Four Ways Writers Get ‘Stuck’ and Tips To Get Unstuck

Writer’s block is something most writers experience at some time or another and it is something that writers tend to dread. I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘writer’s block’ because there is something about it that sounds so hard and final, like a literal brick wall. I prefer to think of it as simply being ‘stuck’. And writers get stuck all the time and for many different and complex reasons. Here are just a handful of ways writers can get stuck along with tips to get unstuck again!

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1.Plot Stuck #1- one of the most common and one of the hardest to get through. There are a number of ways you can get stuck when it comes to your overall plot and we will discuss two of them here. The first is the most frustrating and it happens to me a lot. You know exactly what you want to happen in your plot because you have planned it all out, created your character bios and maybe even written all your chapter outlines. You know what is going to happen, so it should be simple, right? Nope. The most frustrating thing about writing a story or a novel can be knowing what you want to happen but not knowing how to do it. I think one of the reasons we feel like this sometimes is a lack of confidence in our writing. We have a good idea, a solid plot but think maybe someone else could write it better. That’s not usually the case. You just have to accept it’s going to be hard work and a long slog to get it right. Eventually, you will bring in beta readers and editors to help point out where things could be improved and believe me, as further drafts are written and rewritten, you will eventually figure out the best way forward. Writing is largely rewriting after all!

The Solution – sadly there is no easy fix for this problem. It may involve lots of long walks and time spent thinking about your plot and how to move things forward. Sometimes the answers come when you least expect it. It may mean you have to go back to your chapter outlines and remind yourself of the plot, perhaps inspiring a way forward. Sometimes you just have to write it anyway. Put the characters where they need to be, write the dialogue, advance the story and worry about fixing it later. When you know what to do but not how to do it, the important thing is to just push through and get it done. It will probably be ugly and clumsy and you may very well figure out a better way to do it later on but don’t let that stop you.

2. Plot Stuck #2 – This is when you simply don’t know what to do next. This mostly happens to writers who don’t plan or outline their stories before they start. There is nothing wrong with that approach at all. It can be really fun and invigorating to just start writing and see where the story and the characters take you. But it does increase the risk of getting stuck eventually. You run out of steam. The plot trails away or misbehaves. You don’t know what these characters are doing. You’ve run out of ideas. It can be really scary to feel this way and many writers will give up at this point and start something else, but there is a way to solve it!

The Solution – Sometimes the only way to solve this one is to embrace planning and plotting. Go back to the start and remind yourself why you wanted to write this story, what the driving idea or concept was. Remind yourself of any important themes you wanted to explore. Take a look at your characters. Are they developed enough? Maybe they need more work to bring them to life, which again means giving in and embracing some planning. If this fails, there are other things you can try. I am a strong believer that taking long walks in nature dislodges ideas in our brains. Any time I have every been stuck with a book or a story, I have usually found the solution during a walk with my dogs. Some people find taking a long bath or shower can help or maybe another immersive task such as gardening or cleaning. Get away from the screen or the notebook and do something else for a while. Another thing worth trying is asking other people. Ask your friends and family or even people online what they think about your plot so far. This has also worked well for me in the past. I’ve often used a family member for a sounding board of everything that is annoying me with my work in progress. Often they will mention a few things or suggest something that actually really makes sense. Don’t be scared to ask for help or find inspiration around you.

3. The elusive ‘right’ words – another really common one and one I can sympathise with. Sometimes you’ve got everything else in place – the characters are fully formed, the plot is advancing well and you know what to do but then words and phrases start to elude you. When writing a first draft we want to get it right, it’s only human nature to want to try our best and achieve something good first time around. The words hide from us and its like we are looking for those perfect, right words to make our sentence really fly off the page, and they just won’t come. I hate it when this happens as it can really disrupt a good flow of writing. It’s a case of partly knowing what to say but not how to say it and partly being a bit of a perfectionist who wants to get it right first time.

The Solution – You can try some practical things like asking for help, consulting a thesaurus or dictionary or bringing in a beta reader or fellow writer to help you find the ‘right’ words. Or you can do what I do…use the words you have and move on. At some point you will come back to this passage and rewrite it. As we have already established, writing is mostly rewriting! Sometimes we just have to write the best sentence we can at that moment, shrug it off as imperfect but at least done, and move on. Remind yourself that you will come back later to fix it and more than likely the right words will be there as if by magic!

4. Not Enjoying It Stuck – Sometimes we get stuck because something is wrong. It may be a mix of all the things mentioned above or it may be something bigger. As writers, when we have already committed many hours to a story we are sometimes reluctant to admit it is just not working. I recently experienced this. I was writing a book, dedicating myself to a chapter every night, but it felt very forced. I was forcing myself to do it and that didn’t feel right to me, because writing should be fun! It took me a while but I finally figured out what the problem was, and yes it is going to involve a heck of a lot of rewriting but I am not stuck anymore! I had to admit what was wrong and set about fixing it. If you are not enjoying your writing, you will continue to get stuck or blocked so you need to work out what the problem is.

The Solution – Don’t give up. Don’t bin it just yet! You might need a break from it, in which case put it somewhere safe and come back to it another time. Write something else. Write a short story or a blog post or a poem. Give your frazzled mind a break from what has been frustrating it. This can work because if the idea is strong enough it will eventually push back through. But also, you need to figure out and admit what is wrong with it. Very often it lies with the characters. Perhaps they are not strong enough, not believable enough or developed enough. Go back to scratch with them and put more work into developing them into real people with flaws, quirks, wants, needs, mannerisms and back stories. Sometimes it might be the point of view. Try switching from third to first person or vice versa. Sometimes it might be the tense. Try it in present tense if it’s in past, and so on. Sometimes it is the audience – did you set out to write a thriller or a mystery or a romance? If you did, the chances are all the other books in that genre are sitting on your shoulder watching and adding pressure, along with the perceived tropes and expected elements of that genre. It is useful to know your audience before you write, but it can also sully the writing and make it feel like you are writing to order. Write for yourself first and foremost. Write the book you would like to read. This will bring the enjoyment back and you can figure out the rest later!

