Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Super Secret Insiders Notes on Writing When You're Stuck.
Let me set the stage.
You're writing along, fingers smoking at the keyboard, the Internal Editor on one shoulder is muzzled, and on the other shoulder, Ruthy the Word Count Vixen has been subdued with copious amounts of Mallow Cups.
When suddenly ...you pause.
Thinking. Thinking. Thinking.
Nope that won't work. Nah, not that either.
Okay, now you've lost your train of thought.
You aren't sure what do do next, or why. Panic dominoes. What could possibly fix this perilous situation upon which the entire axis of your book rests? Life as you know it is about to end if you don't find a solution fast. You simply cannot be...
The idea for this post came from curiosity. How, I wondered, do other writers respond to Stuck? Was I normal? The results are in. I'm not.
But here's my Four Step Recovery for Stuck anyhow.
1. Never Underestimate the Power of a Nap.
Naps" sharpen motor skills and boosts sensory processing." They also allow your subconscious mind to work out those plot issues without interference. If you've forgotten how to nap, here's a handy guide.
2. Lifeline or Shout out?
Quick. Who's your plot buster? Who do you have on auto dial for a quick response? Who gets the job done, fast? Finding a plot buster is a must for writers.
3. Brain Food for the Writer Soul.
Foods that stimulate brain activity include: fish, chocolate, berries, and nuts. (More info here). So at your next visit to the library, pull out your mackerel and almonds and snack as you wrestle that GMC issue.
4. Get Away From the Problem.
Sometimes all it takes is reading a Nora Roberts quote, watching your favorite romantic movie to get you outside the problem so you can move forward.
Now for what everyone else had to say about Stuck:
"When I'm stuck I do some more research and hope that will melt my frozen brain. If that doesn't work I just read a novel and hope my subconscious takes over."
Cara Lynn James--Love by the Book, Thomas Nelson, July 2011
"I get off the computer and start working on paper. I brainstorm ideas, re-read my character charts and update my GMC chart. Usually that gets me going."
Missy Tippens -A Family for Faith, Harlequin Love Inspired, April 2011
"If I were to get stuck, which, of course, never happens to me (grin), I would head for The Border. Yup! Taco Bell fuels my creativity. It's amazing the inspiration I can derive from a seven-layer burrito with extra green sauce.
And if Taco Bell fails me? Well, that's easy. I ask my resident plotting partner for help. Gwynly has great ideas and is happy to share them--provided I don't ask for help when he's in the middle of a car repair. Yes, I actually did that once. I didn't get any ideas that day, but I did get a good lesson in malespeak. =)"
Keli Gwyn, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, Barbour Publishing, July 2012.
"When I'm stuck, I read. I have to fight the guilt that I'm doing something pleasurable when I should be writing, but I found that refilling the creative well really helps more than anything else I've tried."
Camy Tang --Romance with a kick of wasabi
"When I'm stuck what I've usually done is gone to far in solving a problem--and drained all the tension out of a story. So I need to back up and see where I was too nice and do LESS, tell less, confess less, pretty things up less, so the story can storm along wreaking havoc. Also, seriously, I'm not kidding. I shoot somebody. I just let lead start flying and figure out why later."
Mary Connealy--2011 RITA Award Finalist--Romantic Comedy with Cowboys
"Sometimes, just opening up an email and explaining the problem to someone clarifies things. It forces me to be concise and straightforward. Otherwise, Ruthy gets confused. None of that plotstorming stuff for Ruthy. She's a one, two three kinda gal. More than once I've started an email to the Seekers explaining a snarl I have in my plot, and by the time I'm done, (before I even send the email) I've figured out where to go next!"
Pam Hillman, Stealing Jake, Tyndale House, July 2011
"When I'm stuck I clean. Cleaning is so ALIEN to me, that it frees up my creative juices. I can plot while scrubbing sinks. Toilets. Tubs. Folding clothes. And I keep country music on or contemporary Christian music on. That jars my thoughts into new directions and I truly believe the Holy Spirit gob-smacks me into putting thoughts together and coming up with an "AHA" moment. Oh, that God!"
Ruth Logan Herne--Enduring, endearing... Fiction that embraces the heart.
