The Daring Writers Guide #5: Eight Things To Consider When You Are Stuck

I can write fast when I have to and the flow is there. I can write normal speed. I can also write so slowly and torturedly that it’s like the scene in Back to the Future where Michael J. Fox and his siblings are slowly disappearing from view: I am so stuck that the words aren’t just slow in coming, they’re turning around and deserting my page in disgust. 


I’m not talking about being slightly stuck, like when you just need to browse around the thesaurus for a sparkly new word or two, or do the laundry or have lunch with a friend. I’m talking majorly stuck, as, in my case, when you have a new book sketched out, and you just can’t get close enough to the first five pages. You can’t figure out what the damn thing’s really about and the process of getting there is hellish. 


That’s where I am. It’s not fiction hell, where your characters go blank

1. Love Yourself. The first thing I really know about getting unstuck will sound very new age-y, but it’s true. You have to love yourself. Really. Self-love is key here, because it’s the foundation of self-trust, and you’re going to have to love and trust yourself to figure out the road ahead. 


2. Cultivate Patience/Take Time/Settle Your System. It may take time to get unstuck. This is creative work, after all. It doesn’t adhere to schedule. Knowing that may help you not get more flustered and upset and thus become even more stuck. 


It may be that you need to step away from your desk and get your mind calm. You may need some time to reset, to get back to the state that you’re used to writing from, the physical-psychic state that your body recognizes as a green light, in a car with good tires and a filled tank. 


It may mean going for a walk, doing errands, or pulling weeds from the backyard, which will make your neighbors think you are obsessional and insane. It works for me, even if only negligibly improves the weediness of my yard. Manual labor gives the conscious, working parts of our brain a break. 


You need to settle your system. Chances are if you’re stuck, you’re either not breathing much, or deeply, or you’re breathing too fast, and your whole system is a bit messy. You can try breathing six times, as a bodywork teacher of mine swears that six breaths will bring you to the present moment, and ready for something. 


Now is where the self-love and self-trust come in. Because you may be the only one who can get you out of whatever bind you’re writing is in. You’re going to have to settle in and figure out what’s really wrong. Whether to put time into figuring it out, or whether it’s the kind of stuck where if you can jumpstart, things will sort themselves out. You need to trust yourself to know what’s going on. 


In the meantime, get back to body basics, like drinking enough water, and stretching, and moving, and eating relatively healthy food. 


3. Browse the Thesaurus. I do this to get some new words in my brain. I try it with every word on a page that seems to call out for transformation, with some good, jumpstarting results.


4. Outline. Clarity can emerge when we can see what’s already there. When I’m in over my head, if my editing brain can take over, the skills I have at figuring out what’s wrong with someone else’s work, can be put to good use with my own writing.


5. Get Really Mad and Frustrated. Complain loudly, because it totally sucks to be this stuck. 


6. Make Plans for an Alternate Career. When I get super stuck, I make a list of all the people I know in knowledge-industry types of jobs, the people who can introduce me to someone who can lift me out of my bohemian creative life, and set me up with a real job. The kind with a cubicle and a water fountain and one of those lunch trucks that pulls up outside. 


7. Talk with my Friend Tamar. Or with your friend Tamar. Or with any friend who will listen. Sometimes we need to hear our voices explain a problem. We writers tend to write silently, but voice is a wonderful tool. The impact of hearing our words out loud, of giving thoughts a way to pop out more quickly than we can type can get a stuck writer going again, as can another person’s take on your conundrum and ideas.


8. Misery Loves Company. When you’re razzled, feel lost, and are sure that all your efforts are for naught, remind yourself that you are not the only person in the world ever to feel this way. You know that’s true because I’ve just admitted to being in the same exact place. 




Being stuck feels like failure. It’s an aberration in a world that’s addicted to productivity. It’s hard to say “I wrote nothing today” to friends, spouse and children who ask. I’ve been through it enough times to know that it may just be your creative spirit working in a different way, working deeper than what happens when your fingers are in the keyboard and you can count your words at the end. Some kinds of stuck are misnomers, because you’re actually in a profoundly creative process, and you just need to trust that it will work out. But I won’t lie and say that that makes it any easier, because of course, one just never knows. 


I did start to write again. I outlined. I deleted and erased. I made the thesaurus my best friend. I emailed my friend Meredith to tell her that writing and being an author is the stupidest job ever. My writing’s a little better, though still going more slowly than I’d want. I tell myself what I tell others, that each projects has its own pace, because what we do is art, and artistic inspiration is unpredictable.


