Tip #34: Stuck? Write Something Terrible.

Here’s another preview from my new eBook, available any day now.  Really.

So you’re stuck.  Writer’s block.  Again.  You have no new ideas, no clue where to go next with your project, not a single notion how to fix the deep dark hole you’ve written yourself into. 

You have two choices: do nothing, or do something.

Writing is like sex: something is always better than nothing.

A huge mistake, easily and often made, is to do nothing in anticipation of the arrival of some inspiring Epiphany that will propel you back into your story.

Beneath all the excuses for not writing there are two primary explanations:

 1. You have fallen out of love with your story (that, too, is analagous to sex), or…

2. Your story is, in fact, broken

Both can freeze you stiffer than Nicole Kidman’s forehead. 

Paradoxically, the reason you fall out of love with your story is the greater likelihood that it is broken.  Subconsciously you may have realized that the story just isn’t working, even given its best technical execution.  This is art, after all.  You’ve executed your outline as planned, and you were sure the outline was solid, but here you are at the mid-point and nothing about the story is rocking your boat. 

 Shakespeare himself couldn’t save this thing. 

Or maybe you just started writing before you did due diligence to story architecture – a common and usually fatal mistake – and here you are, stuck in the middle with no exit strategy.

If your story is broken, the trick is to fix what’s wrong with it (see Tip #6), as opposed to rationalizing your creative draught as something springing from the rest of your oh-so-distracting life.  

Story architecture is your friend.

The more you understand about story architecture and the criteria for conceptualization, characterization, theme and scene writing – all of which, by the way, do have a list of criteria for excellence, or even competence – the greater your chances of diagnosing what’s wrong and then saving the patient with a little creative story surgery, sans botox.

The best fix is to go back to basic story training 101.  Bone up on the fundamentals to discover where you went of track.  Trust me, minutes after checking your story against the known criteria for storytelling excellence – and if you don’t know them, there’s your problem – you’ll trip over your blockage and be able to toss it aside.

Another sex analogy: beg if you have to.

Baring that, if you are still in love with your story and are sure it is structurally sound, and you’re still stuck, there remains one thing to do:

Something.  Write anything.  Literally sit down and try to write your way out of the corner you’ve written yourself into.  Force it. 

Terrible can be your friend, too.  Because lousy friends make you realize what you really want.

The reason you haven’t been writing is that you don’t have anything worthy to write.   Deep inside you know something is wrong.  So there you sit, waiting for a sign that will allow you to be sure your time isn’t wasted writing something that doesn’t fit.

Since when is anything about writing a sure thing?

Sitting there wasting time waiting for that Epiphany doesn’t fit, either.  Proactive is always better than sitting on your hands where writing is concerned.

And, where sex is concerned, but that’s another story altogether.

Here’s the miracle of this tip: you won’t write crap for long. 

This is like loosening up a stiff muscle – after a short time the creative juices will begin to flow and you’ll either realize what you need to fix after all, or like someone who has veered off the path and wanders aimlessly until they stumble back to it, you’ll find yourself back in the groove.

 Maybe that’s the Epiphany you’ve been waiting for.


Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

3 Responses to Tip #34: Stuck? Write Something Terrible.

  1. Story Architecture – Boy that’s a big one. With my first manuscript draft I was enamored with a particular chapter that I had inserted at the beginning. I sent the first several chapters to a well-established author friend for her comments. She loved the content but pointed out that the chapter I had added was only working as a ‘down payment’ to the reader advising them to ‘stay tuned – this gets better’. A kick in the gut – but she was right on the money. My ‘genius chapter’ effectively created a confusing start – a serious structure problem (her words). In the end – chapter 1 became chapter 25 (of 26) & made for a freaked out twist that drew lots of cool positive feedback from readers.

    I agree – when you feel “stuck” write anything. Short stories (in my case – since I write for kids – I usually get away from the MG/YA genre for a change of pace) work for me. If nothing else – it results in either a good laugh or a ‘geez Dave – deep down you’re a really sick dude’ moment.

  2. I just came across your site via your guest post on Men With Pens.

    The corollary to do something that works for me is this: do something, differently. Change where I sit when I write, write pen on paper instead of the computer, put on music, stuff like that. When I really get stuck, the question that helps me most is “How will my hero NOT get himself out of this pickle?” It’s easy to write a long list of those things, and usually one of them is just crazy enough that it might work.

    Anyway, Larry, thanks for taking the time to post thoughts on writing. You’ve apparently only been open for business two months, and already your blog is crammed with great info.

  3. I am currently feeling stuck; with every thing I’m working on. I had not considered but am increasingly convinced that it is in large part due to not really knowing Story Architecture – at least not knowing it by its various names and being able to pick out its parts in a story, or to notice they are missing.

    I have a lot of learning to do.

    In the past I’ve written four novel length stories (fanfiction) that were quite good, but they came to me as complete stories. I knew where they were going, I knew what challenges there would be, I knew how they would end. I’m now shifting to writing entirely original stories; mostly short stories but I have begun working on a mystery novel. I don’t know a lot of the information that is in you “45 Questions” post. The story simply has not come to me in as whole a package as my stories have in the past.

    You have inspired me to ask those questions, and more, and get my story to pop.

    Thank you so much for your blog!