Getting Unstuck

Tuesday Tips (1)

Welcome back to another Tuesday Tips and Tricks! Today we are going to talk about the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of writing a novel… finishing it.

The number one thing that will prevent you from being an author is not finishing your story. This difficulty will plague you throughout the writing process. At some point, you may get stuck. You may get struck with the dreaded writer’s block. You may have difficulty moving to the next stage of your story until you’ve edited and re-edited the bits you’ve already written. Perhaps you struggle with endings, or middles, or you realize that something is wrong with your story and you’re not sure how to fix it. You might find yourself suddenly paralyzed by doubt… worrying that your story is boring or just deciding you don’t like it after all and you want to scrap the whole thing. Maybe you just get distracted by social media (raises hand on all counts). Whatever the struggle, it can be difficult to push through and move on. But this is where it becomes extra-important to JUST KEEP WRITING.

So here are some methods that might work for you when you’re stuck:

Write Out of Order: If the scene you’re working on has you stuck… maybe you just need a break from it. Why not pick a different part of the story and work on that, instead? In the past, I have always written my stories straight through from beginning to end. I have a hard time writing out of order. However, this often leads me to some timeline issues, as I’ll have Group of Characters A who are doing their part of the adventure over here that takes them 6 months to complete, meanwhile Group of Characters B is over THERE doing their part of the adventure that only takes 3 weeks to complete… but somehow they are starting and finishing at the same time. This is a problem. So… with my current WIP I’ve hit upon a gem that works really well for me (and utilizes the awesomeness of Scrivener) where I have folders for each character-arc where I can write their scenes in order, and I’ll go back later and weave them all together into each other’s stories. This might be something that works well for you, too.

Mix It Up: Try giving your brain something else to distract it. Turn on some music (I recommend instrumental Christmas music… or finding some multiple-hour-long mixes on Youtube of whatever style of music goes well with your story). Go for a walk. Act out your first scene (or whatever scene is giving you trouble). Speak the dialogue out loud (this is a good rule to follow always, as you will notice if it comes out sounding unrealistic!!) Go for a bike ride. Do something adventurous. Do something that your character will do… if my characters are stuck camping in the rain… I like to go out in the rain (if a rainstorm happens to be obliging… which it sometimes does) and wander around getting soaked and maybe try to eat a sandwich or something so I can get a feel for just how miserable they probably ought to be.

Push Through: Sometimes you just need to force the words. I wouldn’t recommend doing this for long stretches, because if you have to force the words out maybe the creative side of your brain is trying to tell you that this is the wrong direction and you need to try something else. But sometimes the block isn’t the story… it’s me and my lack of motivation, and I just need to set down and write my way back into the zone.

Talk it Out: Maybe you need another “set of eyes” on the story. Try to find someone who is willing to discuss your story with you. Sometimes you just need to explain it to someone else to spot the reason behind the problem. Other times, you might just need an idea to come from outside your own head. Talking through various plot points and character arcs with my husband is my number one method for getting unstuck.

Change the Boundary Conditions: One thing that my husband has been teaching me with this latest WIP is that when I am really stuck on a plot point or how to get the story from point A to point B, I need to examine my “boundary conditions” and see if they are as rigid as I think they are. For example: I recently had a group of characters trying to rescue someone who had been captured. I was struggling with how to get the rescue accomplished. My husband challenged the boundary condition that the character would get rescued. “Do they have to succeed at rescuing her?” he asked. Once I started thinking about it, I realized that, no, it was not crucial to the story that this character be rescued at this point, and that a failure would actually do a lot more to move the story along. Another time, I had characters travel quite a ways to find a witness to a murder they are trying to solve. Everything was going along just fine, when suddenly the travel time became a major issue and deterrent to the story’s progression. We challenged the boundary condition: “Does this character have to live THAT FAR from the city? What would change if they just lived a little ways outside the city?” and voila! Problem solved. Changing your boundary conditions might require some re-writing of things you’ve already written, but it is worth it to keep the story moving towards that finish line!

Set Goals: Even if your goals are small, like “Write for 10 minutes every weekday this week.” Setting goals can be a powerful motivator to prevent your story from sitting untouched for weeks on end. Give yourself rewards. “I will do a ten-minute sprint, and then I can have a cookie.” “If I write 1,000 words today, I can watch the next episode of my new favorite show.” Having a deadline is the only way I ever get anything done.

Turn Off the Internet: And by this I mean: GET OFF SOCIAL MEDIA! For me, the biggest obstacles to getting writing done are always facebook, twitter, instagram, and this blog. If I spent even half as much time writing as I do on social media, I could have probably written 2 books this year already. Of course, marketing is also important… so I do need to be online a little bit… but not nearly as much as I actually am. Something I am trying hard to work on this summer.

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And those are a few of my tips for staying strong and finishing your novel. What do you think? Have you used any of these? Do you have any tips to add? Do any of these sound like they might help you? I’d love to hear from you!

~ jenelle

8 Comments

Allan James

Excellent! I agree that Marketing is important….even critical…….but social media can eat up hours and hours of time………that were never lost………..twenty years ago……..or perhaps even ten years ago. Love your thought process!

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jenelle

It is very true. (Though I do believe that in the past those hours were probably lost in other ways… like… having to handwrite one’s novels, or using a typewriter and having to rewrite a whole page due to a single typo). :-D And marketing was impossible without a big publishing house behind you. But it is still important to turn off the internet and focus on the truly important things, as well.

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Nancy Walker

Every point: Oh. So. Helpful! Thank you!
For me, probably the best take-away (other than all of this blog!) would be:
Setting Goals. . . and then Turning off Social Media so I can work on reaching those goals…
:)
Thank you for these Tuesday Tips! :)

Reply
jenelle

I am so glad that you found this to be helpful! I hope you can implement these tips and find additional productivity in your day-to-day. Thanks for your encouraging comment!

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E.F.B.

Great suggestions, Jenelle! I’ve done all of these, though that last one is hardest. XD When I truly need to not have the temptation of social media and just turning off the internet isn’t working, (like this past week :p) I’ve found it helps me to actually announce on the site I keep going back to that I’m making myself scarce for x amount of time and that, so far has been enough to keep me from going back until I’m done.

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jenelle

Yes, that last one is HARD! Announcing a hiatus is always helpful. (Though I find that then I get all sorts of post ideas… I need to have an idea document so I can post them later LOL)

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Madeline J. Rose

This came at just the right time! I’ve been struggling with moving forward, and these ideas really inspired me to pick up my work again! Thanks so much for this Jenelle! I love these Tuesday posts so much! ^_^

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I love hearing from you, dear Reader!