Monday, March 22, 2010

Help, I'm Stuck!

[picture of Pooh stuck in a honey pot]

Over dinner with a group of writers, the topic came up about what some of us do if we’re wrestling with a major plot point, or just stuck and can’t seem to figure out what needs to happen in the next scene.
.So, I asked the Seekers what they did, and here are some of the answers.
Mary Connealy said, “I shoot someone, literarily speaking, not literally speaking, please do NOT confuse the two.”
Why am I not surprised at Mary’s answer? lol
And Tina Radcliffe responded, “I take a nap when I am stuck. The subconscious mind will work on the problem. And when I nap my mind creates the sort of oasis that John Cleese talks about in this video.”
John Cleese, an Acad­emy Award-nominated Eng­lish actor, come­dian, writer, and film pro­ducer, talks about cre­ativ­ity or prob­lem-solv­ing and the sub­con­scious mind. His tech­nique is to “sleep” on an idea or the project that he’s work­ing on.
.Thanks for the video, Tina! I’m particularly fond of this technique. (Hush, Ruthy!)
Camy Tang: “I go for a walk or I knit. The repetitive motion of the walking and the knitting somehow frees my brain to be able to wander creatively. For me, it doesn't really matter what I do as long as the activity is physical/tactile and undemanding mentally. Then somehow it frees my creative right side of the brain.”
. And Ruth Logan Herne had some good advice for us that I agree with. After my nap, I usually follow her advice! Ruthy says, “Pam, if I'm stuck it's usually because I've dropped a thread or taken a left hook...
I print up and re-read the entire book so that I'm refamiliarized with every look, every word, every action, every foreshadow that I've planted because sometimes I lose track as I get deeper into a book. Usually some little thing will jump out at me, give me an 'aha' moment, and I can dive back in to the book and proceed. And that gives me a fresh chance to see the book through a reader's eyes, which dictates the tempo of the book.. Speed it up... Slow it down.”

[horse stuck in a tree]
Janet Dean: “Pam, Great topic! When I'm stuck, I re-read the mss. far enough back to immerse myself in the story. Usually something comes to me when I can see the forest and not just the trees. If not, I go to the notes I've written. If that doesn't get me going, I brainstorm with my critique partner, Seekers or my husband. Whoever is available.”
Brainstorming is a great way to jump over that stuck-in-the-mud puddle. I’m surprised it wasn’t first on the list. Thanks for the reminder, Janet.

. PS. I can't speak for Pooh or the poor horse, but I know for a fact the bull was released unharmed from the tree by my husband. I have the pictures and video to prove it!
So, what do you do when you’re stuck?


  1. When I'm stuck I hire a ghostwriter.

    Actually I do the whole nap and dream routine to think my mss through and I also reread if I need more encouragement. If that don't do it I sit the story aside for a bit and work else where till the vibes reconnect.

  2. Pam:

    This is so timely. I'm wrestling with this very problem right now.

    If it's just a scene, I can usually go to bed and let my mind wander around seeking an answer.

    If it's a plot problem, I have to explore other routes.

    I read. Newspaper articles, books of the genre/style I'm writing. Reference books. Anything I have on hand that seems applicable.

    I also keep a 'think' file. It's a big folder that's full of articles I've clipped, notes I've made when ideas have come to me, etc. Sometimes it will yield an idea.

    If I'm really stuck, I call one of my kids. They sometimes offer an idea.

    Okay, I'm off to bed to dream up a way to move on with the story.


  3. Wow, Mary, you must be getting stuck a lot lately! :) Just kidding! When I get stuck, I go to my critique buddies, the Bards. It always works! Plus, they are great for a zillion laughs!

  4. Mindless physical activity helps most of the time. Sometimes reading the last few pages. Sometimes journaling helps get the 'writing' flow going.

  5. I usually focus on something else for a while, like a household chore (laundry, dishes, etc.). If that doesn't help I call my critique partner, and after I cry and complain a little she helps me work through my block. Critique partners are great because they are often coming to the story with a fresher perspective because they are not immersed in it everyday yet still have enough knowledge to know the plot points and storyline.

  6. Great photos, Pam! Now that's stuck!!! I've felt like those poor trapped animals a time or two. Glad your d/h was able to release the bull. Did he take the bull by the horns literally?

