Tuesday, August 20, 2013

7 Things to Do When You’re STUCK

She's hollering: "Stuck, Mom! Stuck!"
If it’s crossing your mind that I’m writing this post because I’m stuck … then, you’re right. Or at least, it feels like I’m stuck because the answers aren’t coming to me as fast as I’d like.

And yes, that IS my daughter in the picture (about 15 years ago). And yes, I did extricate her --AFTER I ran inside, grabbed the camera, and snapped this picture. (It was before cell phone cameras.)

When you are stuck – on a first draft, during revisions, or even in the planning stages – here are 7 things you can do that have helped me get unstuck:

1. Open up Twitter and/or Facebook and stare at the feed. Refresh lots of times. This is not procrastination. It’s surfing for ideas. Sometimes the most random comments, links, or videos suggest something to you.

2. Write a long email to one of your critique partners explaining the dilemma – what you need to do but can’t do and why you can’t do it this way and why it won’t work that way. Then delete the email when your lengthy explanation of the problem produces its own answer. Be sure and send thanks to your CP, because without him/her, you wouldn’t have written the email.

3. Draw a flow chart of possibilities. If you take the story in THIS direction, what will be the consequences? The positive benefits to plot development? The roadblocks to making it all work out? Now try a different direction? What will be the consequences, benefits, and roadblocks to doing it this other way? Which path serves your story?

4. Lie on a pool float staring at the sky and let the randomness of your journey around the pool jar ideas loose from your mind. A hammock or a swing also might work, although it’s not quite as random a movement and doesn’t have the same effect (for me).

5. Ask a CP who’s read your manuscript to write questions for the character most responsible for your state of stuck-ness. Answer the questions from that character’s POV and find out what’s going on in his head. Yes, you could write the questions yourself, but you’re stuck, so how will that help? The point is to get an outside person’s perspective on your plot, your character, and your problem.

6. Seriously consider that you’ve made a mistake – not at this point in the manuscript, but earlier. Back up to the last point where you were really sure about the plot and look at where you went from there. Did you take the wrong path? Present things in the wrong order? Have your character behave in a way that doesn’t make sense? Your DELETE key may be your solution.

7. Go read a book in a different genre and audience from the one you’re writing. If you’re struggling with a MG contemporary fantasy, go read about an adult book about an assassin in a steam-powered society on an alien world – or zombies on the Titanic. If the book holds your attention (in spite of your preoccupation with your own stuck-ness), figure out WHY, then figure out how you can do something similar in your own genre and for your audience.

And please don’t judge me for taking that picture. It was the third or fourth time she’d inserted her head through those bars. Really, was she expecting a different outcome this time?


  1. Funny about the picture. Great suggestions when you're stuck. I like the flow chart one especially.

    1. Natalie, I love looking back at those flow charts after the whole manuscript is written so I can say, "Wow. Was I really considering taking the story in that other direction?!?"

  2. Cute picture. You give some great tips.

  3. That picture is priceless. I would have snapped it too.

    I really like your suggestions here Dianne- especially the one about floating around the pool. Sometimes I just get up and take a quick walk. Getting outdoors and some quiet time alone with the fresh air helps me a lot. Us writers tend to sit for long periods of time. So, even if it doesn't help me get unstuck, it doesn't hurt to get the added exercise. (LOL)

    1. Thanks, Jaybird! Glad to know I'm not the only mom who thinks "I gotta take that funny picture" first -- and "I gotta help my kid" second!

  4. For me, a good workout on the treadmill clears my head. I've solved several plot dilemmas this way. Mind you, I'm no workout nut! It just gets my brain going! ;)

    1. I am definitely not a big workout person, but riding a bike or swimming does help at times.

      If I would get stuck more often, maybe I could lose some weight!

  5. Great suggestions! I will be using some of these because I'm stuck. Thanks and that picture is funny. I'm glad she was okay.

    1. Thanks, Christine!
      She was constantly sticking her head through those bars. "Will I still get stuck? Yup. Apparently so."

  6. That picture is so funny! I love it that you took a photo first! That's what my dad would've done, lol.

    Mind maps are great for getting unstuck. I also like doing writing prompts, and reading helps too.

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

    1. Laura,

      I like graphics of all kinds when I'm stuck. Plus, they're fun to look back at later, when you've figured it out.

  7. Some of these solutions are funny, but some of them are actually SERIOUSLY awesome.

    1. I can't tell you how many times I've emailed Krystalyn or Marcy explaining the problem -- then erased the email before sending. Writing it out really helps.

  8. 7 helps me a lot.

    Sometimes I need break from reading what I write, and I listened to an unabridged audiobook of "Around the World in 80 Days" since that's definitely is far removed from modern children's books.

    On the one hand, it's far removed from my various books in progress, and yet on the other hand, it was related in terms of what I want my own stories to do, keep things moving, and for it's time, this was a brisk read. It also helped that it was first serialized, something I didn't know until hearing a special dedication at the end of the version I bought-


    Whenever I tried reading this book on the page, the large blocks of paragraphs felt laborious, yet listening to it made all the difference for me, and it also reminds me that as "Long-winded" I get accused of, at least it's not to the extent of many "Classics."

    That said, I loved hearing the story, and I've always wanted to write a globe-trotting adventure, though obviously the stereotypical nature of some characters and cultures world would not pass muster today, as a previous post about diversity makes quite clear.

    1. Taurean -- I find that if I read a book that's too close to what I'm writing, it just makes me whiny and jealous. But as you said, subjects that are far removed from your own work still have certain commonalities. Answers come from many places!

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    3. You too? You certainly hide it better than me, Dianne! (As far as blogging goes)

      I can so relate, and for YEARS I felt I was the ONLY one, as most of my writer friends are highly pragmatic and prolific, so I felt so alone in this.

      One author friend of mine found she learns more from reading what she writes more than reading most books about writing.

      I can't say that's true for me.

      Though I am tired of being recommended to read certain craft books that I won't name so I won't rant, but I've browsed through them, and I know I can't get past the snarky tone to their advice, so they're not for me.

      Now I know there are others who get the envy complex, and understand it's not meant to be snobbish or mean, but it's just something that's HARD to work through sometimes.

      I have to avoid certain books or authors because I know envy will taint the book for me.

      That said, for me at least, I eventually get over it, but some books take more time to work through

      But again, this is one of those issues that authors need to face that lay readers who don't write to publish are not required to.

      Did you use to think you were alone in that?

      Are you the only writer in your circle who has the "Envy Complex" issue to work through?

      How do you fight it?

      I mean, you still read what you write in general, even if you avoid it while drafting a book in process, right?

      I'd feel like such a hypocrite if I wrote something I don't read myself.

      Especially because readers know if you're "Phoning it in" sooner or later.

      Sometimes book recommendations can feel daggers to the heart, as much as we may know the person recommending we read a particular book, or author is meant to be helpful.

  9. Soooo not judging you. LOL! Camera BEFORE safety! ;)


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!