Getting Unstuck

bee on purple flower

We’ve been living through a strange time, haven’t we? At least as writers we can always escape the current world of restriction into our own created worlds of stories. And if you’re like me you’ll have times when you’re utterly absorbed in your writing and your fingers dart across the keyboard, like a bee collecting pollen from a clump of dahlias at the start of a rain shower. You commit your wonderful ideas, descriptions and snatches of dialogue to your work-in-progress and you feel nothing can come between your creativity and a finished piece of work.

watering can with water coming from spout onto flowers

You wind up for the day with a sense of fulfilment, feeling fabulously fruitful, even if you later scrap everything you wrote because you realise it was all a load of old drivel!
And then there are the other days. . . Those days when you know you need to sit properly in your chair with complete engagement, yet you perch on the edge of it, only half looking at your laptop screen, open to any distraction that cares to drift into your consciousness.

Oh, I didn’t finish putting that pile of laundry away. Can’t have it lying around that that. It looks awful.

Hang on, I haven’t watered the garden yet. . . my plants are going to die!

Thank you, darling son, for rescuing me from this difficult writing. . . I’d love to see your new computer game (you hate computer games!)

What time did I say I’d meet Leona two weeks on Friday? I’d better check the calendar NOW!

Hey, I’ve just remembered how much I really do enjoy washing up!

I was having a day like that yesterday. I wanted to write. I did. I’m enjoying my work in progress. I think it has some exciting ideas. Yet, could I advance my word count? Everything I wrote read like sheer waffle. I couldn’t get it right. And I couldn’t seem to bypass the unreasonable lump of an idea for one of my characters. I mean, she was driving me crazy! She refused to work with me but instead stuck herself in the middle of the imaginary path and stamped and stomped like a toddler who doesn’t want to go home yet! There was no way she was going to fit in with my main character’s needs and motivations but I couldn't write her right.

So, I mucked about with my word document and I shuffled and reorganised various bits of paper around my desk and I realised I was literally stuck in a rut because I hadn’t varied my methodology for the best part of the day. I should know better.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a visual worker, so I did what I often do when I’m stuck. I got out my coloured pens and began scribbling on some scrap paper.

Mind map with various coloured bubbles
Mind map with various coloured bubbles

I looked at two different aspects: ways of working with the piece of writing and ways of working physically while writing.

For the first, I felt I could apply different aspects to the character and the scene from any I already had. I thought about livening things up with pops of bold colour (always appealing to me); I thought about using the senses more, particularly smell which is so powerful; I tried to imagine what background sounds the character might be hearing (screaming gulls; school lunchtime chatter; traffic noise); and I thought about how the temperature (climate) would affect their behaviour.

Then I imagined having a chat with this character and thought about what words she might use and if she’d use different words if she was speaking to someone her own age (probably); and I decided it might be helpful to quickly write a dialogue scene involving two or three characters then act it out, speaking all the parts out loud and obviously giving each a different voice.

I once read that it can be helpful to imagine your story as a theatre play and I’ve used this technique before. Imagining your characters entering the stage forces the spotlight on them and helps you to distil more precise movements and behaviours. And by focusing on a snapshot moment, a few moments or even a longer scene, your writing becomes more active and authentic, and helps you do more showing and less telling. Which can, in turn, help draw the reader in. It’s good to consider close-up shots, too. You can ask yourself what the character’s eyes might be doing at that moment, or how might they be standing and whether they are gesticulating.

clouds in a Parisian sky

The second aspect is more about inspiring your writing by doing things differently, physically. Some people claim they spend their day in their jammies, propped up with cushions on their bed with their laptop on their er, lap! Well, that wouldn’t work for me. I’d just end up with a really sore back! What I do find effective is varying my writing situation. If I’m a bit stagnant I move to the kitchen or even the garden if I can work with a pad and paper. (I can’t see my screen out of doors!) It can be a pain having to move all the bits and pieces you need but it usually pays off. It’s good to think laterally about this. Where could you reasonably write? On the hard floor at an open door? (Not for too long, mind.) Can you resolve your current problem by lying supine and doing a bit of cloud-watching?

It’s amazing how effective a wee sesh of daydreaming can be! Or perhaps you could walk around the house in your character’s shoes. Maybe you could stand on a step ladder and imagine you are looking down at the characters or the scene from above. How do they behave? Or get down low and imagine looking up at them? Or you might stand at a suitably high surface like your kitchen counter and do some writing there. Sometimes a bit of jiggling about helps the circulation and brings inspiration. Even dance! Do it how your character does. What’s their favourite move? (You can always shut the blinds!)

And if all else fails, fetch your pens and paper for a bout of mind-mapping. Alternatively, make a rollercoaster chart showing the character’s ups and downs or draw your scenes with stick figures. Or pick up the phone and talk to someone. What do they suggest? People seem to come alive when I mention my literary problems. Perhaps that should tell me something?

One of these days you might even be allowed back in a café! Everything crossed! A good café is well up there on my list of favourite places to write and there’s nothing like a good brew to get your creative streak sparking again.

Cup black coffe and writing pad and pen

Here's hoping you re-find your own creative spark!

Drop me a comment if you have other/better ideas for reigniting inspiration. I’m sure the list is endless and, as always, I’d love to hear from you with your thoughts on this theme.