    Interesting topic! One more thing that helps me get unstuck is to use Scene and Sequel. What happened in the last scene that made things worse and requires a new plan and a new action? Of course figuring that out is the hard part. :-)

    The coffee's made! A pot of Earl Gray tea is waiting under the cozy. I made batter for Belgium waffles. The iron is hot, the syrup too.


  7. Hi Pam, Loved the photos. I'm so glad your husband was able to rescue that horse. What a real life hero!!!

    The waffles are yummy Janet. Thanks. I brought some blueberries and whipped cream to add.

    When I'm stuck I walk. Like Camy said, it frees the right brain to keep the left side busy with the mundane.

  8. No coffee?????????

    What is the matter with you guys?

    Is it not MONDAY??????

    Oh mylanta....

    Okay, coffee's here, with flavored creamers!!!! And Chocolate Velvet. And Glazed Chocolate Donut. And mocha...

    Are you sensing a theme?

    Need chocolate sensory overload. Now. Or just mainline caffeine. Yes, I'm that addicted. Did you know that Pepsi MAX has no calories, no carbs and EXTRA caffeine...

    Just sayin'.

    I love that we all have different ways of achieving our goals, even if it's being stuck. Those picks said it all, LOL. I've felt like that more than once, more in life than in writing, I think.

    Walking away helps. I don't nap, but I do find myself solving problems and writing scenes in slumber sleep, between 3 and 4 AM...

    I'm kind of dozey and playing with scenes in my head and it comes to me.

    That's my most creative time. At night, when I'm tired, when Camy's hammering out pages of words????

    I'm just plain mean. Snakey. Sharp-tongued and whiny. Quite unattractive.

    And if I push myself to work on anything other than edits or e-mails or updating websites then, it's just junk that I erase the next morning.

    And then I blame Mary because it's always her fault.

  9. Pammy!!! What a clever subject!!! And SO necessary for anybody who is a writer.

    I am SOOO glad to see that both Ruthy and Janet reread their manuscripts when they're "stuck" because I was worried about being narcisstic! That is exactly what I do for the same reasons as Ruthy and Janet -- to immerse myself in the story, to catch glaring inconsistancies AND ... uh, to find out if I can write. And besides, you get a lot of editing in this way, too! I like to say I read/edited APMP over sixty times ... :)

    When I am stuck or "hit the wall," a lot of times it can be because my confidence is low. I find that starting at the beginning of the ms. or going to a favorite scene will kick-start my confidence and motivation once again. This usually works.

    The only time it didn't was when I was reading one of my favorite authors, a NYT Bestseller who is SO good, that when I would go back to my WIP, I wanted to puke on the keyboard. That happened on my 3rd book A Passion Denied and I hit the wall. So I went back to the beginning and started reading. Hated it. Went to a favorite scene. Hated it. My husband said, "Go back to A Passion Most Pure, the book that sold you to Revell because you KNOW that's good, right?" Wrong. Hated it. Finally ending up fasting ... food, my book and the NYT BS author's book and prayed for a week while I waited for my sister to read the 3/4 ms. and tell me the truth. She loved it ... and when I went back after a week of prayer and fasting ... I did too. Didn't touch the NYT BS author's work till I was done with MY book, though! :)

    So I guess it's a given that prayer should be the first thing we do, and if the block is really, REALLY bad ... fasting doesn't hurt either!


  10. I see I am in very good company. When I get stuck, or after several days when I haven't been able to write, I go back to the very beginning and reread everything I've written so far. That's the only way I know of to really get back into the story and refresh my memory about what's happened so far. And it also often spurs ideas about what can happen next.

    Camy, when you master walking and knitting at the same time, you will have it made!

  11. Great topic. Love the pictures.

    I do a few different things. Go for a long bike ride, clean the house,or blare some rockin' music.

  12. Pam,

    Your pictures are a perfect accompaniment to your post!

    I either sleep on it...sometimes several nights or go back and re-read what I have written.

    One thing I can't do is read a favorite or successful author's work when I'm stuck. It hinders me more because I start comparing my writing to theirs even if it's not in the same genre.


  13. Okay, I just love that horse with his head in the tree. Almost like he's taking a time out from the world!

    Great suggestions about getting unstuck. When I'm stuck, I talk over the problem with my writing group, grab my knitting, or do the dishes. Crazy, I know, but housework somehow unshackles my muse. My characters start talking again and we work things out. Then I go back to writing.

