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Butt In Chair. Book In Hiding.
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
September 2012
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
September 2012

Well,two weeks ago, I was all fired up to shed my bad summer habits (and perhaps even a few pounds) and kick off this fall with a renewed commitment to my writing discipline.  And I have been walking the walk -- I submitted the first 30,000+ words of my book to my new editor and coach, Brooke Warner, and to a few other key readers, and got feedback that encouraged me immensely.  Confident at last that I had completed a solid draft of part one of my novel (solid enough to move on, anyway), I created, with Brooke, a plan to complete part two between now and December 14th.  I updated my outline. I blocked out writing time.  And here I am.  My butt is in the chair.  The book, I pray, is in my brain.  So why oh why won't it come out?  Come out, come out, book!  I'm right here, waiting!

This week, I can confidently say that I have not yet managed to write a single new paragraph I feel confident in.  And I'm trying not to panic about it.

I've been writing long enough to know that this happens.  I have had enough experience wallowing in wretched writing days to know that they are often followed by glorious breakthroughs.  But when you are standing on a street corner getting rained on, knowing the sun will come out eventually doesn't make you feel any drier.

So my question for today is: what do you do when you are stuck?  Today I have gone between editing and reediting a thousand words I don't really like but can't bring myself to cut, to lying on my bed reading "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" (hilarious), to trying to find a decent-priced plane ticket home for the holidays (a task more impossible than writing, but which at least comes with someone besides myself to blame for the failure).  But I wonder, at a certain point, if I wouldn't have been a lot better off removing my butt from the chair, going outside, and taking a walk.

My friend Amy Fox, one of the smartest writers I know, tells her students they should all have something they do when there's nothing-doing on the writing side.  After X hours of bad, go to the movies.  After X hours of zilch, play guitar.  But how many hours is X?  And can you let go of that infamous writer's guilt long enough to go to the movies when YOU SHOULD BE WRITING?  

My next post, I promise, will be all about how good it feels to be frolicking in the warm sun of creative bounty again.  Or at least that's what I have to believe.  Otherwise, I might not be able to get my butt back in the chair.  

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  • Evelyn Sharenov

    A nap, a cocktail, read a book that has nothing to do with your current project, go out to dinner with friends. If it's possible, let your book go - find a mantra to fill that space until what you're too actively seeking finds you.

  • Ilie Ruby

    Take a nap. Go for a walk. Meditate. Do something else. Sometimes a change in surroundings will change the inner landscape. Just my two cents. Mostly, KNOW this is temporary. Much love, Ilie :)

  • Astra Groskaufmanis

    I'm feeling a bit stuck myself having now written several chapters written of a humour memoir.  I'm thinking of taking one of the chapters and re-writing it from a different point of view (i.e. third person instead of first person) and see if that stirs something up!  I am inspired, though, but all the techniques offered here too!

  • Mohana Rajakumar

    I am in the same boat, Kamy. I wanted to have finished a manuscript by now but managed two chapters. I'm trying being nicer to myself (instead of 'you lazy....' more 'you love this story...' and also what you've already done, be vulnerable and open with others about needing a reminder of why we do this. Yes, deadlines and word counts are I,portent but it's like bringing a relationship. Do you want flowers without love? Remind yourself why you're doing Thailand maybe it will go back to excitement rather than duty. I'm trying all this to and admitting my worst fear dismantles it somewhat since it isn't a secret anymore: what if I'm a terrible writer who is wasting her time?

  • Helen W. Mallon

    Much of this has been said, Kamy, but I know the feeling! It's like constipation.  (Icky metaphor) I have learned not to trust my "this is crap" persona.  If I have a bad writing day, I don't revise immediately--my judgment is likely to be skewed.  The tighter your mind grips the writing, the less likely you are to be able to see it.  I think the Lev Raphael advice is great--let your subconscious/unconscious mind have a go, while you give yourself a break enjoy some self-compassion!  Hope this helps. 

  • Christina M. Rau

    When I'm stuck, I simply let it run its course. The more I fight it, the worse it gets.  So I just don't write.  I do everything not to write.  Of course, if a deadline is near, this method doesn't work all the time, but most of the time, I can get unstuck more quickly if I don't try to get unstuck.

  • Peg Herring

    Great advice from everyone here. For me, the walk often does it, but the B.I.T.C.H. principle must apply at some point. Butt in the chair, Honey. If you were a surgeon who wasn't in the mood to operate, you'd still have to finish up.

  • Janice Seagraves

    Take a walk, go to the mall, catch a movie or go to the museum. Sometimes a different scenery can shake those cobwebs loose.


  • Jamie Rose

    Maureen Dunphy, thank for these suggestions!

