It’s another brilliant Wednesday morning. We are finally done with gloomy rainy days and back in sunshine mode here on the west coast. Ever since (two days) I started waking up at the time I used to, God has blessed the day with the most dazzling weather. Mayhaps all I need to do was wake up earlier.
Today, I want to talk about the dreaded time in an author’s life: The Stuck Story Phase.
Notice I said it was a “Stuck story phase”, not a writer’s block. Stuck story and a writer’s block are two completely different things. A stuck story is just what the name suggests–a WIP that is stuck. Writer’s block is more all-encompassing, with broader problems ranging from mental health and writing skill problems. I’ve experienced both, and there are various different ways you can tackle these problems.
But for today, we will be looking at the 5 Things To Do When Your Story is Stuck.
So let’s dive in…
1: Take a Break
No, seriously. Sometimes all you needed was a break. My viola teacher just taught me a valuable lesson. I was going through a tough passage in my music piece and I just wasn’t getting it. I’d changed fingerings several times, changed positions, tried practising so many times, and I was stuck.
My teacher told me to take a deep breath. He then proceeded to work me through that passage with different bowings and rhythms. At the end of it, I’d gotten through the passage.
And just like that, when something is stuck in your story–whether it be character or plot or whatever else–you sometimes need a change of perspective. But first, take a break. Go for a walk or two. Make yourself another cup of Maple Earl Grey tea (my favourite). You totally deserve it.
2: Read a Book or Two
Preferably, read a book that is not in the same genre as your WIP. I try to avoid reading fantasy or fantasy in the same venue as my WIP if I’m working on a fantasy. If I’m writing sci-fi, I avoid sci-fi and dystopia. I sometimes completely opt-out of YA books if I am writing YA, which I usually am. Read a classic you haven’t read before. Or read a book published by a European or Asian author. This is where you let your mind roam freely and soak up the much-needed imagination, so you want to do something different than usual. Reading a book out of your comfort zone (or genre) usually helps you get out of your head. When you’re stuck with a story, there is nothing more important than getting out of your head. A good stout book will help you with that stretch.
3: Work on Another WIP
I do this all the time. I used to be a devout starter-finisher sort of writer. But sometimes, you need a change of scenery in your writing life as well.
The way this works for me is this: Usually, I have something I call the “Main WIP”, which is the 1.0 draft I am working on. (It could be a 0.5 as well–Check out this post to see what I mean.) I have one or two other “side WIPs” I work on. These are WIPs I will be working on or have worked on and left to stew a little. I usually go to the Brainvomit folder (or Deaddrop, whatever you like to call it), and hash out a detail or character sketch. I might refine the outline or spend some time world-building. Another thing I really like to do is create a collection of short stories on the side WIP. I don’t do this on my main WIP since it can get confusing and worsen the stuck-ness, but writing short stories on other WIPs are a good way to channel a faucet of imagination you didn’t know was there.
I do so stress this point, especially if you write on a computer. Notebook every WIP. I usually find at least two notebooks to organise my WIP. One can be for character sketch, another can be for general WIP things you think up of. One of my WIP has three or five notebooks.
You might be asking, “Why would you notebook if you already have another file on the computer that does just that?”
The thing is, we use a different part of our brain when we write on paper. This helps significantly with the “un-sticking” of your story. Seeing aspects of your characters, plot, and worldbuilding on paper gives you a perspective that is varied from one on your computer. It’s in your own handwriting (let’s hope it is legible), for one thing. Just letting your pen dictate something soaking up vitamin D from the sun can be more refreshing than it sounds.
5: Tell a Sibling About it
And here we come to the last resort. Tell someone about your WIP. Tell one person you trust (
I don’t know why I would tell my siblings) all about your WIP. Try to leave nothing out, even that detail you don’t know that might be responsible for causing a stuck WIP. By vocalizing our stories, we hear for ourselves what we are trying to communicate. Because, writing is a form of telepathy like Stephen King said. We need to be able to communicate our stories outside from our heads into the heads of others who have never seen the inside of our heads. (Let us hope they never have to.) Talking out loud, cross that, thinking out loud, help you formulate and organize your thoughts faster than can be done on paper.
Don’t have a sibling or a special someone you could trust your story with? No worries! Sometimes (more like most times), my siblings are annoyed at my need to talk about my stories. Just ask them. They are the victims of talking to me and getting trapped in the hours-long description of a magical school.
All you have to do in these scenarios is to talk to yourself. It might be a bit weird at times, but talking really does help. And the only thing left for you to lose is your reputation of being sane.
And that’s that. I usually work through these steps to unstick myself, sometimes inverting orders (but always starting from point 1). I don’t always do everything on the list, but peruse a few of them. You might find notebooking more worthwhile than working on another WIP. Or maybe you just needed to go for a walk. Either way, when stuck, the rule remains: You need a change of perspective.
Thanks for reading! And remember, send in any questions you have for my blogiversary!
Do you get stuck on your stories? Do you think these steps would be helpful for you? What are some things you do to “unstick” yourself? Let me know in the comments below; I’d love to chat with you!