Feeling stuck is a common struggle I hear writers talking about and I can relate. It happens to me too! It’s not writer’s block per se but feels more like being lost in a dense fog.
If you’ve experienced this, know that you’re not alone. Many writers get stuck at some point during their writing journey.
Last week on Instagram, I did a short series, giving you tips on ways to get unstuck while you’re writing. If you missed it, not to worry. I’ve created this blog post as a resource you can always refer to. I hope you find them both useful and enjoyable.
Tip #1: Walk Away
Sometimes, trying to force words onto the page will only make the feeling of being stuck worse. You sit at your computer, determined to write a scene, and nothing comes out—or what does come out is mediocre at best. When this happens, the best thing to do is walk away. Allow your mind to relax. Your creative brain is constantly in motion and is very capable of working out the details in the background.
Here are three things you can do to help your brain relax:
- Read books – Read widely, in and out of your genre. It may seem like a leisure activity (and it is), but what you’re really doing is research for your own writing.
- Get outside – Characters rarely come out of thin air; they are based on real people. Take a stroll through a park or sit at a cafe and people watch. Write down what you see and hear.
- Tune in – Listen to your favorite podcast episode about an area you’re stuck in, e.g., writing dialogue or character development.
Tip #2: Journaling
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you will have probably guessed that journaling would be on this list.
Mental clutter is real. I strongly believe journaling is a must for everyone, especially writers. It’s common knowledge that journaling helps you achieve mental clarity. As an introvert, I love the introspection and self-reflection that journaling provides. This results in a high level of vulnerability and self-awareness that is critical for storytelling.
Journaling takes very little time and can have a profound impact. By unpacking and articulating your thoughts, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly what you (and perhaps your characters) need to do to move forward. Never underestimate the power of putting pen to paper. Quite often, what comes out in a journaling session is excellent material for your book.
Remember, your state of mind is intertwined with the quality of your book project.
If journaling isn’t already a habit, I can understand how staring at a blank notebook page can be intimidating. Here are two prompts to get you started:
- What is something you’d do if you weren’t so afraid of it?
- What can you do to support your writing life this year? What small changes can you make?
Tip #3: Switch Paths
In many situations, writers get stuck because they’re afraid of where the story is truly taking them. Perhaps you have one story in your mind, but your heart wants to go in a different direction. That direction may or may not have the ending you were hoping for. Either way, you’ll never know unless you give yourself permission to write what your heart is telling you.
One reason for the battle between your mind and heart is imposter syndrome
—in other words, self-doubt. As an idealist (Enneagram 6 here!), I struggle with imposter syndrome too. The fear of whether your story is “good enough” can hinder you from being an honest and engaging storyteller.
One of my favorite quotes is from Madeleine L’Engle. “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown- ups, then you write it for children.”
Use this time to pause and reflect on this question: Why are you writing this story? Dig deep. Get out of your head and tap into your heart space.
Tip #4: Write the End
The process of writing a novel isn’t always linear—and it doesn’t have to be if you know where you’re headed. If the end of your story is clear in your mind, then it becomes a little easier to work out the middle parts. Furthermore, writing the ending early on will prevent it from reading like an after-thought because you’ve reached a point where you’re trying to finish the story in a hurry.
By writing the ending first or somewhere in the middle of your project, you give yourself more time to refine it throughout your book writing process.
After you’ve written the entire manuscript, go back and make sure your ending answers the following:
- Has the external conflict been resolved? Did the protagonist get what they wanted? If so, how? If not, why?
- Has the inner conflict been resolved? What’s the point of the story? What has the reader learned?
Tip #5: Outlining
Outlining has its good points (seriously!), particularly if you’re stuck. Tap into your left brain to see the logic of your story and chart a path from the start to the end. While you may not follow this path in the actual storytelling (remember tip number three?), it’s good to have a visual of where the story can go.
Traditional outlines aren’t everybody’s jam. Quite frankly, I can’t stand them. I prefer mind mapping instead. A mind map is a tool that helps you organize your thoughts—visually. I love mind mapping because your ideas are structured in a way that resembles how your brain actually works.
Making a mind map is simple:
- Draw a circle in the middle of a blank page and write your central idea inside it.
- Create sub-topics, connecting each one to the center with a line. For example, you may have a sub-topic for characters, plot, setting, etc.
I like to use different colors for different sections of the mind map. This is an activity that’s both analytical and artistic at the same time. Get creative and have fun! You can’t do it wrong.
Tip #6: Shorten It
Not every story is meant to be 100k words. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell your story! It simply means you should perhaps reconsider its length. By shortening the story, you can trim the fat, tighten the pace, and make it more engaging. You’ll still be able to get your message across, but without adding unnecessary content for the sake of word count.
I know with my own writing, my first draft is usually the longest version. When I force myself to cut down the word count, my writing becomes more structured and succinct. The same is true when writing a book. In many instances, shortening your story will greatly improve it.
Here are a few strategies to try:
- Cut out filter words
- Remove unnecessary scenes
- Cut down dialogue tags
Tip #7: Get Feedback
It’s natural for writers to be very close to their words. Often, this closeness causes you to lose objectivity. Ask an editor, a beta reader, or a member of a writing group to read your story and provide feedback. Sometimes, another set of eyes can spot the problem right away.
Asking for help with your writing is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t single you out as a novice or a bad writer. It simply means you are no longer working in a void, wondering whether your story is holding together or if it will connect to the hearts of your readers. When you bravely ask for feedback, you are taking positive, constructive steps to improve your craft and develop as a writer.
Here are some questions you can ask when soliciting feedback:
- Did the story grab your attention from the very beginning?
- Were you confused or bored at any point in the story?
- Did you relate to the characters?
- Were you satisfied with the ending?
- Was there enough conflict to keep your interest?
Was this helpful? Which tip are you planning to try first? Don’t forget to bookmark this blog post and share it with your writing friends.