Over to you! Have you ever experienced writer’s block and if so, what was it like for you? In what ways do you tend to get stuck with your writing and have you figured out a way to get unstuck?

We hope you have enjoyed our post about writer’s block or being ‘stuck’ and have found the tips useful. If you have anything to share or add, please feel free to leave a comment!

Coping With Writers Block During The Pandemic

2020/21 have been historical for all the wrong reasons. Covid-19 has impacted us all – halting life as we know for most of us. For creative people, it has been hard to concentrate on writing with so much turmoil and uncertainty around us. During the fist lockdown here I was unable to work with any of writers in person, but we managed to stay in touch online to some extent. A common complaint I heard from them was the inability to write. There were multiple reasons for this, including stress and exhaustion. I think the pandemic has affected writers in different ways. Some have written more – turning to the written word to help express the thoughts and feelings in their heads. Some have written less – unable to find the time, space, or emotional energy to put pen to paper. For me, my normal writing routine was a welcome distraction and escape from the virus, the lockdown, and the home schooling of my children. I also found I was blogging more than usual, recording my day-today thoughts and feelings on what was happening across the world. For those struggling, I offered the following advice on how to keep writing during unprecedented times and for the most, it seemed to work;

  • Meeting online – I was surprised by how keen people were to do this. It seemed like they craved the connection and some part of their old life carrying on, despite the restrictions of lockdown. If you are a writer struggling to put pen to paper now, try finding a writing group that has moved online. It involved a bit of adjustment for us and sometimes the technology lets you down, but overall, we found just talking about writing again, even if it was talking about the lack of writing, was incredibly helpful. We all came away from each meeting feeling energised and understood. We were not alone in our difficulties and sharing our frustrations was cathartic and productive. Often, members of the group came up with advice for others. Sometimes just talking about writing with other writers is all you need to reignite the passion.
  • Sign-up to regular writing prompts – you can find these all over the internet, but I would strongly suggest making sure you have a good supply of them if writers block is becoming an issue. Not all of them are going to help but some of them undoubtedly will. Photo prompts can be great – I recently wrote three stories from one photo prompt I found online. It might be that work on your novel has stalled but a random writing prompt will inspire a poem or a piece of flash fiction. Often, the act of writing can shift the gears in our heads and help us claw back enthusiasm for struggling projects.
  • Take part in writing challenges – if you can’t find any online try setting your own or see if a writing group is sending any out. These can really vary from word sprints, to themed poetry marathons, to flash fiction competitions – anything that gets you writing.
  • Look out for guest posts on blogs – these are always a good idea for getting your name out there and picking up new followers, but I saw a lot more features being offered to writers during lockdown and beyond. Again, it’s a chance to connect with other writers who may be experiencing the same issues as you. I took part in a lockdown themed guest post which ended up becoming a published collaboration. It inspired me to offer slots on my own blog and I am also hoping to get enough responses to put a collection together. 
  • Write anything! -A list, bullet points, an angry rant, a sad poem, one line, one thought, a doodle, a sketch, anything. You never know what could come from it. Try writing your own writing prompts or sorting through old photos for inspiration. Again, being part of a writing group can really help during times when the writing stops flowing. We often set each other prompts or create characters for each other to write about, or first lines and so on. It can be fun and even if the writing does not go anywhere, it may be all you need to get things moving in the right direction again. 
  • Pick up a pen – if you usually write at the laptop try picking up a pen and a notepad and seeing what happens. You could pop the notebook in your pocket and take it out for walks, jotting down what you see, hear, feel, and smell, as well as what you think. Perhaps find a spot to people watch and construct characters out of people passing by. Again, you never know what tiny random things can set off a story idea.
  • Try a different form – during lockdown I was working on edits for a novel but found myself blogging a lot more than usual and this was very therapeutic for me at the time. For some reason, I can only write poetry when I’m feeling down, so lots have been written during the pandemic. The same goes for short stories – they are not normally my thing, but for some reason I had the urge to write in different forms. I would highly recommend this if you are getting stuck or distracted. If you mostly write short stories, then try a script. If you mostly write novels, have a go at poetry and so on.
  • Collaborate – again, I saw a lot of this during lockdown and beyond and I think it’s a great idea. This could involve featuring on other people’s blogs, taking over their social media page or inviting them to take over yours, working on a joint story where you pass it back and forth between you, writing a short film script with a group and so on. Writing can be a lonely occupation at the best of times and during lockdown it is even more so. But there are ways around the loneliness thanks to the Internet and there are many other writers out there feeling the same. Reach out – who knows what exciting project could come of it?
  • Give yourself a break – I think this is the most important piece of advice. I have had to remind myself at times that these are unprecedented times. We’ve all been experiencing something we never imagined we would. We have all had our lives disrupted, our incomes affected, and we have all felt afraid for our loved ones. We have all missed normal life and we have all experienced fear, isolation, and boredom like never before. It is perfectly understandable that writing ideas and the urge to write might dry up with all of this going on around us. Don’t beat yourself up if the words won’t flow like usual. Don’t try to force it. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It might simply be your brain and your body telling you to take it easy for now. Hopefully, some of the advice above will help inspire some writing ideas or habits but if not, don’t worry, it is sure to come back in time.
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