Letters: Getting Unstuck

Today’s post is about overcoming problems during the writing process.

Dear Future Cheri,

Hey! How’s it going? I’m sending you this letter to remind you what to do when you’re stuck writing the same few chapters over and over again. Sometimes we beat our head against a too-familiar brick wall, and this particular wall has a head-shaped dent in it! So here are some helpful reminders for the next time it happens:

Why You’re Spinning Your Wheels

If you’re rewriting the same section of your book repeatedly, it’s probably due to one or more of the following problems:

1) You’re not setting aside enough consecutive writing days.

When you take too many days off, you lose track of your story, and you’re constantly reviewing old material instead of moving forward.

2) You don’t have enough plot details in your head.

Sometimes, you’re able to sit down and write the story organically. But other times, especially when you’re in the middle of the book, you you feel lost because the vision in your head isn’t detailed enough.

3) You’re bored with what you’re writing.

It’s possible that what you’ve come up with simply isn’t exciting enough, and no matter how well you write those chapters, they’re gonna seem wrong.

Specific Things to Do

Here are some things to try when you’re stuck:

  1. Schedule at least 4 consecutive writing days.
  2. Take a walk and/or a nap, and visualize the story. What are the images/emotions you need to create?
  3. Ask “is this part of the story exciting enough?” and “are the stakes high enough?”
  4. Go big picture! Review your high-level story outline. Does it still feel right? If not, update it.
  5. Go small picture! Ask “am I clear on the purpose of this chapter and what it needs to accomplish?”
  6. If the story still feels vague, use notecards to outline/construct the section you’re working on.

What Not to Do

  1. Don’t force another rewrite. Wait until you know what to write and you feel excited about what you’ve come up with.
  2. Don’t feel like you need to solve the problem in a day.
  3. Don’t start a new project. Instead, keep your mind focused on the issue at hand even if you’re “not writing.” Word count isn’t always synonymous with progress.
  4. Don’t rely upon logic too much. Keep asking good questions, and let your subconscious work.

Most importantly, future Cheri, don’t view these “stuck days” as negative, because when you notice that you’re stuck, it’s great! Noticing stuckness means you’ve encountered a tangle in your story, and untangling those knots is an essential part of the job. So instead of getting frustrated, get curious.

Keep on going. You’ve got this!

Your friend,

Past Cheri


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