Monday, June 30, 2014

Stuck in the middle? 6 cheats to get you out of your bind.


We’ve all been there.

You start a story, typing furiously in an attempt to get the words down as quickly as they are flashing through your mind. Then your fingers come to a screeching halt. Staring at the screen, you are stuck in the middle of the story wondering what happened to that inspiration. Get it back.

Here are 6 “cheats” that can pull you out of the glue when all you see is stuck.

Interview yourself.
Create a list of questions about your story that you have not answered. What is bothering you? What has been left unresolved? Better yet, pretend you’re a radio host, interviewing you about the finished book, your motivations to write it, your story and characters.  Try to answer your own questions, with more than a yes or no, and see where it takes you.

Interview your characters.
Using a separate sheet for each major character, write down everything that you have envisioned in your mind about them. From physical attributes to personality traits, what makes them who they are? Now compare this to what you have written. Which characteristics have not been communicated to your readers? What dialog or action can you add to fully develop each person into your vision?

Is your main character stuck in a rut?
Is your main character wandering around while the story happens to them? Make them proactive! Sometimes their actions take them away from their goal, giving them something to resolve. Passive characters lead to boring stories.  (Here are three easy tips to get your characters going places.)

Let it steep.
Put aside the project for a few days or even weeks. Don’t shove it into the unfinished drawer and never come back, but give it some time. You may be surprised how clearly the rest of the story emerges when you look at it with fresh perspective.

Get some feedback.
If you have let things simmer and are still stuck in the middle of your story, examine it for elements that don’t fit. Make an outline and cut sections of the story that veer from it. It can be helpful to do this in a separate file so that you need not worry that you are losing great material. Does the story begin to flow after you remove characters, scenes, or plotlines that were being forced in? Have a friend or fellow writer take a look and give suggestions on how it all fits together to them as a reader.  (Here’s why honest feedback is so important.)

Search for sizzle – in other books.
Any list of overcoming writing problems should include this step. Read – for inspiration, to build skill, and for personal pleasure. Nothing makes you a better writer than reading. A line in a novel completely unrelated to yours may be just the thing to turn on your sizzle and get you going on that story again.  (Here’s how we do it around here.)

So what’s standing between you and a finished story?  I’m sure there are a ton of other demands on your time and a million things more fun than writing your way out a story that’s stuck.  I’ll admit it – sometimes when I’m stuck, I’ll sit and fiddle with the fonts, the layout… anything but type my way through it.

But in the end, it comes down to you and the keyboard.  And the keyboard is very forgiving:  you can always delete or change your story once you’ve reached the ending – but you have to get there first.

So open up that story you’ve stashed away and see if the ending isn’t inside you somewhere.

[photo credit:  me and the sysop, via flickr]


  1. I suppose it is a form of letting it steep, but I often work on four very different projects at once. At one time I was working on a literary cookbook, a screenplay, a novel, and shorts such as articles and flash. When one wasn't calling me, I'd work on another. It sounds very unfocused (and I would focus 100% on one if under contract) but I get lots of work done and still complete them all. I have a script produced, contracted last year on my cookbook, have published numerous shorts, and have had 6 agents for my books - went to auction but failed. :( So this works for me. Karen Albright Lin

    1. Sounds a bit like how I work. No idea how many partway through projects are here on my hard drive, but as long as I keep reaching the finish line with one or the other (and the paycheques keep rolling in), then life is good. :-)

  2. Kill off a character. Then write what happens.

    1. @Caroline: Some might hesitate, in a children's book... but I kind of like your style. :-)


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