"If I’m stuck because I’m not quite sure if the next thing that happens should be shown in a full-blown scene, or just summarized, I will start to summarize it, like, “Abigail was angry and left the party to go back home. She sat in next to the abominable Mr. Turtletaub in the carriage as he prattled on about the party.” Usually by this time I realize it should be a scene and should not be summarized, and I realize HOW I need to convey Abigail’s anger and what Mr. Turtletaub should be saying and voila! I will be unstuck. I can go back and cut the summarizing and write the scene.
And sometimes it helps to listen to music, like Andrea Bocelli, which is in Italian and very romantic but doesn’t distract me because I can’t understand a word he’s saying."
Coming in November, The Merchant’s Daughter, from Zondervan.
"I don't have time to get stuck ;-)
Well, I try different things:
Take a break from the ms and go to another one
Turn on some music that 'fits' my story and work through a few 'what ifs' in my head
Eat chocolate and remind myself WHY I'm not published: because I can't even finish this stinking story!
Pray - and remind myself that God gave me this calling, and it wasn't because He wished to torture me.:-) He MUST have a plan."
Pepper D. Basham--2011 Double Genesis Finalist--“Stories peppered with grace and a dash of humor.”
"Most of the time when I get stuck, it's because I haven't let the story marinate long enough. I take awhile, sometimes only an hour, sometimes a day, to figure out just where the story is supposed to be going. I read through the notes I made before I started writing the story and try to figure out if I've gotten off track or if my characters are doing something contrary to their natures. Usually, this is sufficient to get me unstuck. If I'm still floundering, I make one of my family members sit down and listen as I tell them the story. Often, this jogs loose the sticky point, revealing where I've gone wrong, and I'm able to get back to writing."
Erica Vetsch -- Stories that Testify to Love
"When I get stuck, it’s usually because the scene needs more conflict. So, I ask myself, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen to my heroine right now? I’m talking shipwrecks, deadly illnesses, devastating secrets—anything to stir things up. I pick the most gut-wrenching obstacle I can think of and make it happen. Mwah-ha-ha. With enough juicy conflict, the scene practically writes itself."
Anne Barton--2011 Double Golden Heart Finalist
"Here's what I do when my cursor keeps blinking at me and my fingers don't move to its beat:
Eat Chocolate - to stimulate brain cells
Pace or Walk - get those endorphins flowing
Take a Pretend Nap - to think, not actually sleep
Eat Chocolate - for the health benefits of course
Do Other Work - so when the block is gone, I have the time to write to my heart's content
Sleep - for real this time, because problems sometimes do solve themselves
Eat Chocolate - do you see a pattern here
Talk it over with Someone - or just vent to them
Reread any Notes - to spark forgotten ideas
Eat Chocolate - now to celebrate getting over being Stuck!"
Eva Maria Hamilton--Highland Hearts, March 2012, Harlequin Love Inspired Historical.
"Ooooh - I have a whole workshop based on this idea! It's called Blasting Through Blah.
If I'm stuck it usually means I've screwed up earlier, so sometimes it means taking a step back and doing something mindless - mowing the grass, ironing, etc. because often the answer comes when I'm not thinking about it. If the scene is feeling flat and I don't know why, sometimes I'll change the dialogue tags/attribution - so that she says what he's saying and vice versa. It can be quite comical, but also illuminating!
Truly though - the only sure thing is to write through it. It's okay to write crap. Sometimes (a lot of times!) I find I have to write ahead to figure out what is wrong. Hindsight really does work, even if it's maddening!"
Donna Alward--A Family For the Rugged Rancher, Harlequin Romance, July 2011
Finally, I did have input from authors who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
" I eat miniature marshmallows from the bag when I am stuck. Generally I like to toss them in the air and see how many I can catch using only my mouth. It distracts me for a bit and the sugar rush help me think. It's a well documented medical fact that sugar and caffeine open the blood vessels thus allowing rich oxygenated blood to circulate. Of course if the marshmallows fail I move directly to espresso shots. "
"I am certainly not advocating this, but when I am stuck I withdraw from the world with a large thin crust vegetarian pizza, a six pack of diet Dr. Pepper and a bag of Red Vines to reread my favorite keeper romances. Sometimes you just need a little Mr. Darcy to put everything in order."
We hope you found these insider secrets helpful, but remember, what happens (and is said) in Seekerville, stays in Seekerville.Your turn. Tell us what you do when you're Stuck. I have another Seeker author book package to giveaway! You're all winners for sharing, but the book package winner will be announced in the Weekend Edition.