  14. Sleeping works for me. Especially if I go to bed early. It gives my mind more time.

  15. Hello all! I'm taking a lunch break and thought I'd pop in and say hi.

    Tina P: Yes, the nap definitely rejuvenates me.

    Helen, I hope you were able to dream up some new ideas for your wip last night.

  16. lol - Aaron, I think Mary just enjoys knocking people ...uh... characters off.

  17. Great post, Seekers! Love all of the ideas!

  18. Great image! Ghostwriter, huh? Call the kids, huh? Love it!

    Had my first writer's block at a most inopportune time last week when my editor wanted a new ending rewritten, hum, in a few weeks. Of course you writers know that a new ending is kinda like...a new book.

    After a lot of prayers and some good hard jogs (where gray cells loosen to allow new ideas), things have worked out.

    Great post, Pam!!!

  19. Great suggestions on how to unstop the proverbial writers' drain, Pam! I'm with Tina, sleep is always a good thing.

    But then, I do what Camy suggested: I take the dog for a walk and work through ideas. I think I need to get a mini voice recorder, too. I get great ideas while I'm walking and then forget all or the most crucial part of the solution by the time I sit down to write.


    Many good ideas have been left in the neighborhood across the street.

    I hope they appreciate my sacrifice : )

    Great topic, Pam!!!!!

  20. I don't write but when I get stuck on anything else I read, read, read!

  21. Hi Pam,
    Great post.
    My mind tends to lean toward ADD tendencies, which might come out in my 'sticky' situations.
    I don't have just one way to deal with them. I haven't read through the comments yet to find out if others do this, or if i'm just weird (goes without saying, probably), but I know I have about 3 consistent ways I deal with getting stuck.

    1. Get away from the story - usually to a different story

    2. Play the piano and visualize the story

    3. Print out the story and reread it, because I've either gotten out of the 'mood' of the story or something's amiss in the plot.

    (and chocolate usually helps too ;-)

  22. Pam,
    Love your post and photos! I walk and talk. Sometimes at the same time! :) Actually I bounce ideas around with hubby as we walk. Then I walk alone. Then I talk to him some more. Prayer, as Julie mentioned, helps as well.

  23. I think you hit it right, Pam. Just as long as Mary doesn't write a character who literarily and literally kills off her editor I think I will be OK.

  24. Great post and wonderful ideas on getting UN-STUCK. I like Julie's idea: prayer & fasting. Haven't tried it yet but might have to with my current short story - wrote it, tried to change it to a novel - messed it all up - now I get overwhelmed and just put it aside.

    I know a lot of that is emotional turmoil so I go easy on myself (a lot of things overwhelm me now days) - but my favorite way is Walk away (sometimes literaly) and Prayer (usually while I walk) and if that don't work - take a break away from the WIP and like someone else said - READ!

    Don't knit or chrochet, or paint, or sew, or garden or... well, to be honest writing is my only creative vein/outlet so...sometimes writing something totally different from the WIP works for me.

    Pam T
    (rhyming not intended) LOL!

  25. Sleeping is so obviously the easy choice.

  26. Yes, Tina, but it WORKS! lol

    Now, prayer...that's the ultimate get-unstuck tactic.

    I imagine Pooh, Horse, and Bull prayed big-time!

  27. I love the option of sleeping! I vote that one!

    Great post... and GREAT ideas!

  28. Excercise tends to rattle my muse's cage. However, when it is obstinate and wants to stay in bed, I re-read my MS., or move to a different scene. Sometimes letting go of whatever is frustrating me is enough bate to draw ole "Musie" out.

  29. When I'm stuck, I...
    ...sleep chocolate
    ...meditate chocolate a book chocolate

    In the words of Ruthy, is there a pettern here?

  30. Sorry,


    More chocolate needed.

  31. Okay - I REALLY like Walt's strategy!!

    Anybody in the mood for chocolate cheesecake. It's the third one I've made this month :-)

  32. Yum Pepper, Chocolate cheesecake hits the spot.

  33. I watch TV or read a book...not mine. Or I go to the mall and people-watch.

    Sometimes praying helps, or brainstorming with friends...especially Dream and Camy.


  34. Going to take a walk and meditate on my plot. Hope the fog clears! lol

  35. I would eat chocolate, but that's kinda-sorta the reason I need to take the walk!