25 Feb

The best comment this week was from mom:

What does it mean to be “stuck?” Is it failure or is it just time for your thoughts, ideas and words to marinate and come together into the funny, heartwarming, beautiful stories that you tell?

I think she makes a good point.  When you feel stuck, it might just be that your ideas are reworking themselves in your mind so they can become something bigger and better.  That doesn’t always mean you can sit back and wait for it to happen, though.  Sometimes your ideas need a little encouragement.

Let me rephrase something from last week’s post. When I’m struggling with writing, sometimes I think it is okay to do something else for a while. Sometimes I have to work through the problem in order to solve it. So, how do I do it?

I’ll probably talk about her a few times on this blog so I might as well come out with it, Gail Carson Levine is my hero. Her style couldn’t be more different from mine. Well, maybe if she wrote horror or political ads or those paperback romances people read on the beach it could, but I’m prone to hyperbole. Anyway, she writes fiction very different from my own, but I still like her. What I like most is her advice on writing. Especially her stuff in her book Writing Magic. When I’m stuck, I use solutions from her book (she even has a chapter aptly named “Stuck!”).

First, I write down twelve possible solutions to the problem. I even write the silly ideas. They give the good ideas courage.

If that doesn’t work, I journal about the problem. I write about where the story went, where I thought it was going, and where I think it is going now.

If that still doesn’t work, I use Doris Orgels’ advice (also in Writing Magic) and phrase the problem as a question. I’ll use an example from my middle grade book. It might read “How is Mabel going to make up for eating the cookies before the cookie sale?” I let it marinate for a while.

If that still doesn’t work, I let the character try to write it out. When the character’s voice is very clear in my mind, I write in the first person. That might sound like, “Miss Grace asked me to store the cookies until the day of the sale. I thought I was doing the right thing. She said we have to get to know the cookies. How would I know about them if I never tried them? Now I’m in big trouble because I didn’t just try them. I ate all of them. So, here’s what I’m going to do…”

If that still doesn’t work, I bring in reinforcements. I call on my writer’s group, my husband, my mother, my sister, my hairdresser…whoever happens to be around and willing to listen. Usually, they suggest something that seems so obvious I want to slap my own forehead. But, the answer to my problem somehow finds its way to me. And I keep writing.


Posted by on February 25, 2011 in Stuck


Tags: ,

3 responses to “Unstuck

  1. Ellen

    February 25, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Oh boo! I procrastinated so much I missed my chance to comment! I just wanted to share this quote from the Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. The character is a ghostwriter for self-help books and technical manuals and she says:

    “I was remembering how she taught me that everything, even ink, had a purpose and a meaning. Good ink cannot be the quick kind, ready to pour out of a bottle. You can never be an artist if your work comes without effort. That is the problem with modern ink from a bottle. You do not have to think. You simply write what is simmering on the top of your brain. And the top is nothing but pond scum, dead leaves, and mosquito spawn. But when you push an inkstick along an inkstone, you take the first step to cleansing your mind and your heart. You push and you ask yourself, ‘What are my intentions? What is in my heart that matches my mind?'”

    I copied that into my journal in ’05!

    So the point is that it might be good to be stuck sometimes.

  2. aneducationinbooks

    February 28, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I like that quote, Ellen.

    Anastasia Suen says that being stuck might be the time you need to let go and let your subconscious do the work, which for me means that I might leave one project alone and go onto another. Also it is helpful just getting something down, anything, knowing that revision will get rid of the lumps in my prose.

    • cocoanqueso

      March 4, 2011 at 10:21 pm

      I now have two new journal entries, yours from Anastasia Suen and Ellen’s quote from Amy Tan. Thanks!


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