I probably should have posted this first, if I was going to blog about getting stuck. Because one of the more important things a writer needs to do when they’re stuck, before trying to apply any of the techniques I was talking about, is to figure out why they are stuck.
Diagnosis is important, because different kinds of stuckness require different solutions. For instance, about 95% of the time when I get stuck, the reason is one of the following:
a) an attack of insecurity (oh, god, I can’t write, what made me think I could, I don’t remember how to do this, this is all dreck, dreck, dreck…) Yes, published writers get these, too.
b) a failure to think things through.
c) an attack of sheer laziness (gee, what a gorgeous day; I wish I could go to the beach… oops! I’ve got writer’s block. I guess I will go to the beach…)
d) knowing the next bit is going to be hard for some reason – I’m going to need a new technique I’m not confident of using yet, or it’s a particular kind of scene I loathe writing but still need to have (transitions – we hatess them, preciousss, we hatess them forever)
When the problem is a), c), or especially d), the solution is to just sit down and do it anyway. So it’s dreck, so it’s a pretty day, so it’s a hard scene – tough. Write it anyway. I can fix it later, but I can’t fix it until I’ve written it.
When the problem is b), just sitting down to write isn’t going to help unless I’ve done some of the thinking-through. (Some writers can do the thinking by writing it out, but I’m not one of them.)
And then there’s that other 5% of the time…
These are the times when I’m stuck because my backbrain is much smarter than I am. It knows that there is something dreadfully, seriously wrong with the story, or about to be wrong with it if I continue in the direction I’m going, and it digs its little feet in and absolutely refuses to move until I fix whatever-it-is. This kind of stuckness usually happens when I think I do know what happens next, at least to some extent. They leave town; they have a conference and decide X; they meet a new character who’s going to be terribly important to the rest of the story.
Trouble is, those particular characters wouldn’t leave town just yet; they’d actually decide to do Y, not X; the new character really doesn’t belong in this book. So I get stuck. I can slog my way a bit further, because I think I have some idea of what happens…I have a Plan. But when I do, the story gets harder and harder to write, and eventually bogs down for good until I go back to that spot and have them stay in town, decide to do Y, etc.
The last time I overrode my backbrain, I had to toss about 14 chapters and very nearly start the book over from scratch. I try really hard not to do this any more.