How Do You Get Unstuck?

cat in a tree
Climb the tree, they said. It’ll be easy, they said. There’s a tasty bird’s nest…Oh well. At least the view is nice from up here.

Stuck. Blocked. Out of juice. We’ve all found ourselves there, especially creative types (how we do like to get ourselves in trouble). How is sometimes, in the middle of being stuck, you can’t seem to remember how you ever got unstuck before? You think, I know I’ve gotten myself out of these situations somewhere along the line. Sure,  maybe it’s not the same exact situation, but there must have been something similar enough to help out now.

And, in your head, all you hear is crickets.

And maybe the occasional giggle.

Or maybe that last part is just me. *shrug*

Maybe the problem is we often approach creative problems haphazardly. We chip away at them or ignore them, hoping they’ll go away already. Eventually, something shakes loose, and we go on our merry way…until we hit the next wall.

Shouldn’t we have a standard protocol for creative blocks? Some kind of ten step process (where at least two of the steps will involve drinking copious amounts of coffee and/or whiskey)?

Or maybe a standard protocol is too one size fits all, but each block is its own kind of beast (or we like to imagine it is). And half the problem is just figuring out what’s causing the block in the first place. The reason recommends the solution and all that. So, perhaps a flowchart instead.

Something like this:

the only flow chart you will ever need

Only more expansive and with creative/writer stuff.

As you might’ve guessed, I’m a little bit stuck. For the last few months, I’ve been pulling together the first draft of my manuscript. A few scenes were skipped in the original write through. Other scenes need to be altered to fit changes made to the plot/characters later on in the writing process. A few times, it’s become apparent I need to add a scene here and there to make the story work. Some of the scenes need to be rewritten entirely.

I’m stuck in the middle of one such scene. It’s an exposition scene, which makes it tricky to begin with. And it has to take place in a rather confined space and with less action than the scenes before and after it. I could Pope in the Pool it (see Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat), but I’m not sure how to do that here.

Fortunately, things are beginning to shake loose. I decided to make one character extremely agitated (which fits the situation anyway) and let that drive much of the dialogue. That and a lot of cross talk between several characters regarding several different parts of the exposition.

But it’s still slow going.

Usually, I ask myself a bunch of questions when I’m stuck. What does this character want? What has to happen next? What’s the scene goal? All that jazz. I think I’ve asked myself all the questions I can here, but it hasn’t really helped.

Or I, if I know how the scene must absolutely end, I work it backwards. That might work here…I suppose I could try it.

I guess I do have an inner flow chart of sorts…I’m just not very organized about it.

At any rate, I’m working through the scene. It’ll get done eventually.

But maybe I’ll try my hand at coming up with a formal flowchart. If nothing else, it’ll be a good way to procrastinate on the writing.


How do you overcome being stuck?

Photo Credit
Stuck by Alison Benbow, on Flickr | CC BY 2.0
the only flow-chart you will ever need by Jeremy Holmes, on Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0


8 thoughts on “How Do You Get Unstuck?

  1. Sometimes, if you can, it helps to take a short break. I have had a couple of rough weeks and my blog has suffered because of it. But instead of forcing myself to publish posts anyway, I just decided to write when I felt like it. Eventually the turning point came again, and it seems I’m heading back into my normal routine, which is great. And also believe in yourself. You can (and most likely will) do this. Good luck! 😀

  2. I like the giggle, that’s a nice touch. Anything you can laugh about can’t be that bad, right?

    I think part of the problem with being stuck in writing is that there is no one solution. What works once may not work next time, which makes sense, considering how complex writing can be. But, as you say, there is a certain “keep trying different things till something works”.

    1. Sometimes I switch to a different writing project, or open a new Word document and just ramble whatever words come to mind, just to get myself writing.
    2. Sometimes I go for a walk or run, or if it’s late at night I go to bed for the night and wake in the morning with the answer clear as day.
    3. Sometimes I just start brainstorming, thinking up all the random, odd outcomes a scene could have, until something clicks for me.
    4. Or maybe I reexamine the characters, plot, and underlying ideas. Maybe one of the characters doesn’t have a proper motive, and I need to reacquaint myself with their perspective. Maybe the scene doesn’t have a proper conflict. Or there’s no underlying meaning?
    5. Maybe everything else is fine, but the scene just isn’t fun.

    I think it’s a very personal choice, how you choose to regard your writing. Some believe in cranking out a new story every so often, others want to really polish one before moving on.

    I can say that often I feel like things are not working, that I’m wasting my time, and then, gradually, I seem to build up a kind of momentum, and half an hour later I feel the electric thrill as everything flows, and I know that “this” is something I’m going to keep.

    But I think no matter what, it takes a kind of faith, either in ourselves, or in the elusive muses that whisper in our ears. Whether we believe we can, or we believe we can’t, we’re right.

    Neil Gaiman tells a story of how he was writing Coraline, and one day he just stopped, and worked on other projects for years, before returning when he realized what happened next. “Stories are never finished,” he said. “Eventually we just move on to the next one.”

    It sounds like you’re finding your way through it.
    Let me know if you’re looking for feedback.

    1. Really great suggestions! I didn’t think about going and doing something physical. I can see that letting your brain go and do what it needs.

      I also like the idea of needing to put the project aside sometimes. It does take the pressure off.

      And I agree with the leap of faith. 😊

      1. I think at the heart of it all is the dilemma that with something as complex and personal as creative art, there are too many variables for any method to consistently work.
        A great deal of what we try to do is walk the line between utilizing and defying the patterns that are so familiar to our audience. Such an odd undertaking is, of course, going to make the process an equally complicated thing.
        In some ways all we can do is whatever we think is best, in that moment, and continue to learn from the results.
        I hope writing is going well for you.

        1. You’re right. We can have certain touchstone methods, but we always have to be ready to improvise. Maybe even approaching each obstacle as unique is a good thing. When things are unique, we tend to look more closely at them, learn more from them.

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