It kind of helps. Kind of. 


Small consolation, with all that weeding, though, my back lawn looks green and glorious. 



She-writers, what is your wisdom on being stuck and getting back in your writing lane? 




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Comment by Sandra L Campbell on February 18, 2013 at 9:23pm

Some days I wake up with my thoughts as clear as a bell, as to what I am going to blog about....I am in the blogging stage....I don't seem to have a problem finding something to say there.  I also think while doing other things that need to be done throughout my day, I think I will start writing my book on.....and titles, characters, the plot, the ending will come, then go!  I find that by writing a quick note down when those thoughts pop into my helpful, and when I sit down to write my future book...the important things will come back.

I take breaks from my computer and find something else to do, but my mind is always thinking about writing.  I have wanted to write since a small child.  I am not in a rush, I know when the time is right, it will all click for me.

I learned from your post that I am not alone with the ups and downs of writing.  Thank you, Sandra

Comment by Madison Sonnier on June 6, 2011 at 2:22pm
This is great. I love the part about self-love and self-trust. I tend to compare myself to other writers sometimes instead of believing in my own decisions and ideas. I know that's one of the worst things I could possibly do. I'm working on it... :)
Comment by Tania Pryputniewicz on June 4, 2011 at 11:10am

Spot on post--You summed it up: a world addicted to productivity...and probably as writers we suffer more than others...I was thinking yesterday about that wonderful feeling I get when I wake up early and all the possibilities are floating there (before the kids wake, the dog jumps on the bed, the phone rings)...all the poems and sentences I could write...if I could just get myself downstairs before it all breaks loose.

Walking at the ocean works for me--drops me back into my body. So easy to lodge perpetual stress in the walking brings my shoulders back down from my earlobes, and those ions rolling off the waves do their work. If I can also remember to breathe, that helps. I also often call a writer friend and lament. The woes of another can be just the help one be grateful for "just being stuck..."

Comment by Karen Banes on June 3, 2011 at 12:58pm

Love this advice, especially 'make plans for an alternate career'. The cubicle and water cooler image would be enough to get me back to my writing no matter how stuck I felt.

Comment by Diana Barnes on June 3, 2011 at 12:30pm
I am in the bluest funk right now- writing wise... one of my tricks to help me get back on track-- besides all these lovely suggestions ( which I will try) -- is to tell myself that i am not allowed to comment, outline or make any notes whatsoever. Just read. Read the stuck material. then shut the computer down... sometimes i just can't help myself  from adding a comment, from dabbling with the words-- and then the roll begins.
Comment by Tina L. Hook on June 3, 2011 at 7:21am
This post comes at such a good time for me because my creative process has hit the skids as of recently. I have come to rely on mediation and revisiting my favorite books or throwing myself into a creative project of a  non-writing
Comment by Sharon D. Dillon on June 3, 2011 at 4:24am
Good suggestions - all. Mylatest issue has been that people commenting on a project I sweated over for more than a year are saying, "We don't hear/see you in this. You're writing as an observer, not a participant." So I've taken a break to figure out who I am and why I'm not "in" the story. Even so, how can I write about events that happened 20, 30, 40+ years ago in any way but as an observer? I'm looking back over many years with the outlook of a 65 year old and all that I've learned along the way.
Comment by Joanne Tombrakos on June 3, 2011 at 2:54am
I think you covered so much of what works for me brilliantly. The only thing that I would add that I do is write garbage. I do my version of morning pages, no matter what time of day it is. I write about how I can't write or where I am stuck and something that is where I find the words.
Comment by Margaret Haugen on June 2, 2011 at 11:04pm
I am currently dealing with writer's block. It sucks. This article cheered me up, and, hopefully, the tips in it will help me move out of this 'unproductive' phase of my writing career.
Comment by Debra Shawcross Farmer on June 2, 2011 at 10:59pm
Hi Miriam, Thank you, just what I needed to read at this time...not just about writing ...but Life in General.   I am also a Scrapbooker and this relates to that...and a busy mum...thinking of new meals...the list goes on.  We all often get stuck on our Life's Journey...however, to read a piece like this brings a smile and that jumpstart you talk about.  Thanks again, Deb (Debra Shawcross Farmer Love Hearts Found on facebook search)


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