Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting Unstuck

Owl: I say, are you stuck?
Winnie the Pooh: No, just resting, and thinking, and humming to myself.
Owl: You, sir, are stuck. A wedged bear in a great tightness. In a word, irremovable.
                Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, 1966

I’ve been stuck in a rut with my writing for a while now. Currently, I have one first draft done of a manuscript, which is being critiqued as we speak. I have three other story ideas percolating in my head. One has about 5,000 words written, another has about 7,000 words written, and a third has about 1,000 words written.

The 7,000-word manuscript is the sequel to the manuscript that’s out for critique. I really should work on it, because if I ever get it out to editors, and by some miracle, it gets accepted, I’m going to have to continue the series. I love the series. I love the premise and the uniqueness. I love the characters. I can see the whole series in my head. Getting it down on paper is a different story, however, because try as I might, I’m not inspired by it right now. I think part of the problem is that I’m disappointed by the first story in the series and I need to get that into better shape. Maybe when I finish the second draft, inspiration will strike again. So in the meantime, other than a few sentences here or there, I move onto other stories.

Like the the 5,000-word story. It was inspired by a house. I walked through a gorgeous 1873 Victorian mansion that’s for sale in a nearby town. They had an open house and my daughters and I went for fun. We all fell in love with the place. If I had a few million dollars to play around with, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. In the meantime, I dream about it. And in my dreams, I came up with a great storyline. So I started to write it down. I’m 5,000 words in, and I’m stuck. There are pivotal scenes that I have down and running through my head, but I can’t get past them, even though I’ve written them out—the 5,000 words are not necessarily the first 5,000 words. I know the whole plot, the character arcs, the GMC. I know the who and why and everything! But I can’t get past this one scene in my head and when I sit to write the rest of the story, I get frustrated and walk away. So, I move onto story number three.

Story number three has only 1,000 words. It’s going to take a huge effort to write. It’s a story I’ve always wanted to write because it’s based on my family’s history. It’s got a bit of a mystery in it and I’ve come up with a solution that seems plausible. The problem is, it’s going to take a ton of research. I’m talking library research. College-type research. Just the thought of it exhausts me. So I move back to the first completed draft to work on corrections.

The problem is, that draft needs a lot of corrections. The little stuff is easy. Deleting and changing words, adding commas, all the little stupid things—those are easy. It’s the revising and rewriting and filling in that I keep putting off. I know I need to show more emotion in chapter four and I need to further develop the characters in chapter six. But I’m not sure I can do that. Or that I even want to.

Like I said, I’m stuck in a rut. What I really need is some inspiration. Either that, or a swift kick in the butt.

So tell me, what do you do to get unstuck?


  1. I know exactly what you mean, Jen! I'm about three-quarters of the way through a third draft of a story, and it still isn't working for me somehow, even though a beta reader tells me she loves it!
    In an effort to get away from it for a while, I recently started another story, inspired by an online article I read recently. I have some ideas about where I want it to go, but it's not completely formed in my head yet.
    What can you do to get out of your rut? Well, I've just joined a FB group called 100K in 100 days. Less intensive than NaNoWriMo, the challenge is to write 100K words between Jan 1st and April 9th (i.e. averaging 1,000 a day)- on anything, not just one story. As I'm the world's worst procrastinator, I'm hoping this might give me a kick in the butt.
    If you're interested, check out the group on FB.

  2. Deadlines and cheerleading work for me. I work better under outside pressure, it seems. If I have promised someone to write something, I put butt in chair and work until it's done. Also cheerleading--I am plagued by self-doubt, so when the occasional and sincere praise comes along, my confidence is boosted and I believe I can. I need to reread The Little Engine. "I think I can. I think I can. I thought I could. I thought I could."
    I have good aspects for being published next spring, so that's incentive, too.
    It's easier and fun to cheerlead for others. I'm the head cheerleader for my daughter as she writes her first screenplay. (She's outlining Act 2 today using Alexandra Sokolov's e-book.)

  3. Try writing a short, short story using some of the characters you have already created but not directly following the original piece you are writing Say 500 words, or Flash Fiction even shorter. Maybe blog it, ask for comments. Might renew your enthusiasm to go back to those other unfinished ones.

  4. Paula, that sounds like an interesting FB group. I'm always hesitant to join things like that because the fixed word count scares me. I think I'm afraid of the structured commitment.

    Ana, I agree, both of those work for me, but I don't really have a deadline right now. And cheerleaders, well, we'll see what happens.

    Antony, that's a great idea. Thanks! I may have to try the blog idea...

  5. Jen, it's not a strict target for each day, just something to aim for, and have other cheering you on (or commiserating). I doubt I will manage 1,000 words per day! But it does include all writing, including your blog posts (but not your shopping lists, or your Twitter/FB updates!).

  6. Jen,

    I'm so glad all of these other people piped in with advice for you, because I'm in the same place you are right now. Ideas percolating all over the place, but no drive to get anything down on paper. I might try some of the ideas the above fabulous folks have suggested!

  7. Paula, I hadn't counted on blogs. Hmmm, I may try it.

    Debra, glad to know I'm not the only one. Hope the ideas work for you!