Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Getting Unstuck

I’m back from Vegas and heavily into finishing my third book, which is due at the end of April. About now, I’m wishing for my own personal Groundhog Day, like in the movie, where the same day repeats over and over again. I’m not where I’d like to be and would welcome the extra time.

One difference I have noticed between writing book 2 and book 3 is that I haven’t gotten stuck as much. I prefer the term stuck to writer’s block. Stuck indicates it’s a temporary phase that can be gotten past while writer’s block seems far more permanent. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve figured out ways to jog my brain or if it’s just having more writing experience under my belt.

I read with interest Vicki’s recent post on the creative pause. How, in the past, those involved in a creative activity would pause when stuck, look out the window, get a drink of water, etc., to help kick start the process. Now, with the internet and constant access to the world, we no longer enter the world of the creative pause.

For book 3, I wrote the first draft longhand. Yes, using actual pen and paper. You remember those, right? The physical act of putting ink to paper dislodges something in my brain and my thoughts start flowing. I get those chapters done much faster, plus I’ve avoided the plethora of cute cat videos available on the internet.

Most people don’t take such a drastic approach. Instead, some writers, like Vicki mentioned in her post, have two computers, one used for writing and one used for email, research, etc. Looking at a computer screen can sometimes cause my mind to freeze up, so I prefer writing longhand for the first draft. (Pretty funny coming from someone who has two degrees in Computer Science, isn’t it?)

Here are some other things I do to help me get unstuck:
  • Take a walk, clean a room, reorganize a cupboard. I’ve come up with solutions to problems and some of my best ideas while exercising, cleaning the bathroom or reorganizing a kitchen cupboard. Plus, I’ve done something good for myself or my home. I keep a pad of paper nearby to jot down the ideas so I don’t forget them. I also have a digital voice recorder and keep it handy.
  • Work on some other part of the project. If I’m having a problem with a particular chapter or scene, I work on a different chapter or scene. Usually, there’s something that’s niggling on my brain, aching to be written. This is the first book I’ve not written in order. It’s been an interesting experience.
  • Look at the writing from a different perspective. Try writing in a different room. Or get out of the house and try writing in a different location altogether. If I’m editing a draft on the computer, sometimes I’ll print out a chapter and look at it on paper instead of on the screen.
  • Ask yourself what your characters are doing ‘behind the scenes’. If I’m stuck on what’s going to happen next, I ask myself what the antagonist or other characters are doing at this point in the story. This is the stuff that’s happening ‘behind the scenes’ that won’t make it to the page. The consequences of this activity will, however. e.g. in a mystery, the murderer feels your main character is getting too close to the truth so he sets fire to your character’s garage. Your character has to deal with the consequences of the action. That might delay her investigation or she might come up with evidence that will bring the murderer to light.
  • Look over characters’ bios. I write bios of my major characters before I start writing so I get to know them better. Looking over those notes will often help me remember who they are and what they want. That helps me figure out what actions they would take under various circumstances.
  • Interview the main character. This goes hand in hand with the previous suggestion. Ask the character questions and type out the responses. What were they thinking when X did Y? What do they want in a particular scene? How did they feel?
  • Take a drive. I use a digital voice recorder set to voice activation mode to capture the ideas when they come to me.
  • Start with the dialog. For me dialog often comes first. If I can’t visualize a scene, I write out the dialog and, as the characters are speaking, I can figure out what they’re doing. As I refine the dialog, the prose surrounding it slowly gets hammered out.
If none of the above works, I give up for the day. I know from experience, it doesn’t help to force the situation too much. But I’m right back at it the next day. What do you all do to get those creative juices flowing and get unstuck?

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Love the unstuck techniques