  • Maureen Dunphy

    Not all of these actions work for me all of the time, but usually one or a combination of a few of them does the trick:

    • Set a ("tickless") timer for 10 minutes and just tell yourself you'll write for 10 minutes before you do anything else and then put your butt in the chair and do so
    • Try handwriting (if you generally compose on a keyboard)--or better yet--printing in pencil in all caps on sketchbook paper (a Heather Sellers technique)  Note:  This combines nicely with the timer technique: handwrite as specified for 10 minutes and then type up what you've written; you may have to do it a few times, but eventually whatever was stuck gets jumpstarted and your flying free on the keyboard again.
    • Make a list of all the questions you can come up with about what you're writing; you may be able to discover what you've gotten snagged on in a question you ask
    • Consider whether there is a structural cause for your hesitation.  First time I wrote a novel, I kept getting stuck at what, each time, turned out to be the end of a chapter (for more chapter than I care to admit).  In the book I'm writing now, it was that I needed to switch POV.  When it's a structural issue, my experience has been it's not that I've already done something not right for the project, but that I'm about to do something not right if I keep going
    • Change your environment; go write in a library or a coffee house or an art museum courtyard
    • When all else fails do something righteous:  balance your checkbook, clean your closet, walk your dog . . . or do something amazing:  dig up a new garden for next year, try out a new recipe and invite a friend or family member to enjoy it with you or take it to share with a shut-in, or take your car up to a carwash and vacumn and clean the entire interior before running it through the wash.
    • Lev Raphael, author of Writer's Block is Bunk, suggests a different strategy:  ". . . leave the writing alone and don't obsess about it.  You're stuck?  Don't panic.  Give the problem to your subconscious to figure out.  Work on something else or don't do any writing at all.  Focus outward . . . (on) anything that will absorb you completely and make you feel good."  I think Lev would vote for going to the movies.  Immediately!


  • Michele Tracy Berger

    Hey Kamy,

    Thanks for sharing what you're going through and asking for support. Good model for all of us. And, there are so many great ideas pouring out so far. Here are some things that I do periodically when stuck:

    1)drink a glass of water really slowly

    2)do a yoga restorative pose

    3)cue up your favorite music and act like it is a music meditation...then write

    4)try a walking meditation (matching breath to each step)

    5)purchase a beautiful postcard and write a note from a 'future self' (project six months or so ahead) that is affirming and congratulates you for getting through a difficult writing stretch. Then mail it and then put it where you can see it!

    6)write a short gratitude list before beginning writing

  • Donna Ashby Moore

    You read my mind.  There are times when my butt is stuck in the chair and nothing inspires me to type new words on the page.  That's when I pick up pen & paper & head outside to my cushy swing.  Sometimes the change of scene triggers words.  Sometimes, it's just the feel of the pen in my hand and the scratches it makes on paper that starts to unclog the plug.  Sometimes reading a good book by a favorite writer fires up new ideas.  And sometimes it takes baking cupcakes.  I'm beginning a historical trilogy.  If I draw a blank tomorrow, I might have to haul out the cupcake pans and crack some eggs to dose a cure.


  • Crystal Mary Lindsey

    Hi Mate, we all go through not being able to write, or get it together. I hope you are using Microsoft Word 2007 with the editor incorporated.  When you can think, and get that block, leave it and go for a walk, look at everything along the way and describe it to yourself in your mind. Then go home, eat something and sit down and read a good book. Reading always inspires and gets me into writing again. Blessings Crystal

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    This is so thoughtful, and so helpful everybody.  I actually wrote a lot yesterday and today, though today I rewrote what I wrote yesterday, and I think I may end up doing the same thing tomorrow. :)  Thanks for all these ideas.  I am going to bookmark this and read all the comments every time I am stuck...right after I do the dishes!

  • Enid Powell

    If by "sdtuck" you mean it's plain old procrastination - I'm really good at it.  But if you mean you can't manage to find a way to continue within the book - here are the suggestions I give my students:  l.  Add a character - gives the other character(s) someone to react to.  2.  Add a new location.  (Just force a character to leave the room, the house, the city , etc.  3. Add a new activity: tennis, canasta, chess, painting the bathroom, baking a cake or hom. 

    Don't worry about whether you'll keep it in the book (or story).  Just write it separately on another page or index cards.  I call it the rule (or magic) of juxtaposition.  Often the "new" character is someone referred to within the novel but who hasn't been "on stage" before.  Good luck.   

  • Jill Green

    Hi Kamy, I'm not here very often because I have more trouble getting on line and doing internet PR than I do writing. So my take on the writing block is putting small episodes of my latest effort, a memoir about bringing up a deaf child, called Life and Deaf, on my blog It gives me discipline to get it done and to be more prompt about posting. Good luck and please check my blog.

