Chris about getting to a point where I think it all stinks. That's when I stop for a few days and feed my creativity with something else.

  6. Perhaps we need a post where we ask the questions, When it all stinks, what do you do? We might get some good answers.

  7. I went to a conference last year where someone said that if you get stuck in a story, it's because somewhere along the line, you've told a lie. Go back and find the lie, fix it, and you'll be able to move on.

    I'm sure they were quoting someone, but I can't remember who. I do know that it worked for me, and I was amazed.

    Elle Parker

  8. When I get stuck, I pick up a book I love, by an author whose style excites me. I read until something clicks in the back of my mind with regard to my own book; whether its a plot point, a writing trick, or just the inspiration I had lost in my own pages.

  9. I have to admit to rarely being stuck, but doing housework, or shopping, refreshes me when it occasionally occurs.

    With all my writing, I always have the feeling that it's percolating inside, even when I'm not thinking about it. When I sit down to get on with it, my characters seem to have worked things out for themselves.

    I was determined to finish a major part of my current book in chapter 24. It didn't happen, would not happen. As of now, it's happening in Chapter 27, I think. Those characters have me on a leash.

  10. Fran, I like your description of your characters having you on a leash. So true!

    Elle, I'm not sure about the "lie" part, but I do know that sometimes I've gotten stuck because I forced my character to do something that he wouldn't have done on his own. I guess, in a way, that's a lie.

    That's a good idea, Carly. Turn to writers whose work you admire.

  11. I take a shower! Some of my best moodling happens in water. There was a time in my life when I had a scuba-diving clipboard and special marker hanging in the bathroom.

    I also think keeping a daily journal is a great way to prime the daily writing pump.

    Good post, Hel.


  12. Useful, useful, thank you! When I stumble--ow--into a block I beat my head against it for far too long. If I take a step back (as you suggest, Helen)often the answer is right there for go through the now bloody wall.

  13. Excellent advice, as always.
    Thanks for sharing :)

  14. Certainly good thoughts from all of you.

    What works for me is to always quit when I'm in the middle of a scene, that way I always know where I'm going when I get back to the writing.

    Betty Webb says she writes 8 hours a day every day, even if it's crap.

    (I've read her books, I doubt if she writes much crap.)

    Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

  15. Wow, I've just barely built up to four hours a day, and often slip from that. I simply don't have 8-hour endurance. Can anyone else write that long every day? Makes me tired just to think about it.


  16. I would have to take breaks, about every two hours. Get up, walk around, take the dog out, something.

  17. I find a walk in the park or on the beach can get me past the stuck part. Sometimes Yoga class is also helpful in sparking my creative flow.


  18. Jane, I think sometimes the solution is to clear your mind and let the thoughts just flow.

  19. For blocks I also find taking a shower works wonders... now if only post-its were waterproof! I also find cleaning, laundry, and mundane stuff turns off my left, inner critic brain due to extreme boredom thus releasing my creative right brain from its captivity.

    Walking helps.

    I can write for about 6 hours with mini breaks if necessary--will have to attempt 8 and see what happens! Usually I find 4 hours is my total due to other interruptions.

  20. You've given some great things to consider, Helen. Great post!

    I've mentioned the link over on my blog so others can be sure to visit your post and think about ways to unblock their creativity.



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