I haven’t figured out a miracle cure to this age-old dilemma. I’m not sure there is one. Not all stories and blog posts and poems and essays are made the same. Certainly not all people are. But there are a few things I do that have helped me move forward when I’m stuck.
Have you ever heard couple’s talk about how they won’t go to bed angry? They’ll resolve their conflict before lights out as a hard rule. Recently, I’ve implemented a similar practice. Instead of just going to bed or doing something else when I get a little stuck, I sit there, and I think until I come up with a solution to my problem. It’s actually worked pretty well. I think in this age of bombarded notifications and easy scrolling and quick consumption, it’s a lot easier to pick up your phone and endless scroll than it is to stare at any sort of incomplete project that isn’t just flowing like an Amazonian waterfall. Sometimes, if you just sit, you’ll find you only needed a few more seconds to figure it all out.
I haven’t been perfect about this, and I’m a little stuck on one of my books at the moment. When you’re not a planner, it tends to happen. But still, I’ve found it helpful a number of times. It’s also helpful to throw your phone across the room (onto a soft surface, preferably).
Another thing that has been helpful for me is to consume art. This could be TV shows, movies, books—whatever. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times that I read a book or watched some great (or terrible) show and it made me realize a solution to the writing problem I was having. Maybe I’ll encounter a character like my own, or a storyline so vastly different that it makes me realize my story could be something else. When I am stuck only flowing out, I find it useful to flow in. To be presented with ideas that are not my own, so that I may steal and alter and think differently.
As I write books, I find this extra true when I am not reading, which happens a lot. I’ll finally pick up a book and suddenly I’m writing a story I was completely stuck on.
Recently, I was watching Umbrella Academy on Netflix (Robert Sheehan was fantastic), and it made me reevaluate what I was writing. My story has a certain closed off quietness, and in Umbrella Academy, the goddamn world is about to end. The apocalypse is days away. And it’s made me think that maybe my story could become much bigger. Maybe it can be something different than I thought. Sure, I’d have to sacrifice some things, maybe make some edits, but it might just be what’s missing. I’m playing with the idea, trying to figure out what might work. I was 28k words in at the time of this. Like I said, I’m not a planner.
And I wouldn’t have had that thought, just as I’d become stuck, had I not begun watching that show. I’m still not sure, but the gears in my mind are turning, and I think I’m onto something.
Just don’t go watching and reading and avoiding your own work. That’s not the point. The point is to make you look at things you might not otherwise look at, so that you can take that new knowledge and apply it to what you were doing before.
Also, go for a walk! Stop staring at screens and look at the world. Let your mind wander. You’d be surprised what you realize.
Those are some things I’ve done that have helped me become unstuck. What do you do to handle writer’s block?