  • Renate Stendhal

    My take: allow yourself to be as foolish and stupid as you could ever imagine being ... and write "blindly" whatever comes to your mind, with no judgment at all. The conscious mind will go numb (from shock and disgust over this proposition!) and the unconscious mind will rejoice and -- sooner or later -- let something slip through the fence (and defence) of stress, control, critical eye, etc., that will surprise you -- and most likely spark the next step, the next good idea you've been hoping for. The technique is called "happily wearing the fool's cap" or "playing stupid" or simply PLAY. It's a risk and it always works!

    Smiles and bon courage!

  • Niki Tulk

    I believe that the body and its innate wisdom is inextricable with creativity. Sometimes I find doing a movement workshop, "dancing" (if you can call what I do that!) to open-eneded music, walking briskly along a river, yoga, climbing a tree ... sometimes that triggers everything else, because sometimes the block tells me I am neglecting another part that needs to be in balance. And sometimes, I follow the noble Pooh's example and have a teaspoon of honey! It feels like it doesn't quite work, so I always have a second teaspoon, just to make sure ... ;-)

  • Shirley Smith Franklin

    OH, everybody's comments are so good...truly, there are endless ways to get going again...the point is not to just sit there, but DO something!

  • Carleen

    Just know it's part of the process. I like Flora's suggestions, especially doing the dishes and walking. Those work great for me. As does a change of scenery--even sometimes writing in a different room at home. But overall, it's still...part of the process. Don't fret too much about it.

  • Shirley Smith Franklin

    I eat.  'Works better when the edibles are nutritious--fruit, veggies, high fiber snacks, lowfat cheese, and of course DARK CHOCOLATE, tea.  I call one of my 'team.' Friends who know my writing woes and work, and encourage me to try again.  I exercise.  Walking with or without a neighbor, isometrics designed to keep me limber, stairs, laundry, groceries (yes, I call these exercise.)  Read a book.  The current one-in-progress or one that is calling my name.  Look out the window.  Nature is everywhere, waiting to be observed.  Go to a concert, lecture, reading, or art exhibit. Freebies are to be had everywhere in our city. Work in another medium than words for awhile.  Take a pencil and pad of paper on a walk, inside or outside, and record your observations without words.  Nap.  With an insistent timer set for 30 minutes or less.  Call on an older person who is isolated. The benefit is reciprocal. People watch.  At shopping center, playground, on my street.  Volunteer.  Reading stories at a nursery school is my favorite.  Cries of "Grammy Shirley's here!" really set me up.  Last but not least, bring something, anything, to run past my writers' critique group.  Gets me going, every time.  Getting stuck happens to all of us.  What we do with it is up to us.

  • Flora Morris Brown

    I got a chuckle out of some of the solutions to being "stuck" your friend Amy offers. They are absolutely on point.

    When I get stuck here are some of the things I do:

    1. change environments, such as going to the coffee shop to work

    2. going for a walk

    3. doing a mindless chore like washing dishes

    4. switch to a marketing activity rather than writing

    5. turn on a lively song and dance or exercise

    6. switch to writing another part of the book, like the conclusion

    7. create the text for the back cover of the book

    8. do some research on info I want to include in book

    9. go to the library and just browse without thinking about my book at all

    10. look up and make a list of quotations that pertain to my nonfiction topic

    11. depending on the season, start decorating the tree, water the lawn, or redecorate a bathroom

    When I finish one of these my mind is either too tired to do anymore work for that day or eager to get back to work.

    It depends. What is important is to do something to get unstuck.

  • Kelly Hayes-Raitt Publishing

    Another thought:  This week I've been inspired by The Writer's Journey:  Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters by Christopher Vogler.  This book clearly and succinctly breaks down Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" into stages that all our stories go through.  I've been wallowing -- stuck -- in a section in my book and since reading Vogler the past few days, I understand why.  I understand in what stage my book is along the Hero's Journey.  Now I can ask myself clearer questions and get more helpful answers!

  • Kelly Hayes-Raitt Publishing

    When I'm stuck (often!), I try one of two things:  I read my entire manuscript from the beginning, hoping that by the time I reach the (formerly) empty plateau, I have enough momentum to jump.  Or, I read a book that is similar in voice and tone to mine, using the other author's voice to kickstart mine.  (For my book about working among Iraqi refugees, that "kickstart" book is Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.)

    Good luck, Kami!  Please post what eventually works for you!

  • Jamie Rose

    Oh man I relate to this post. For inspiration, I couldn't do without Steven Pressfield's, The War of Art. But as far as concrete things to do, I love Donna's "blah blah blah" suggestion. I've been using that tool on a story I'm working on and am finding that it helps a lot.