Writing Tip #28: Getting Unstuck in Fiction Writing

Source: punttim on Pixabay, edited with GIMP

It happens to all of us at some point. We are working on a story and suddenly the words won't come. Or the words that land on the page are just all wrong. It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? I had this experience a week ago when I was pushing to finish a story for a deadline in my writing group, and I thought: this is a great topic for my next Writing Tips post: how to get unstuck.

Now, you might think something like: well, you were writing for a deadline. There’s your problem right there. Creativity can’t happen on a deadline, can it?

Well, it can and it does. And in the real world, writing deadlines happen all the time. Whether you want to submit an article to a contest entry on Hive, or in one of the many writing contests that are going on all the time in the literary, fantasy, science fiction and horror markets, you need to be able to write on a deadline.

And if you ever get into a book contract, say goodbye to the idea of dreamy moments enjoying the writing process in a beautiful sunlit studio, always with a fresh cup of coffee within reach (or however you imagine the perfect writing life). You will be writing to hit goals and deadlines. And that’s a good thing.

Tips for Getting Unstuck

First I’m going to give you my personal tips. And then I’ll provide some tips I’ve rounded up from my online research so you have a nice collection of tricks to use the next time you are trying to write a great story or novel and you have that terrible feeling of being completely stuck.

When I get stuck, here are the things I do:

  • Read a passage from some great fiction. This is my number one go-to trick. I actually keep a lot of really lovely online fiction bookmarked on my computer, so that when my writing slows down, I can take a mental break and immerse in the inspiring work of others. I’m not sure why this works, but it does. Sometimes I only read a page and then I’m back to work on my own writing, and I find that the words flow again.
  • Get some exercise. I am a big believer in stepping away from a problem in order to let it rest, or simmer or percolate… whatever analogy you may prefer. Creativity is at work whether or not we actively have a pen in hand or fingers poised over the keyboard. And I don’t know about you, but for me fiction writing is often a sort of building block process. I often need to start developing my characters and story line and then as I am doing other things, I find the building blocks begin to take shape on top of that foundation. I start to see my characters as living things. The characters in their lives, the problems they are struggling with and the actions they need to take start taking shape in my mind. This often happens when I am out walking or riding my bike.
  • Go to sleep with the story in mind. This method is a way to get your subconscious mind working on the development of your plot and characters while you sleep. We should never underestimate the power of the subconscious in supporting the conscious mind.

When all else fails, I write a bunch of crap with the plan to revise later. I try to knock out a scene, even if I don’t like the sound of my writing voice at the moment, or the words seem to be coming out all wrong. By writing anyway, I get something on the page that I can work with. And this effort also fuels that subconscious mind activity that I mentioned above.

Okay, let’s see what other writers and authoritative online writing sites have to say:

  • Stop writing, pick up a crayon and draw,” says Chazda Hill in this article on greatstorybook.com.
  • Jump over the stuck part and pick up the story somewhere else,” writes Susan L Stewart in an article titled 6 Ways to Get Unstuck in The Writing Cooperative.
  • Throw obstacles in your character’s path,” suggests Susan Breen in her article, 12 key steps for getting unstuck as a writer, in The Writer. There are 11 other nice ideas here, but I’ve linked to this one so you can read the commentary. From my perspective, a lot of stories run aground when things are going too well, and I love this tip for that reason. You’ve got to make bad stuff happen. It’s the gas that feeds the writing engine!

There are more tips and strategies in Tip #17, Overcoming Writer’s Block. That tip was more about collecting story ideas and getting the writing flowing. This one is more focused on the challenges writer’s face when a particular writing project comes to a halt. But no matter where you are in your writing journey, you must find ways to keep the words coming!

Happy writing!

@jayna, writer and moderator at The Ink Well.

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If you're looking to up your fiction game and reach that next level, check out my past writing tips linked below.

Writing Tip #1: Writing from a Prompt

Writing Tip #2: Adding Conflict

Writing Tip #3: Writing What You Know

Writing Tip #4: Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump

Writing Tip #5: Is ‘Show Don’t Tell’ a Writing Rule?

Writing Tip #6: How Fiction Writing Is Like Weaving

Writing Tip #7: Put It On the Page

Writing Tip #8: What Is a Story Arc?

Writing Tip #9: Should You Plot Your Story?

Writing Tip #10: Don’t Start a Story This Way!

Writing Tip #11: What Is “Writing Voice”?

Writing Tip #12: Reveal Everything and Nothing

Writing Tip #13: Character Types in Fiction

Writing Tip #14: Clichés - Avoid the Conspiratorial Wink

Writing Tip #15: Developing Memorable Characters

Writing Tip #16: Writing Character Descriptions

Writing Tip #17: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writing Tip #18: Don’t Be a Copycat (Plagiarism is Wrong)

Writing Tip #19: Hook Your Readers

Writing Tip #20: Lessons in Tense Part 1

Writing Tip #21: Editing Your Work with Fresh Eyes

Writing Tip #22: We want to hear from you! What do you want to know?

Writing Tip #23: The Value of Workshops and Feedback

Writing Tip #24: What Are Plotters and Pantsers?

Writing Tip #25: Do Short Stories Have to Have a Plot?

Writing Tip #26: Action, Dialog and Narrative: The Dynamic Trio

Writing Tip #27: Let’s Explore World Building

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