What To Do If You’re. . . Stuck

I knew I should’ve made that left turn at Albuquerque. . .

Effects creepy theater announcer voice: Today the part of Lori Waters will be played by Sally Kilpatrick.

In all seriousness Lori can’t be with us today so spare a happy thought for her, will ya?

I thought I’d blog about shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. . . .no, wait. That’s not it. No Walrus and Carpenter for us today. Elizabeth spoke of scenes, and I started thinking about what to do when your scene just won’t behave.

Then I thought about all of those times my novel just wouldn’t behave.

Ever found yourself stuck in a story? It’s just not wanting to be written. After many years of trying to muscle through, I’ve finally come to the realization that often the story doesn’t want to be written because you, like Bugs Bunny, took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. For me, at least, being stuck means I’ve made a mistake and I need to back up to the last place the story felt right and start over from there.

“But, no!” You say.

“I can’t kill my hard won words,” you add.

“Don’t make me rewrite,” you cry.

Allow me to pull you close and hug you in consolation. The silver lining to this approach is that once you fix the problem, the words tend to flow again. It’s okay. You’ll make more words. Better words. If you’re really afraid of losing all of that hard work, then start a file for all of the passages you’ll end up cutting. You can place your words there and know they haven’t really left the building.*

Here’s the scary part, and I almost hesitate to share this with you for fear of traumatizing any new writers in our midst: sometimes I have to start over.

When I was in grad school, my professor asked me which draft I was on, and I was confused. What did he mean drafts? He meant how many different versions of the manuscript did I have, and I only had one version that I had been tinkering with over and over again until the story was the equivalent of mush. So, I bravely printed out the original and stacked it beside my computer and opened up a blank document and started to type.

Yes, sometimes you have to start over.

I’m on my fourth novel written for publication (probably my eighth manuscript, all told) and I’m finally

The words will flow again. Promise.

embracing this part of my process. At this point, I know I’m going to write about a third of a manuscript, realize I took that blasted wrong turn at Albuquerque, and then have to start over. This is the greatest lesson I learned from grad school. Often when writing genre fiction, the focus is on speed and that focus means you don’t even think about scrapping something written. Literary writers, on the other hand, may toil over the same manuscript for YEARS and thus may start over a bajillion times. As in all things, I think a middle of the road approach is the best one so that is what I do.

Sometimes I wonder if life isn’t a lot like writing that manuscript. I get myself into things and then have a hard time getting out of them. I ought to be more ruthless in scrapping activities and habits and going back to the beginning. I mean, Albuquerque is actually quite lovely, but I don’t want to keep making wrong turns there.

How about you? What do you do when you get stuck?


*Caveat: If you’re one of those writers who start over again and again and again without actually finishing your story, this post is NOT for you. Finish your DAMN book. You will never learn all of the lessons you need to learn until you write your story from start to finish. And that’s your tough love from Sally portion of the post.


**I’m also maritally obligated to tell you that I employed this strategy on my newest book, Better Get To Livin’, now available wherever fine books are sold. I have to tell you this because my husband would like to retire early and my son is looking at Duke and Stanford. No pressure, right?

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