Tuesday Toss-Up

When is Getting Stuck the Best Thing?

I tend to write the way I live (or maybe I live the way I write), a sometimes-awkward hybrid between planning and winging it.

Writers often define themselves as either  plotter (planner) or pantser (that sometimes flaky person who considers herself spontaneous). While I’m no longer a die-hard pantser, I’m also not entirely a plotter. I’m somewhere between. A plantser, if you will.

Ladybug Two
Ooookay. Now where do I go?

Sometimes I plan well but I rarely plan thoroughly and even the best laid plans…well, you know how that one goes. In life, this not-infrequently leads to sitcom worthy snafus and a flurry of apologies on my end. In writing, it often leads to that monumentally unpleasant stuck place (what some might call “writers block”).

Of course, if you’ve got a plan, you can usually find your way out of that stuck place with all your limbs intact (more or less).

And some of the most beautiful places can only be found if you stray far from the path.

My current work-in-progress is the first novel I thoroughly plotted and I expected to breeze through it as I hadn’t my previous pantsed novels (now sitting in a drawer, hoping against hope to be revived someday). I knew I’d want to throw out the outline from time to time and explore the possibilities but I thought I’d simply come back, rework the outline and get on with my brilliant story.

You know you’re in trouble when you expect to “breeze” through anything.

In reality, the story plan kept me grounded. I was free to explore but I had all the landmarks in sight. But, the closer I pushed to “The End,” the more lost I felt. I felt like the path I had planned would take me home but it also felt shrouded in fog. The further I went, the heavier the fog got until…

I got stuck.

The ending felt right. The events leading up to the end felt mostly right. But still I needed something more.  So I wrestled with that something more until I started to think my plantsing had gotten me in more trouble than my pantsing. And I asked myself why, why, why?

Turns out the why was what I needed. The events leading up to the end of my novel needed a better why. Actually, they needed a why, period.

Once I started asking why those penultimate events had to be, I discovered my story lacked just one more character (contrary to the usual writing advice to pare down characters when possible). I needed someone who could provide the why for those final events and give the main characters a chance to (inadvertently) help set those events in motion.

Plus, said additional character stands a good chance of being a nasty thorn in the side in the next book(s).

In the end, getting stuck saved my story. If I hadn’t gotten stuck, I wouldn’t have asked why and I wouldn’t have a story that feels like a whole.

Could it be that getting stuck is a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to ask questions you never would have asked and go places you never could have imagined? Not just in writing, but in life? Maybe getting stuck is how we recognize the opportunity to change ourselves and our world.

What do you think? Has getting stuck ever turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to you?

10 thoughts on “When is Getting Stuck the Best Thing?

  1. That simple three letter word has gotten me into more trouble than all the four letter words I have ever used. Especially in the Army. Sargents HATE when you ask them “why?” Of course those three letters also bring great joy and exploration. Thanks, nice post

    1. Strange. I thought I replied to this. Guess the internet ate it. 🙂 What I said was something like this:

      It used to drive me nuts when my kiddos went through the “why?” phase. Now, here I am rediscovering the joy. LOL

      Okay…so it wasn’t that exciting of a comment after all.

  2. It’s easy to get stuck when you’re writing about yourself in the first person. Ego has a habit of derailing good art. It’s important to remember that the “I” in your song is a imagined version of yourself, a character. Bruce Springsteen’s “I” is a blue-collar worker down on his luck. Ziggy Stardust’s (David Bowie) “I” is a benevolent space alien. Johny Cash’s “I” is a lonesome gun-slinging cowboy. While these characters exist within the artist, they are not the whole artist.

  3. Interesting post. And I like the idea of “plantser” too – that’s probably what I kind of am. I think it’s always the “why” and “what if” that drives us to the best stories, and we sometimes forget them because they are a bit child-like, dismiss them as too simple when we turn writing into “work.” I think it’s when we remember to keep playing that we can find those answers, and keep writing – with a plan, or without. 🙂

    1. I tend to be obsessive too, which often helps me to get stuck. Then I obsess about being stuck. I’m finally learning to appreciate the “why” of getting stuck. 😀

  4. Writer’s block is often caused by conflicted feelings. We want the writing to be perfect and we want the paper done as soon as possible. We know what we know but we don’t know what our readers know. We know how the memo should sound, but we don’t have all the facts we need. We know everything about the software, but we don’t know what an article should look like. We know what we have to say but we are afraid that it won’t measure up to our expectations or to our readers’ expectations.

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